Why Do So Many Triple Crown Contenders Fail At Belmont?

It's a familiar pattern — a horse wins the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course only to flub the final US Horse Racing Triple Crown at Belmont Stakes. We take a look at some strong contenders throughout horse racing history who fell short at Belmont, and why it happens.

Post Game

The US Triple Crown is one of the most prized accomplishments in sport. Just like a clean sweep of Olympic gold medals, or unifying boxing’s heavyweight division, a horse winning the Triple Crown cements its name in sporting history.

But while there have been 13 Triple Crown winners down the years, a further 23 horses have failed to win it on the last race: the Belmont Stakes. Belmont is the final hurdle so many horses failed to vault – much to the chagrin of jockeys, owners and horse racing betting fans alike. Here, we look at why Belmont has proved such a problematic racetrack for apprising Triple Crown horses…

How the US Triple Crown Works

The Triple Crown is the name given to three prestigious horse races in America:

These races take place on dirt tracks between the start of May and mid-June each year. None are longer than one-and-a-half miles, which means the races are over within two to three minutes.

The races are designed for sprint horses aged three years, and many trainers will place the same horse in all three events. Because of the age limit a horse has just one chance to win the Triple Crown before it can’t run in the races again – and this makes the feat of winning all three Stakes even greater.

US Triple Crown Failures at Belmont

When it comes to failing at Belmont, Triple Crown betting fans are often quick to point to why a horse didn’t win — here are just four excuses reasons.

Injuries and Fatigue

Racehorses are physically imposing animals that have to be super fit to win big Stakes races. And accompanying their prime fitness comes a heightened risk of injury. Down the years we’ve seen the likes of Big Brown (2008) and Charismatic (1999) carry injuries into the Belmont Stakes and fail to cross the line first.

In 2014 California Chrome wasn’t injured but just seemed to run out of gas. That’s what can happen after a horse wins two of the biggest races in the US – nailing a third is just a step too far.

Perhaps the most unlucky of Belmont failures was Spectacular Bid, who dominated the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1979. Coming into the final race fully fit, Spectacular Bid stood on a safety pin and punctured his hoof. The swelling meant he couldn’t run freely and Coastal charged to victory at Belmont.

Bad Weather

Horses aren’t machines and the surface on which they run can greatly impact on their results. Bad weather in the 2003 Belmont Stakes left Funny Cide, who had cruised to victory in the first two races of the Triple Crown, unable to cope with the mud.

Dixie Hayes leads 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide around the paddock at Churchill Downs

Dixie Hayes, a Kentucky Derby Horse Park Worker leads ’03 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide around the paddock at Churchill Downs. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

Jockey Jose Santos led Funny Cide to a third-place finish on the sloppy track. In June Belmont Park isn’t usually a mud bath but the rains had come down in the days before the big race and made it impossible for Funny Cide to run at his peak.

Longer Track

Some experts who really read into the form won’t place a racing bet on a horse if they don’t look comfortable with distance. That seems logical – and those who decided against backing War Emblem in 2002 were duly rewarded for their caution.

War Emblem had tasted victory at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, and was the favourite to win here. But a stumble at the beginning of the race and an inability to keep apace with the field over the one-and-a-half-mile course meant War Emblem finished eighth. Belmont is an extra quarter-mile longer than the other two Triple Crown races – and it was these yards War Emblem just couldn’t handle.

A Rival Wins

Horse racing rivalries have ruined plenty of Triple Crown attempts down the years. Often two big horses contest the first race at the Kentucky Derby, and then meet each other again a few weeks later in the Preakness Stakes. In 1987 Alysheba twice frustrated Bet Twice in the opening races, only to lose heavily to its rival at Belmont.

The likes of Sunday Silence (1989, lost to Easy Goer) and Real Quiet (1998, lost to Victory Gallop) have had glory snatched from them by a rival. In 1997 Silver Charm looked on course to claim a Triple Crown and led the Belmont Stakes in the early phases, only for Touch Gold to come up on the outside in the final straight and sensationally beat him to the post.

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