Belmont Park and the Belmont Stakes are named after the first August Belmont (originally August Schonberg), who was born in 1816 in Prussia and died in New York City in 1890. He was a well-known figure in the Gilded Age–a banker, an influential member of the Democratic party, a patron of the arts, and a prominent racehorse owner. In 1882, the town where Belmont Park is located was changed from Alden Manor to Elmont.

The August Belmont-financed inaugural Belmont Stakes was held in 1867 at Jerome Park in the Bronx, a track named for another Gilded Age business titan, Leonard Jerome, the father-in-law of Winston Churchill. The race was relocated to Morris Park in 1890.

Belmont Park opened in 1905 and the Belmont Stakes found a permanent home. August Belmont Jr. (1853-1924) purchased the land and built Belmont Park, which he named after his father. When the United States entered World War I, Belmont dispersed his racing stable and joined the Army at age 64. One of the yearlings he sold at auction at Saratoga was Man o’ War.

The Belmont Stakes was not run in 1911 and 1912 owing to anti-gambling legislation and was moved to Aqueduct from 1963 through 1967 while Belmont Park underwent renovations. The race has been run at a distance of 1 ½ miles since 1926. Previously, it had been run at distances ranging from 1 1/8 miles to 1 5/8 miles.

Prior to 1931, the sequence of the Triple Crown races varied, with the Preakness coming before the Kentucky Derby on eleven occasions and eleven times the Belmont came before the Preakness. Twice the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness were held the same day.

Sir Barton won the Belmont in 1919 and in 1930 he was retroactively declared to be the first winner of the American Triple Crown. He won the Kentucky Derby on May10th at 1 ¼ miles, the Preakness on May 14th at 1 1/8 miles, and the Belmont on June 11th at 1 3/8 miles. Between the Preakness and the Belmont, on May 24th, Sir Barton won the one-mile Withers at Belmont Park.

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The English Derby—officially the Investec Epsom Derby—is always run on the first Saturday in June, similar to how its American cousin, the Kentucky Derby, is held on the first Saturday in May. The race began in 1780 and the 2019 edition will be the 240th consecutive running.

Epsom Downs has been the host except for 1940 through 1945 when the race was temporarily moved to Newmarket owing to World War II. Records indicate that horse racing at Epsom occurred as early as the 1640s and possibly even in 1625.

Legend has it that the 12th Earl of Derby, whose estate was known as The Oaks, had as his house guest Sir Charles Bunbury, and the two flipped a coin to see if the race would be called the English Derby or the English Bunbury. The 1780 race was contested at a distance of a mile, but the distance was increased to a mile and a half in 1784 and remains so today.

Although entries won’t be finalized until May 30th, the famed Coolmore Stud of Ireland plans to start eight horses, including the present favorite Sir Dragonet, who the stable got into the race by paying a supplementary fee of £85,000. Trainer John Gosden is likely to start three horses. So two trainers will account for eleven of the entries in what is expected to be a fifteen-horse field.

If Coolmore were to win the race, Aiden O’Brien would be tied with three old-time trainers at seven wins for the most in Derby history. Lester Pigott is the winningest jockey in Epsom Derby history with nine victories.

The sentimental favorite will be the Andrew Balding-trained Bangkok. He was purchased by the late Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who owned Leicester City soccer team of the Premier League and was killed in October 2018 after taking off in a helicopter from the King Power Stadium in Leicester.

Post time for the 2019 Investec Epsom Derby is Saturday, June 1 at 4:30 p.m. British time or 11:30 a.m. New York time.

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Jeffrey Cannizzo, Executive Director of the New York Breeders Association, wrote a very informative fact-based article for the May-June issue of New York Breeder on how the American racing industry can immediately address the fatal breakdown problem that has caused a crisis. He answers the realistic question “Could racing go the way of Sea World or Greyhound racing?” with “I assure you it’s naïve to think not and dismiss the thought outright.”

Mr. Cannizzo notes that in the wake of the rash of breakdowns at Aqueduct in the winter of 2012, the Governor’s Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety crafted a plan that “incorporated the establishment of safety best practices, improved methods of identifying horses at increased risk of injury, implemented protective factors to reduce the risk of injury, enhanced information sharing and communication, and improved the general health and welfare of the horse.”

As a result, in 2018, “the incidence of fatal breakdowns in the state was 1.29 per 1,000 starts, the lowest in the state in decades and well below the national average of 1.68 per 1,000 starts.” Aqueduct, for example, reduced fatalities per 1,000 starts from 2.27 in 2009 to 1.57 in 2018.

Mid-Atlantic states that have followed the New York protocols have also experienced a decline in horse fatalities and, given the recent epidemic of fatal breakdowns at Santa Anita, a coalition of racetracks accounting for 90% of U. S. wagering are likely to adopt many of the same now-proven safety measures.

(Click here for the May-June New York Breeder and see some of the specific features in the New York model on page 6.)


One glaring statistic that most of the American racing industry chooses to all but ignore in practice is that dirt racing surfaces are the least safe choice, with 1.86 fatalities per 1,000 starts on dirt in 2018 compared to 1.23 on synthetic surfaces and 1.20 on turf courses. Del Mar, Keeneland, and Santa Anita, in fact, all removed synthetic racetracks and reinstalled dirt. Consequently, public relations releases from the same racetracks ring hollow when the tracks claim to put horse and rider safety first. Dirt racetracks are worst practices not best practices.

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