As Justify beautifully and methodically crossed the finish line Saturday to capture the hearts and spirits of 90,000 spectators at Belmont Park and win the Triple Crown, the historical significance was almost too perfect.
Keep in mind the spectacle was the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes. Anniversary events are special regardless if a breathtaking and historic feat is achieved. Justify ran the mile and a half fast track in 2 minutes 28.18 seconds in front of a ruckus grandstand showering the colt in adulation.
For Long Island, the Belmont Stakes is more than just a thoroughbred horse race. It’s a reminder of the rich and vibrant sporting culture in these parts that dates back centuries. If not for the Belmont family, who lived prominently in Babylon, there would be no Belmont Park or Stakes.
There are throws of articles crediting August Belmont II with saving thoroughbred racing on the East Coast in the early part of the 20th century. Belmont Park opened in May 1905, but the Belmont Stakes started in 1867, first at Jerome Park in the Bronx and later at Morris Park in Westchester before landing at their namesake park in Elmont for the last 113 years.
The Belmont Stakes is named in honor of August I, a politician, financier and chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
His son, who was an inaugural “Pillars of the Turf” inductee of the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame, is a founding member of The Jockey Club, the National Steeplechase Association and the Westchester Racing Association. He also served as chairman of the New York Racing Commission. His power and influence in the sport led to the creation of Belmont Park in honor of his family’s name.
Belmont, the track, has been a haven for sports history over the last century. It has been the last leg of the Triple Crown and those legendary names like Man o’ War, War Admiral, Admiration, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, as well as the eight others, all ran to glory at the same vaunted location just off the Cross Island Parkway on the border of Nassau County and Queens.
According to his biography on the Racing Hall of Fame’s website, members of The Jockey Club said Belmont II, “loved the horse as an animal and saw in racing an opportunity for raising the standard and improving the qualities of the thoroughbred, thus adding to the prosperity of the breeder and furnishing broader avenues for clean and honest sport.”
August II, a horse breeder on top of his business ties to the sport, raised many of his stock right in Babylon on the family property. For their historical significance to sports and the local scene, the family was posthumously inducted to the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
For just the 13th time in history, a horse won the Triple Crown in 2018. Under the watch of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and under the guidance of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, Justify’s name will forever run deep in Belmont.
Larry Collmus, calling the action live for NBC Sports, belted an appropriate and now lasting line as Justify soared past the finishing gate: “He’s just perfect, and now he’s just immortal.”
One hundred and fifty years since the first Belmont Stakes, the same can be said for the Belmont Family.
Chris R. Vaccaro is Executive Director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame.