“The Test of Champions”
We’ve all been to Belmont Park one time or another. Okay, maybe not physically but virtually because The Belmont has been the site for many radio broadcasts, television programs, photo shoots, and motion pictures. We’ve watched movies and television shows featuring a lot of actors who have been in pictures here. But, I bet only a few of us have ever had the Belmont’s featured cocktailcreated by Dale DeGroff in 1977. I know I just learned they even had one. So, On June 5,2010, we can all enjoy a toast to the 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes. Here’s how to make the traditional Belmont Park cocktail….
The Belmont Breeze
1 1/2 oz Kentucky Bourbon or American blended whiskey or 3/4 oz of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry
1/2 ox fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
1/ 1/2 oz fresh orange juice
1 1/2 oz of cranberry juice
Shake all ingredients with ice and top with half 7-Up and half soda, approx 1 oz of each. Garnish with strawberry, mint sprig, and lemon piece.
And together, we’ll sing ‘New York New York’ (or maybe hum) as the horses parade onto the track. Maybe we’ll bet between ourselves on who we think will win, who we want to win, and then watch who does win and walk away with the garland made with 700 white carnations. This is the official flower of the Belmont stakes race that stands for ‘love and luck,’ a perfect symbol for the ‘Test of Champions’ as this race is nicknamed.
The Belmont Park was named after August Belmont, one of the main financiers of the Old Belmont–the oldest race of today’s Triple Crown races. This race started at Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx in 1867. The original site stretched a bit into Queens from Nassau county. Since bookmaking was illegal, the bookies could escape from being arrested by crossing this line. It was even believed that horses rounding the far turn crossed into Queens for a few strides and then returned to Nassau County in the final stretch. This site near Elmont, New York, is also near the first racing meet ever officially held in North America in 1665.
On May 4, 1905, the first Belmont Stakes race was run and the first winner of the Belmont Stakes was Ruthless. For fifteen years, the race was run in the fashion set in England…clockwise ending in front of the clubhouse. In 1880, the first post parade, bringing the horses out in line, was held at the 14th running of the Belmont race.
There are a few unique features of this Park. First is the the origin of the corporate insigna…the White Pine Tree. A mansion once set here. The owners had planted trees that predated this white pine. As the trees were lumbered for the construction of the track, August Belmont saved the pine tree. Now, this 184 year-old tree, older than the track itself, stands in the paddock .
Four stone pillars from the entrance of the Washington Course of the South Carolina Jockey club are now found at the clubhouse entrance at Belmont Park. Along with the stone pillars are a set of wrought iron gates with a racing motif that came from Jerome Park. They were salvaged during the 1963 demolition by Perry Belmont, Belmont II’s son, and he donated these wrought iron gates that now border the walking ring .
The Belmont Stakes weren’t always held at Belmont Park. While the stands at Belmont Park were reconstructed, the stake races were held at Aqueduct.
The quest for the Triple Crown ends on the dirt course known as the ‘Main Track’ and nicknamed ‘Big Sandy.” In 1973, Secretariat set the world record for one and a half mile on ‘Big Sandy’ (2:24.00)and his record still holds. And, Secretariat’s thirty-one length victory clinched the first ‘Crown’ in 25 years- dating back to Citation 1948. Thus, a statue of Secretariat graces the center of the Belmont paddock near the beloved White Pine.
Some unique events besides horseracing have also happened at the Belmont Park:
When the state of New York banned gambling from 1911-12, the Belmont didn’t run However the Wright Brothers International Aerial Tournament did. This ten-day event on October 30, 1910, happened before some 15,000 people. It included aerial time and distance races over the course of ten days. The last race of the day flew from the Belmont Park to the Statue of Liberty The American pilot claimed to win; the English pilot contested the win; so the prize was presented to the French pilot.
Eight years later, on May 15, 1918. Belmont Park became the origin and destination of the first Air Mail flown between New York and Washington D.C. The 4000 letters were transferred to a second plane in Philadelphia and flown on to DC. Flights to Boston and Chicago soon followed.
$891, 320 was raised for the American Red Cross when the Belmont Park hosted a War Relief Day in 1940.
On October 2, 1943, Belmont Park hosted ‘Back the Attack Day” when the admission to the track was exclusively the purchase of one or more War Bonds, producing the largest ‘gate’ in sports history….30,000 fans bought $30 million worth of War Bonds.
On September ll, 2001 after the terror attack on the World Trade Center, Belmont Park became the staging area for emergency vehicles and personnel.
Aside from all this history and excitement, the future of the Triple Crown appears in jeopardy. With the creation of ‘racinos’ (race tracks taking on the appearance of casinos), the growth of gambling as in New York pizza parlors,various scratch-off games,lotteries, and NASCAR’s popularity, people aren’t coming to the tracks anymore. Now add the nation’s economy hitting state revenues, the state governments that once banned gambling are now tapping gambling profits. So,the race tracks are struggling. The Pimlico and Belmont Park have filed for bankrupcy and many other race tracks have disappeared as Aksarben in Nebraska. As people get farther and farther from dealing with horses, such moments in history as the Triple Crown may possibly fade out.
But, never to be forgotten is Secretariat and his claim to the Test of Champions and the Triple Crown:
May the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and the Belmont or as we know them–The Triple Crown– never be lost or forgotten. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trek thorugh horse racing history as much as I have researching the Triple Crown. What a wonderful ride though history!
Thank you: Wikipedia.org/Belmont Park, Wikipedia. org/United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, Belmontstakes.com/history, newjerseynewsroom.com/Preakness-and Belmont-Stakes futures.