Whether you’re a zealous horseracing fan or a neighsayer, you’re likely to get caught up in what has been called the “Test of the Champion” — and we’ve got you covered.
When the bell rings on June 9, the horses that thunder forward will make history as part of the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes. And this year’s race offers a Triple Crown contender in Justify, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
But perhaps that’s putting the cart before the horse. For the uninitiated and the indifferent, there’s so much more to the Belmont Stakes than horses running around a track.
What’s in a Belmont Jewel? Has there ever been a tie? What does celebrity chef Bobby Flay have to do with horse racing? Grab your derby hat and saddle up. This is your guide to everything Belmont Stakes.
1Why is the race a big deal this year?
Besides this being the 150th running of the race, there is a chance Justify could win racing’s elite Triple Crown — victories at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. (That’s Justify up there winning the Preakness on May 19.)
The New York Racing Association announced in late May that all reserved seats are sold out. Too many people jockeying for a prime viewing location, it seems. (You were warned about the puns.)
Basic general admission tickets are available for Saturday and cost $30. Clubhouse admission tickets run $60. If you’re feeling fancy, you can buy a box seat starting at $425. Visit www.belmontstakes.com/tickets for more information on Thursday and Friday admission.
Remaining Saturday general admission tickets are sold day-of at the track entrance, cash only. But don’t say we didn’t warn you — some years (like a Triple Crown or a big anniversary, hint hint) attract large crowds and the NYRA has said admission will be capped at 90,000.
The arena is handicapped accessible. ADA compliant seating and parking is available via the festival’s website or by calling 844-NYRA-TIX.
3What does my ticket get me?
Lots, depending on your price point. You’ll need a ticket for each day you go (there’s an option to buy a three-day pass if horseracing is your thing).
Saturday general admission gets you access to the grounds, concessions and the grandstand apron, a viewing patio by the track. Clubhouse is a step up, with premium viewing areas and limited seating on the second and third floors. Box seats overlook the finish line and winner’s circle with exclusive perks.
The festival offers a variety of other packages with varying amenities and extras like assigned seating and access to special areas of the park.
4Money is no obstacle. What tickets should I buy to have the best experience?
First off, congrats on that! Second, if you’re willing to pony up (sorry) $1,949, you can buy a Gold Clubhouse VIP package. It comes with admission, full service in the ulta-exclusive Diamond Room (featuring an open bar, gourmet buffet and jockeys), third floor seating, an “Official Belmont Experiences Gift,” access to an on-site trip director, a two-night hotel stay and transportation.
5OK, hold your horses. What's the most economical option?
Go with the general admission ticket — the grounds offer plenty of activities and amenities, plus track-side access if you’re willing to squeeze through the crowd.
Yes! There’s no reason to saddle your in-laws with the kids. Children under 12 receive free admission. Parents are welcome to bring diaper bags and strollers and the grounds feature a playground.
8Any other restrictions on what I can bring? And please end the answer with another lame horse pun.
Backpacks, large bags, signs, drones, grills, fireworks, umbrellas, selfie sticks and weapons are banned. Also be sure to leave your glitter, air horns and laser pointers at home. For a full list of banned items, visit belmontstakes.com.
Bringing any of these items will make your day unstable.
9Is there parking? Any other ways to get there?
Yes, there is parking, but it’s limited and you need to buy a pass. Passes for Friday run $12 for general lots to $25 for more exclusive lots. Saturday prices run $40 to $150. Two-day passes are $77-$170.
There’s an LIRR station at Belmont Park. You can also take the bus.
10Weren't there major LIRR issues at the race a few years ago?
In 2014, when there were record-breaking crowds gathered to watch California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid, exiting attendees waited for more than three hours at the Belmont Park’s Long Island Rail Road station.
“We’ve never had that kind of ridership before at Belmont. . . . Thirty-six thousand people arrived at Belmont between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and they all wanted to leave within the same 60 minutes,” an LIRR spokeswoman said at the time.
LIRR officials said they had only expected abut 20,000 riders, which is roughly how many race attendees used the rails after the last Triple Crown contender ran in 2008. Officials said they had hoped many would stay for the last race and concert and riders had been warned that of long waits — even with extra trains scheduled — because only one track was going in and out of the station.
