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Ranking the 10 Best Moments in Belmont Stakes History

Jessica PaquetteFeatured Columnist IJanuary 7, 2017

Ranking the 10 Best Moments in Belmont Stakes History

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The Belmont Stakes can be the race that defines a horse's career. The mile and a half contest puts every bit of a horse's stamina, speed and heart to the test and has given racing fans some of the greatest, most iconic moments in the history of the sport. 

    From heartbreaking defeats to astonishing triumphs, the Belmont Stakes is the pinnacle of what makes horse racing such a riveting sport. Triple Crown dreams have been both actualized and shattered here, and some of the greatest rivalries in the game have been on display in the long stretch of Belmont Park.

    With 145 installments of the Belmont Stakes in the record books, the race fondly dubbed the "Test of Champions" has accumulated some rich history. Here is a look at some of the greatest moments in Belmont Stakes history.

10. Afleet Alex Dominates the Field (2005)

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Afleet Alex will always be remembered as the one that could have gone down as a true great. His triumphant Belmont Stakes victory in which he demolished the field by seven lengths and came home in a remarkable final quarter of :24 2/5 in the mile and a half test should have been full of celebration.

    Instead, it was bittersweet. The colt had finished third in the Kentucky Derby before redeeming himself in the final two legs of the Triple Crown—winning both the Preakness and Belmont impressively. But just moments after the Belmont, his jockey, Jeremy Rose, was blaming himself for not having a Triple Crown winner.

    "He should be a Triple Crown winner," Rose told the New York Times. "But I messed up, or whatever."

9. Colonial Affair Makes History for Julie Krone (1993)

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    The 1993 Belmont Stakes was marred by the tragic breakdown of Prairie Bayou, but long shot Colonial Affair made history in his own right. His victory made jockey Julie Krone the first woman to win a Triple Crown race.

    Carrying the colors of Centennial Farm, which will also send out Wicked Strong for his chance at history on Saturday, the son of Pleasant Colony rated from off the pace and seized command at the top of the stretch, drawing off to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

    Julie Krone would go down in history as the all-time leading female rider and would add numerous other marquee stakes wins to her remarkable resume—including a Breeders' Cup victory. But Colonial Affair was one that cemented her place in Triple Crown lore.

8. Point Given Shows Hints of Greatness (2001)

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The comparisons were inevitable. Point Given, with his massive build and chestnut good looks, gave the racing world shades of Secretariat. Those similarities came to a screeching halt in the Kentucky Derby when he finished a labored fifth as the favorite with no apparent excuses.

    Though that blemish was glaring, he rebounded sharply in the Preakness Stakes. In the 2001 Belmont Stakes, he again garnered some comparisons to the other "Big Red" with a Secretariat-like performance, winning by 12 1/4 lengths.

    Point Given had all of the makings of a legitimate Triple Crown threat, but his bid for immortality was stopped before it even began. 

5. Danzig Connection Completes Woody Stephens' Streak (1986)

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    John Swart/Associated Press

    As a race, the 1986 Belmont Stakes was nothing extraordinary. It was won by a colt named Danzig Connection who peaked at the right time after winning the Peter Pan Stakes in his prior start and may have gotten a little lucky over an off track. 

    What was special about the race was what it meant for legendary conditioner Woody Stephens. The popular Hall of Fame trainer had become "Mr. Belmont Stakes" of the 1980s, and the triumph in the 1986 Belmont was his remarkable fifth consecutive win.

    It is hard enough to win one Triple Crown race in a career, let alone win the same race five years in a row. Stephens began his streak in 1982 with Conquistador Cielo and followed it with Caveat (1983), Swale (1984) and Creme Fraiche (1985) before capping it off with Danzig Connection. 

6. A.P. Indy Lives Up to His Hype (1992)

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    Chris Cole/Getty Images

    A.P. Indy was supposed to win a Triple Crown race. He sold as a yearling for $2.9 million and the expectations for this exquisite and expensive colt were through the roof.

    Despite an early career plagued by minor soundness issues, he looked poised to be a top threat in the 1992 Kentucky Derby after an impressive win in the Santa Anita Derby. However, it was not meant to be—a bruised hoof knocked him out of contention for the Run for the Roses.

    Expert trainer Neil Drysdale regrouped and focused on the Belmont Stakes. After a win in the Peter Pan Stakes, A.P. Indy delivered on his potential with one of the most impressive Belmont wins in history. 

5. Easy Goer Turns the Tables on His Rival (1989)

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    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    Easy Goer was able to succeed where his sire, the famed Alydar, had failed. After developing a heated West vs. East rivalry with the brilliant Sunday Silence, Easy Goer was able to play the role of the spoiler and end the hopes of a Triple Crown in 1989.

    After finishing second to Sunday Silence (the pride of the West Coast) in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Easy Goer romped at his home track of Belmont Park by eight lengths, finishing the mile and a half in 2:26—a time that remains the second fastest in the history of the race.

    Like Affirmed and Alydar, the rivalry of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer was one of the most engaging and thrilling in the history of horse racing. 

4. Victory Gallop Stuns the World by a Nose (1998)

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    The 1998 Belmont Stakes left fans stunned as the Triple Crown was denied by a bare nostril, but it remains one of the most thrilling installments of the race and goes down as one of legendary announcer Tom Durkin's greatest hits.

    Victory Gallop had been the bridesmaid to unlikely hero Real Quiet in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but at Belmont Park he exacted his revenge. The Triple Crown seemed as good as won as Real Quiet opened up a four-length advantage in the stretch. And then, bit by bit, Victory Gallop gave chase.

    The two locked horns in mid-stretch and neither was giving an inch. It was a battle for the ages, and despite some rough bumping on both sides, Victory Gallop prevailed and the Triple Crown drought continued.

3. Rags to Riches Beats the Boys (2007)

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    Rags to Riches will go down in history as one of the most memorable horses in the career of Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Despite winning nearly every major race in the country, both had gone winless in Triple Crown races until the big chestnut filly entered their lives.

    After annihilating her competition in the Kentucky Oaks, Pletcher set his sights on history with the talented filly at Belmont Park. She did not disappoint.

    After a stumble at the start, she settled into position and hooked up with Preakness winner Curlin at the top of the stretch. Those two slugged it out until the wire with Rags to Riches getting her head in front. The dueling pair were over five lengths clear of the rest of the field. 

2. Affirmed Wins a Triple Crown for the Ages (1978)

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    Perez/Associated Press

    Great rivalries are what define sports. The battles between Affirmed and Alydar over the course of the Triple Crown in 1978 are some of the greatest in racing history. In the Belmont Stakes, that rivalry culminated with Affirmed showing his dominance once and for all.

    That takes nothing away from Alydar. He would have been a superstar in his own right in any other year and was unlucky to be in the same crop as Affirmed. Affirmed would still have been a great horse without Alydar, but it was the rivalry that vaulted both of them to legends.

1. Secretariat Wins Like a Tremendous Machine (1973)

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    Secretariat's 31-length tour de force in the 1973 Belmont Stakes is one of the most iconic sporting moments in history. The image of a solitary Ron Turcotte looking under his shoulder for competition and finding none is a familiar image—even to non-racing fans.

    Secretariat went from being known as one of the all-time greats of the sport to horse racing immortality in the duration of the long stretch at Belmont Park. His tremendous performance not only made him a Triple Crown winner, but it set the bar by which every Belmont Stakes winner is judged. 

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