Our favorite renewals of the Belmont Stakes

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TwinSpires Staff

June 2nd, 2015

This week, we're strolling down memory lane to revisit several Belmont Stakes that hold special personal meaning for us. Our first "team blog" looks back at our favorite Belmont renewals.

Kellie Reilly: As a die-hard Easy Goer fan from the beginning, the 1989 Belmont is my lone solace in his otherwise frustrating clashes with Sunday Silence. But it's not my all-time favorite renewal. That honor goes to my hometown hero Risen Star, who turned the 1988 Belmont into a magnificent procession. Because this son of 1973 Triple Crown legend Secretariat had been based at Fair Grounds for his New Orleanian connections -- trainer/co-owner Louis Roussel III and the inimitably colorful Ronnie Lamarque -- I had been able to follow him up close all winter. I especially reveled in the fact that Risen Star used to be saddled in the corner of the old Fair Grounds interior paddock (that was adjoining the grandstand destroyed by the 1993 fire), not in one of the stalls. I would always stake out my spot right where the giant colt would stand, nestled up against the fence, so close that I could have touched him through the chain-link -- not that I ever dared! Now, months later and far away, I was watching that same colt progress through the Triple Crown. While his Preakness victory was satisfying after a troubled third in the Kentucky Derby, nothing could compare to the elation of the Belmont. Galloping home by 14 3/4 lengths in America's oldest, and longest, classic, in a sparkling 2:26 2/5, Risen Star shone as a glimmering reflection of his sire's romp.

Vance Hanson: Believing the legendary Secretariat had a good number of years left in him, I don't recall pestering my parents as a young boy to take me to Kentucky as soon as possible so I could visit him. His premature death from laminitis in October 1989 was disappointing to say the least, and was probably the catalyst for me to get to the Bluegrass before any more of the great Thoroughbred heroes of the past left the earth. I finally made my first trip in 1992, and one of the highlights of several farm visits was seeing those aging Belmont Stakes warriors from 1968 and 1969, Stage Door Johnny and Arts and Letters, at Gainesway. They were the oldest American classic winners and champions I ever saw in the flesh. Years later, I paid my respects to Secretariat at the Claiborne Farm Cemetery, and also got to see his greatest son, Risen Star, when he was still alive. Risen Star's win in the 1988 Belmont is still one of the most awesome displays of authority I've ever watched. As he opened up to what would become a 14 3/4-length demolition in a sparkling 2:26 2/5, ABC announcer Dave Johnson exclaimed, "He looks like his daddy at this point!" Well, almost. For those of us born well after Secretariat's exploits, it's as close as we were going to get. Unfortunately, Risen Star never ran again, but to wear the crown in a crop that included Forty Niner, Seeking the Gold, Brian's Time, Private Terms, and Proper Reality signified he was very special. How he would have fared against the likes of Alysheba that fall is one of the great unanswered questions of modern racing history. Re-watching his Belmont run, me thinks it would have been a terrific horse race.

James Scully: This year marks the sixth Belmont Stakes I'll attend with a Triple Crown on the line and nothing compares to the finish of the 1998 edition -- the adrenaline rush left my hairs standing up. In the Kentucky Derby, Real Quiet narrowly held off the closing kick of Victory Gallop, who was compromised by a wide trip on both turns, but the Preakness was more one-sided, with Real Quiet finishing 2 1/4 lengths clear of his rival in second. The Belmont Stakes was one for the ages. Kent Desormeax pulled an early trigger aboard the 4-5 favorite, launching a move entering the far turn, and Real Quiet arrived at the top of the stretch with a widening lead. Up by four lengths with only a furlong remaining, Real Quiet was poised to finally end the Triple Crown drought and I thought it was over before it was over; the late-running dynamo Victory Gallop quickly changed perspectives. Scores of fans were suddenly holding their breath, bracing for a tight finish as Victory Gallop came charging into the frame with the wire fast-approaching. I didn't know who won at first (my first thought was dead-heat, the greatest dead-heat in the history of Thoroughbred racing) and ran to watch the replay up close on a television monitor with the "photo" sign lit. Victory Gallop prevailed by a nose, crushing the dreams of many who hoped to see history made, but it was still a dandy of a horse race.

Ed DeRosa: It didn't have the storybook ending most in attendance wanted, but the 2004 Belmont is my favorite edition of the race. I've been fortunate enough to witness a lot of prestigious races live, but other than the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic ("Zenyatta, Zenyatta, Zenyatta, Buh-lame"), none come remotely close to the on-track energy on June 5, 2004, at Belmont Park. The build-up throughout the day, the release from the gate, the crescendo as Smarty Jones turned for home to the roar of 120,000, and the stillness of that same group after Birdstone earned the win himself resonates 11 years later. The energy throughout the 2004 Belmont is a big reason I'm so interested in what happens if a horse actually wins the Triple Crown. I was too focused on the race to notice if Belmont Park was actually shaking as Smarty Jones barreled toward immortality, but I surely would have noticed it after the fact. What a treat it would be to witness such an accomplishment live! Tom Durkin's call deserves credit here. This was racing's "Casey at the Bat" moment, and Durkin wrote and narrated it in real time. The expectation ("Will he take his place in racing history? We'll see."), the optimism ("Smarty Jones has to hold on to that lead for just one minute more."), the anticipation ("It's been 26 years, it's just one furlong away"), to actually calling the winner (unlike the aforementioned 2010 Classic), Durkin's call is as much a part of the history of the race as the results. Honorable mentions: Rags To Riches wins the 2007 Belmont over Preakness winner and eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin; Secretariat's world-record Belmont Stakes win in 1973 to end a 25-year Triple Crown drought; and Affirmed and Alydar testing each other to the wire in what would be the last Triple Crown winner for at least 36 years.

Jennifer Caldwell: Afleet Alex's 2005 Belmont Stakes win is by far my favorite. The plucky little colt garnered a lot of attention with his Preakness victory, which was impressive in its own right, but proved just how good he was in he third jewel of the Triple Crown. Jockey Jeremy Rose settled Afleet Alex near the back of the pack, and the pair only got a few calls from the track announcer as Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo stayed in contention up front. Entering the final turn, Giacomo had put in his run and gained a slight edge, but Afleet Alex was just winding up. Cutting through the center of the pack, the bay colt easily passed Giacomo and continued drawing off to eventually win by seven lengths. It was beautiful and bittersweet at the same time, knowing just how close Afleet Alex came to winning the Triple Crown, but has yet to be surpassed by any Belmonts I've seen to date.