There are several sporting events that boast that "there's nothing quite like it." This may seem like hyperbole in many circumstances, but in the case of the Belmont Stakes, it is literally true.
The historic third jewel of America's Triple Crown has three-year-olds racing at a distance they've never done before and will never attempt again unless they switch racing surfaces totally.
This makes handicapping the race difficult because it's difficult to forecast which horses will last the longest; yet, trends can and do emerge. Let's examine some of the similarities among the last 10 Belmont Stakes winners (excluding the 2020 edition, which will be run over only 1 18 miles and one turn).
All of the Belmont Stakes winners in this sample won at least one race as a juvenile, with the exception of Justify, who did not compete until he was two, Creator, who broke his maiden after six tries, and Tonalist, who broke his maiden as a newly minted three-year-old in January of 2014. This implies that a Belmont Stakes victor should have a strong foundation of long-term preparation.
In addition, many of the recent Belmont champions raced in stakes races at the age of two. Prior to his Triple Crown sweep, American Pharoah was the juvenile champion of 2014, and Essential Quality went undefeated as a two-year-old to win the juvenile title in 2020. Sir Winston, Tapwrit, and Union Rags, three recent Belmont winners, all won stakes races as two-year-olds.
The Run For The Roses
Although only Triple Crown champions American Pharoah and Justify won both, participation in the Kentucky Derby appears to be a solid indicator of recent Belmont Stakes performance. Indeed, it appears that a horse need not run well in the Kentucky Derby to be a contender in the Belmont Stakes.
Essential Quality, Tapwrit, Creator, Palace Malice, and Union Rags all failed to place in the Kentucky Derby and subsequently skipped the Preakness in order to concentrate on the Belmont Stakes (though Essential Quality was later promoted to third place upon the disqualification of Medina Spirit).
Surprisingly, the Preakness does not appear to be a solid predictor of a possible Belmont triumph. Only the two Triple Crown champions won or even competed in the Preakness Stakes out of the ten most recent mile-and-a-half Belmont winners.
The Belmont winners who did not run in the Kentucky Derby were instead from other races. Tonalist is coming off a win in Grade III Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, which is held the weekend before the Preakness.
Five years later, Sir Winston finished second in the Peter Pan, and Ruler On Ice came back from a second-place finish in the Federico Tesio Stakes.
"We the People", the winner of the Peter Pan Stakes this year, is being considered for the Belmont Stakes, but Joe, the winner of the Federico Tesio Stakes, is not.
It Runs In The Family
In the first few generations of their lineage, the majority of previous Belmont Stakes winners have Triple Crown race winners. This makes sense because stamina breeds stamina, and top-class race winners are more likely to be offered breeding opportunities, ensuring that they will produce more top-class race winners.
The popularity of one single sire is a more specialized phenomenon. Tonalist, Creator, Tapwrit, and Essential Quality are the four Belmont Stakes winners bred by 2004 Grade I Wood Memorial winner Tapit.
Tapit and his sire, Pulpit, never won a race longer than 1 18 miles, yet Pulpit's sire was A.P. Indy, the Belmont Stakes victor and a wonderful provider of stamina. Seattle Slew, the Triple Crown winner, sired A.P. Indy, and Secretariat, the great Triple Crown winner, sired his mom.
This triple dose of Belmont glory has certainly been passed down through the generations, and it is likely to continue as these young Tapit sons join the breeding shed.