In 2015, the LIRR rolled out a new Belmont Stakes service plan, including a $5 million upgrade of the dilapidated station with new platforms, stairs and ramps, and reconfigured service. That year, the LIRR moved the 30,000 fans gathered to watch American Pharoah’s Triple Crown win with relative ease.
This year, the LIRR expects to carry as many as 35,000 riders to the park and it is boosting service to meet the high demand. It is adding 21 eastbound trains to Belmont beginning before 10 a.m., and will operate westbound trains from the park about every 15 minutes after the race. Read more about the railroad’s plan here.
11Whoa. (Horse joke). So will this be a traffic nightmare?
Come on, this is Long Island. Expect gridlock conditions in and around Belmont Park.
In addition to the expected congestion on Hempstead Turnpike and the Cross Island Parkway, the planned closure of Plainfield Avenue from Hempstead Turnpike to Vanderwater Avenue from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. is expected to worsen traffic conditions.
Lines are also expected to be long for parking, which will range in price from $40 to $150.
And according to lore, Belmont is responsible for LI’s “first great automobile logjam.” According to belmontstakes.com, “the crush of horse-drawn carriages and automobiles filled with people trying to get to Belmont Park for opening day was so great” when Belmont Park opened in 1905 that Long Island experienced its first huge traffic back-up.
12How many people usually attend?
It depends on the year. Triple Crown years tend to see bigger crowds. In fact, the attendance record — 120,139 — was set when a Triple Crown was expected in 2004. This year, hower, the NYRA has capped attendance at 90,000.
It’s not the Kentucky Derby, but you may spot a familiar face or two. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay is a horse owner and breeder. In past years, actors Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick and former President Bill Clinton have attended.
It’s not quite as high fashion as the Kentucky Derby, but the Belmont Stakes does have what officials call a tradition of “elegant attire.” Beyond the grandstand, guests are asked to dress in varying degrees of “proper attire,” from collared shirts and no “abbreviated wear” to suits and dresses in the most exclusive areas of the festival.
15Do people wear big hats like at the Kentucky Derby?
You bet — that’s part of the fun of dressing up. There’s usually a fashion contest, too.
16Why do people wear big hats to horse races, anyway?
American horse races were inspired by British ones, where dress codes were strict and included hats, according to the Kentucky Derby Museum. The races were also popular among wealthy people, who were eager to dress up. Dress codes may have relaxed since the 19th century, but the appeal of a show-stopping hat hasn’t waned.
17Who was the first horse to win the Triple Crown?
Sir Barton won the Belmont Stakes in 1919 to become the first Triple Crown winner before the term even existed. “Plagued with soft feet that caused him to lose his shoes during a race, Sir Barton was a cranky colt who mostly disliked humans,” says belmontstakes.com.
18How rare is a Triple Crown?
Only 12 horses have ever won it. The most recent winner was in 2015, when American Pharoah was the first in 37 years.
19So, what's Justify's story?
At both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the 1,280-pound Justify held his ground courageously and refused to let an opponent get past him. In the Kentucky Derby, he left behind Good Magic after setting hot fractions with the rabbit Promises Fulfilled. In the Preakness, Justify went head to head with Good Magic before shaking him off and turning back a late move by Bravazo.
Bred in Kentucky, the undefeated chestnut colt has made fewer starts before the Belmont Stakes than any of the 12 Triple Crown champions. Unlike them, he didn’t race as a 2-year-old. (See question 24.)
Justify will be trainer Bob Baffert’s fifth shot at one of the rarest trophies in sport. Three years ago, Baffert ended a 36-year Triple Crown drought with American Pharoah.
Can Justify become the 13th thoroughbred immortal? “The Test of the Champion” will be his sixth race crammed into less than four months. No other horse ever made his career debut in February and went for the Triple Crown that June.
Justify arrived in New York on June 6. He is ridden by jockey Mike Smith.
That’s Justify’s nickname at the barn.
But trainer Bob Baffert told horseracingnation.com in April that the nickname was about the horse’s appearance and not the name’s historical significance — it was also the nickname for Secretariat.
21What about Secretariat?
Secretariat is one of the most famous horses to win the Triple Crown. In 1973, he won the race by 31.5 lengths — a world record for a 1.5-mile dirt race, according to belmontstakes.com
22Does Secretariat have any LI ties?
