2015 Belmont Stakes: A to Z

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

June 3rd, 2015

We have an inkling that you've already got the A-lister covered, but in case you'd like a tour of the rest of the Belmont Day alphabet, here you go:

A is for American Pharoah, and if you didn't know that, welcome to our planet! American racing's latest matinee idol after victories in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1), he's on the verge of immortality if he can complete the Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont S. (G1). And for the contrarians who want to look elsewhere, there's another "A," as in the b S. (G1) for three-year-old fillies earlier on Saturday.

B has to be for Belmont -- August Belmont I, the great banker, high society figure, and prominent turfman who was first honored by this race in 1867, and his son, August II, who founded Belmont Park in 1905. The Belmont trophy enshrines August I's 1869 Belmont hero Fenian, surmounting the three indispensable patriarchs of the breed, Eclipse, Matchem and Herod. "B" can also represent the historic Brooklyn (G2), now contested on Belmont Stakes Day.

C stands for the carnations that traditionally adorn the Belmont winner. But the winner's not the only one to be draped in carnations. The statue of Secretariat, located in the Belmont paddock, is also festooned with the floral garland. The reason for this special tribute? See the letter "R."

D calls to mind the drought we've endured since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner, all the way back in 1978. Over the past 37 years, there's been no shortage of opportunities: a dozen horses have turned the Derby/Preakness double, raising hopes of a sweep, only to fall short in the Belmont. (I'll Have Another, who was scratched from the Belmont, would make it 13.)

E is for Easy Goer, the runner-up to Sunday Silence in the 1989 Derby and Preakness, who famously denied him the Triple Crown in the Belmont. Lest you think I'm playing favorites by including him, note that Easy Goer is here on merit: he's commemorated by a 1 1/16-mile stakes on Belmont Day.

F stands for Frosted and Frammento, two of American Pharoah's beaten foes from the Kentucky Derby. Frosted exits a gallant fourth at Churchill, and the well-bred colt warrants respect as the Wood Memorial (G1) winner. Frammento, whose career highlight is a third in the Fountain of Youth (G2), must step up considerably from his 11th in the Derby. But he does have a secret weapon, filed under "Z."

G represents the Goo Goo Dolls, who headline the Belmont Day entertainment. If you ask us what we want this year, it's a Triple Crown winner -- hopefully a harbinger of "Better Days."

H is for the rich history of the Belmont Stakes, the nation's oldest Triple Crown race, dating back to 1867. Its honor roll includes some of the greatest Thoroughbreds in racing lore, from 19th century legends Harry Bassett and Hanover, to early 20th century phenoms Colin and Man o' War, and the 11 Triple Crown winners.

I denotes the international hope, Mubtaahij, the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) romper who aims to do better than his eighth in the Kentucky Derby. Initially planning to send the well-traveled colt back to England for a summer vacation, trainer Mike de Kock soon switched gears and decided to take a crack at the Belmont. Connections believe that Mubtaahij is handling this surface much better than Churchill, making him a real rebound candidate.

J represents the Just a Game (G1) and the Jaipur (G3), both supporting stakes on Belmont Day. The Jaipur, despite being a six-furlong turf sprint, pays tribute to the 1962 Belmont winner. The Just a Game offers a more natural reference to its namesake, the champion grass mare of 1980, as a one-mile affair for turf distaffers.  

K stands for Keen Ice, yet another of American Pharoah's Derby victims who hope for revenge here. A late-running seventh at Churchill Downs, the son of two-time Horse of the Year (and 2007 Belmont near-misser) Curlin is entitled to do better over the added ground.

L is for luck, the unpredictable ingredient that's conducive to success. Trainer Bob Baffert identified racing luck as a key factor for American Pharoah's Triple Crown hopes. In this respect, the Hall of Famer is echoing Napoleon. When told how good a certain officer was, Napoleon responded, “Yes, but is he lucky?”

M calls to mind the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) and the Manhattan (G1), both marquee events on Belmont's stakes schedule that have now found a place on Belmont Day. The "Met Mile" is itself an institution, boasting such winners as Ghostzapper, Forego, Buckpasser, Kelso -- and I could keep going all the way back to Sysonby. If you're looking for another pair of M&M's, Materiality and Madefromlucky, see the letter "P."

