Belmont Stakes Traditions

Belmont Stakes Traditions

horse racing belmont
The Secretariat Statue in the paddock on Belmont Stakes day. A blanket of carnations is always placed on it for that day. Cindy Pierson Dulay

The Belmont Stakes was first run in 1867 and is the oldest of the Triple Crown events, predating the Kentucky Derby by eight years and the Preakness by six. While it has always been held in New York, originally it was run at Jerome Park, then moved to Morris Park in 1890, and finally to the newly opened Belmont Park in 1905 where it has stayed except for 1963-1967 when it was run at Aqueduct while Belmont Park was being rebuilt. Known as "The Test of Champions," the Belmont is the final race of the Triple Crown series and the longest of them at 1 1/2 miles. So far 21 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to fail in the Belmont, while only 11 have managed to win all three races and claim the title of Triple Crown winner.

Easily the most casual of the Triple Crown races, it is run five weeks after the Kentucky Derby in early June and often the weather is too hot for more dressy attire. Still you will see a few who come dressed up with fancy hats, but mostly they will be in the airconditioned clubhouse or turf club.

Kentucky Derby Traditions
Preakness Traditions

Carnations for the Winner

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The blanket of carnations given to the Belmont winner each year. This is 2014 winner Tonalist. Cindy Pierson Dulay

Traditionally, the Belmont Stakes winner wears a blanket of white carnations in the winner's circle. The blanket, which takes about 10 hours to make, contains 300 to 400 carnations which are glued onto a green velveteen cloth. A similar blanket done on green felt is draped on the base of the statue of Triple Crown winner Secretariat in the paddock. The white carnations usually come from either California or Columbia.

The Trophy

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The Belmont Stakes trophy. Cindy Pierson Dulay

The traditional trophy, a solid silver covered bowl originally crafted by Tiffany's, was presented by the Belmont family as a permanent trophy for the Belmont Stakes in 1926. It was the trophy August Belmont's Fenian won in the 1869 Belmont Stakes and had remained with the Belmont family since that time. The trophy stands 18 inches high, 15 inches across, and 14 inches at the base. On top of the cover is a silver figure of Fenian, winner of the third running of the Belmont Stakes in 1869. The bowl is supported by three horses, Eclipse, Herod, and Matchem, who represent the respective superior grandsons of the three Foundation Sires of Thoroughbreds: the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Barb. The winning owner gets a slightly smaller and less detailed replica to keep, while the winning trainer and jockey get even smaller ones, about half the size of the owner's. The winning owner may also keep the permanent trophy for a year until the next Belmont winner is crowned.

Theme Song

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LL Cool J performs at the 2014 Belmont Stakes. Cindy Pierson Dulay

For decades the traditional theme song of the Belmont Stakes was "Sidewalks of New York," but in 1997 track officials made some changes in an attempt to appeal to a younger crowd and decided to use "New York, New York," a song written by John Kander and Fred Ebb and made famous by Frank Sinatra. The song is performed during the post parade, usually by a singer or a star from a current Broadway musical. "Sidewalks of New York" is still used, but now it is played by NYRA bugler Sam Grossman before the Manhattan Handicap, the turf race run right before the Belmont Stakes.

In recent years, as an attempt to lure in a younger crowd, more contemporary acts have been performing on Belmont Stakes Day.  In 2014 it was LL Cool J, which didn't go over very will with the racing crowd.  In 2015 they brought in the cast of Jersey Boys to perform a short medley from the show which was well received.

The Official Drink

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A vendor selling Belmont Breezes and beer on Belmont Stakes day. Terence Dulay

Another of the changes made in 1997 was to come up with a new drink to replace the White Carnation. Dale DeGroff, head bartender at Manhattan's Rainbow Room/Windows on the World, used an old, Colonial recipe for whiskey punch: "One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak" to come up with the Belmont Breeze. Introduced in 1998, it has been the official drink ever since, but it isn't nearly as popular as the Mint Julep at the Derby or the Black-eyed Susan at the Preakness. The crowd at the Belmont Stakes seems to mostly stick to beer, but the $10 price tag may also have something to do with that.

Belmont Breeze recipe
White Carnation recipe

Other Traditions

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The paddock at Belmont Park with the 300 year old white pine on the right. Cindy Pierson Dulay

There are Belmont traditions that have lasted through the years. None match the age of the giant white pine in the paddock, which is is 300 years old. This tree is the basis for the Belmont track logo. The Winners Photo Gallery, on the 2nd floor of the Belmont clubhouse in the Belmont Room, boasts the photo finishes of past Belmont victors dating back to 1912. The night before every Belmont, the previous year's winner is honored at a trainer's banquet. The Belmont Charity Ball held at Meadowbrook Country Club is the climax of pre-Belmont celebrations. A new tradition, the Belmont Festival at Garden City, started in 2004.

Another new Belmont tradition which began in 1997 is the paining of the silks of the winner on a four foot tall cast iron horse and jockey on the fence around the paddock. If it is a Triple Crown winner, it is moved to a permanent position with the other Triple Crown winners on the fence.