Muir Station Road, north of Lexington, runs from Paris Pike to Briar Hill Road. The road is an extension of the more-well-traveled Iron Works Pike, or Kentucky Route 1973. The week before the Belmont Stakes (G1), that makes us think of Secretariat and his definitive 31-length victory in the third leg of the Triple Crown in 1973.
At the corner of Muir Station Road and Bryan Station Road is Windy Corner restaurant. Jockey silks from the local outfits—Gainesway, Marylou Whitney, Millennium Farm, Winchell Thoroughbreds, to name a few—hang from the walls and the food is fit for any breeder, owner, or trainer.
As the Belmont nears, people from Windy Corner to Woody’s Corner in the clubhouse of Belmont Park are talking about Justify’s shot at becoming the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner.
This will be the 150th running of the Belmont. A third of them have been run at the “new” Belmont Park.
Of note are the momentous things that come on the “eights” at the plant on Hempstead Turnpike.
The first Belmont run around the 1 1/2-mile “Big Sandy,” June 1, 1968, is an interesting case in “what might have been.” Calumet Farm’s Forward Pass had been second in the Kentucky Derby to Dancer’s Image, and was able to turn the tables in the Preakness Stakes. While it took years for the courts to decide, eventually Dancer’s Image was disqualified in the Derby due to testing positive for phenylbutazone, or Bute. Forward Pass was bidding to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1948 in that Belmont. However, he finished second to Greentree’s Stage Door Johnny.
A decade later Affirmed and Alydar captivated the nation with their rivalry throughout the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Harbor View Farm’s Affirmed, trainer Laz Barrera, and “the Kid” Steve Cauthen, taking the first two legs over Calumet Farm’s Alydar. The two delivered a race for the ages in the Belmont as the pair ran as one for the final mile of the race. After an opening half in :50, the pair ran the next three quarters in :24, :23 2/5, and :24 1/5 before Affirmed inched ahead in the final strides to take the series.
The Derby-winning Winning Colors and Preakness winner Risen Star squared off in 1988 (our first Belmont, by the way), with Risen Star delivering a championship-caliber performance, striding away in the lane to win by 14 3/4 lengths over Kingpost as Winning Colors struggled home last. The colorful connections of the son of Secretariat put the icing on the cake as co-owner Ronnie Lemarque crooned to the crowd following the victory. On the Belmont undercard that day was another stellar performance in the grade 1 Hempstead Handicap. The winner by seven lengths was Personal Ensign, recording her eighth of 13 career victories.
Real Quiet came to Belmont with a shot at the Triple Crown in 1998, and was rebuffed by Victory Gallop by the cruelest of noses.
Another Triple Crown was on the line in 2008 with Big Brown, whose curious, last-place-while-pulled-up finish under Kent Desormeaux has to be one of the most bizarre finishes to a Triple Crown bid as there has been.
Which leads us to June 9, 2018, with Justify and WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing, Head of Plains Partners, and SF Racing looking to fill the winner’s circle, and Bob Baffert having a shot of joining “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons as the only trainers with multiple Triple Crowns.
If we only had a magic eight ball.