N can only be "New York, New York," the Frank Sinatra anthem that's accompanied the Belmont S. field to the starting gate in recent years. When it comes to Triple Crown dreams, American Pharoah aims to be "top of the list, king of the hill, A-number one," but "it's up to you, New York -- New York!"

O is for Ogden Phipps, the late owner/breeder and Jockey Club chairman who campaigned such all-time greats as Buckpasser and Personal Ensign -- and the aforementioned Easy Goer. Phipps is commemorated by a Grade 1 stakes for fillies and mares on Belmont Day.

P stands for Pletcher, as in trainer Todd Pletcher, who will try to thwart American Pharoah's Triple Crown bid with a tag-team of Materiality and Madefromlucky. Materiality, a son of 2005 Belmont conqueror Afleet Alex, is the more compelling of the pair. The winner of his first three career starts at Gulfstream Park, capped by the Florida Derby (G1), Materiality scuppered his Kentucky Derby chances by getting off a beat slow, but rallied for a solid sixth. Madefromlucky won the local prep, the Peter Pan (G2). While he was no match for Pharoah earlier this spring at Oaklawn, his grinding style suggests that he'll be suited by the distance.

Q is for the question of distance that all of the Belmont contenders face. These lightly-raced three-year-olds have never been tried over this demanding 1 1/2-mile trip, and they're all unlikely to try it again (especially on dirt). The dynamics of who will stay, and who won't, remain an important part of Belmont handicapping. On Saturday, this assumes the more pointed question, "Will American Pharoah be vulnerable, considering that he appeared to be fully stretched by the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby?"

R calls to mind the record achievement of the immortal Secretariat. Not only does the "tremendous machine" own the biggest winning margin in Belmont history -- 31 lengths -- but he crossed the wire in a world-record 2:24 for 1 1/2 miles on dirt. It beggars belief to think that either mark will ever be surpassed, until the end of the world. And that's why the 1973 Triple Crown legend still gets the carnations (see "C") on his statue.

S will always mean "Sidewalks of New York," at least to those of us old enough to remember the song that used to serenade the Belmont field.

T in this running stands for Tale of Verve, best of the rest behind the imperious Pharoah in the Preakness. But “T” perpetually stands for "Test of the Champion," the nickname of the Belmont that sums up how searching an examination it truly is.

U is for undercard, as in the blockbuster program of nine stakes that support the Belmont itself. If you don't think that this is a fantastic day of racing, please check your pulse and seek medical attention immediately.

V stands for villain. The rivals who want to spoil American Pharoah's tilt at history are auditioning for this role. Resemblance to Basil Rathbone is preferred but not required.

W denotes Woody Stephens, the late, great Hall of Famer who trained no fewer than five consecutive Belmont winners (1982-86). So of course the stakes run in his honor on Belmont Day is a seven-furlong sprint.

X reminds us of the missing years in Belmont history. Racing in New York was on hiatus in 1911-12, thanks to an anti-gambling crusade. Although that reverse proved to be temporary, it illustrates the power that the state can bring to bear on our sport.

Y is for the yearning of the sporting public for a Triple Crown winner. While many fans are lucky enough to recall Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and Secretariat, many others (myself included) did not have the pleasure of following a Triple Crown sweep. Even if we were alive, we weren't of an age to know what was going on. And if you add all those who have been born since Affirmed, that's quite a cohort! In other words, we've waited long enough. It wouldn't save the industry single-handed, but it would be a cause for rejoicing, and possibly a damper on agitation to change the series.

Z is emblematic of Zayat Stables, the nom de course of American Pharoah's owner/breeder, Ahmed Zayat. But "Z" also stands for Hall of Fame horseman Nick Zito, whose Birdstone famously foiled Smarty Jones' Triple Crown bid in 2004. And when Triple Crown seeker Big Brown was pulled up in the 2008 Belmont, it was Zito's unheralded Da' Tara who sprang the upset. If Frammento can follow in their hoofsteps Saturday, he will inflict the slashing mark of Z -- not Zorro, but Zito.