According to the Lexington, Kentucky-based Jockey Club, Secretariat is a distant relative of the Long Island horse Messenger. Messenger, known as “the great progenitor,” lived from 1780 to 1808 and was the father of our country’s racehorses, according to Newsday archives. He was the “founding sire” of harness racing and the most prominent contributor to the nation’s thoroughbred stock. He lived much of his life on a Locust Valley farm, and among the horses that can be linked back to him are Eclipse, Man o’ War and Spectacular Bid.
23Is Secretariat still honored in horseracing today?
There’s a tribute to Secretariat at Belmont Park. The “Secretariat Pole” is 31.5 lengths from Belmont’s finish line — in honor of the length of his victory — and is painted blue and white in honor of his stable, according to belmontstakes.com. It was erected in 2013 for the 40th anniversary of his win.
24What is the Apollo Curse?
In 1882, a horse named Apollo won the Kentucky Derby. Apollo had never raced as a 2-year-old, the most common age for most prominent horse races.
In the 136 years since, no horse had ever won the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old. That was, until Justify – who started racing at 3 – won the Derby on May 5.
Prior to the Derby, Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, told the Los Angeles Times that the curse didn’t scare him. “I don’t really ever think about that,” he said. “There are so many other curses out there. â¦ Now black cats, they kill me. I can just feel it too. Point Given [in 2001] on the way out to the track, a black cat ran in front of him. Real Quiet, [in 1998] before the Triple Crown race, I was driving in here and a black cat ran in front of me. They should not allow black cats on the backstretch.”
25They've really been doing this for 150 years? Has anything changed since the first running?
The first Belmont Stakes was held in The Bronx on a Thursday in 1867. The race later moved to Saturdays and didn’t come to Elmont until Belmont Park was constructed in 1905 (it was not run from 1911-1912 and temporarily moved to Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens for 1963-1967). The race course has also varied in length and today’s course is slightly shorter than the original, from 1 5/8 miles to 1.5 miles.
In the early years of the Belmont, the race was run clockwise (as races are run in England) over a fish hook-shaped course which included part of the current training track. The first counterclockwise Belmont Stakes was run in 1921, according to Newsday archives.
A Belmont Stakes-winning horse is significantly more valuable today, too. The owner of the winning horse took home a whopping $1,850 in 1867, according to NYRA. Estimates vary, but that prize has the buying power of $30,000-$40,000 in 2018 money, a fraction of the $800,000 Tapwrit took home in 2017.
26Hey, we're in the home stretch! Can we celebrate with a horse joke?
A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Why the long face?”
27Why is it called the Belmont Stakes?
The Belmont Stakes is named after New York financier August Belmont, according to belmontstakes.com. Not because it’s in Elmont.
28How important is the Belmont Stakes to horseracing?
It’s the longest dirt stakes (1 1/2 miles) in American racing, and it can crown an immortal if the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness completes the sweep in Elmont.
29The Kentucky Derby has mint juleps. Does Belmont have a drink?
For Belmont, the drink is a little more complicated than the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, which has the black-eyed Susan. Since 2011, the official cocktail has been called the Belmont Jewel, a blend of Woodford Reserve bourbon, lemonade, pomegranate juice and orange zest. But past years have seen the race cycle through other recipes.
Previous attempts at a winning signature cocktail included the Big Apple (used very briefly in the 1970s), the White Carnation (vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, soda water and cream) and the Belmont Breeze (bourbon, sherry, lemon and orange juices and mint).
30Can I bring in my own food and drink?
As long as you are not seated in a hospitality area, outside food is fine. You can also purchase drinks, pretzels, hot dogs, ice cream and more from food trucks, concession stands and park cafes.
However, you cannot bring your own alcohol.
Nope, you can’t do that either. Generally, no horsing around.
32Is there a map of the grounds?
Sure is! You can find one here.
33What time does everything start the day of the race?
Gates open at 8:30 a.m. The races on Belmont Stakes Day start at 11:35 a.m. The main race will start at 6:37 p.m.
34How long does the race last?
The race is typically over in about three minutes. Tapwrit won the 2017 Belmont Stakes with a time of 2:30.02.
Bring cash to a teller at a mutuel window, which is the old-fashioned way. You specify how much you want to wager, and how. For example: “Give me $10, win, place and show on the 5 (use the horse’s program number, not its name).” The total of such a bet is $30. Good luck!
Credit cards are no good, by the way. You also can bet online through an Internet account.
That’s up to you. Some people meticulously study the past performances of horses and read the race day program to predict winners. Others choose less straightfoward metrics, such as horse names or the jockey’s uniform colors.
The post positions were announced June 5 at Citi Field. They are:
2 Free Drop Billy
5 Restoring Hope
8 Vino Rosso
9 Noble Indy
10 Blended Citizen
38What if I bet $150,249,400 this year?
Well, then you would already be a winner in one sense. Then the all-time Belmont betting record was $150,249,399 placed on the race won by Tonalist in 2014.
39How do they name horses anyway?
Well, there are 17 restrictions noted on The Jockey Club’s registry website. They include:
-Names consisting of more than 18 characters (spaces and punctuation count);
-Names consisting entirely of initials;
-Names consisting entirely of numbers;
-Names ending in “filly,” “colt,” “stud,” “mare,” “stallion,” or similar horse-related terms;
-Names of living persons unless written permission to use their name is on file;
-Names of persons no longer living unless approved by The Jockey Club;
-Names of winners in the past 25 years of grade one stakes races;
-Names of racetracks or graded stakes races
Race horses are named at age 2, according to an article in The Washington Post.
Before that, they are usually called by nicknames or by their mother’s name and the year they were born. For example, American Pharaoh was once called “Littleprincessemma 2012,” the Post reported.
40And the jockeys - any rules for them?
Belmont Stakes horses must carry 126 pounds, and they carry lead pads in the saddles. The lead weight is the difference between the rider’s weight and 126 pounds; most weigh no more than 116 pounds or so.
41Any cool Belmont trivia that I can use to stump (and win money from) my friends?
Sure! Even though female racehorses are uncommon and only about two dozen have ever run in the Belmont Stakes, it was a filly who won the very first Belmont – Ruthless in 1867.
(The race has been won by female racehorses on two other occasions – Tanya in 1905 and Rags to Riches in 2007. And female jockeys are even rarer. None are expected this year, and the only female jockey ever to ride a Belmont winner was Julie Krone in 1993, riding Colonial Affair.)
42Has there ever been a tie?
No, but a handful of races since 1905 have come close. In 1936, 1962, 1998 and 2016, the winners achieved victory by a margin of a nose, according to NYRA records. Another six or so races were won by a head and the winner was ahead by just their neck in about nine.
43I'm not going to see a horse get hurt, am I?
No promises. Dozens of horses are injured or killed each year racing or training to race at state racetracks. New York State publishes an annual report of the injuries and deaths.
44If the Belmont Stakes is one horse race, what's Belmont Stakes Day and what's the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival?
The festival includes three days of races, leading up to the official running of the Belmont Stakes. Thursday and Friday offer races and admission at discounted prices. Saturday, also known as Belmont Stakes Day, offers races, food trucks, concessions, live performances and more activities, plus the big race.
45Does anything else happen at the event other than horseracing?
It’s mostly horseracing, but you can sample food trucks, sip cocktails and enjoy the weather. The event also includes performances by Billy Joel tribute band Mike DelGuidice & Big Shot on Friday and Third Eye Blind and the cast of Broadway musical “A Bronx Tale” on Saturday.
46My buddy wants to go double or nothing on that trivia. What else ya got?
On five occasions, the Belmont had just two horses in the field — 1887, 1888, 1892, 1910 and 1920.
47I hear the Islanders are moving to Belmont. Have they started building the arena?
Construction on the Islanders’ new arena and surrounding retail development project at Belmont Park remains on schedule to start as early as next spring, according to the Empire State Development Corp.
48What does Belmont Park offer people on days other than the Belmont Stakes?
The track is open from early May until around July 20, when Saratoga opens for six weeks. After Labor Day, the Belmont fall meet runs until late October or early November. The track usually is open four days a week, with roughly nine races at day. Saturday cards showcase the best horses.
49What's the best way to follow the race?
You can get the latest on all things Belmont right here on newsday.com, on the Newsday app, with Newsday breaking news alerts, in Newsday’s Sunday paper and on Newsday’s social media. Of course.
NBC will broadcast the Belmont Stakes in a program that will run 5-7 p.m. on Saturday.
50How about a ... photo finish?
Sure! Here’s a look at Newsday staff photographer J. Conrad Williams Jr.’s award-winning photograph of American Pharoah winning the Belmont in 2015 – and the first Triple Crown in decades.