06/11/2012 11:54PM

Bygone Belmont winners


Before thoughts of the Belmont Stakes fade - until next spring, that is - I thought I'd share photos of some long-ago Belmont winners whom I've photographed.  I'm not sure how many reading this will actually remember these horses from their racing days - but most of the names, at least, should be familiar.

As a sidenote, Andrew Beyer's article about the Belmont/breeding for stamina got me thinking about the importance of horses like Stage Door Johnny and Arts and Letters, who spent their stud careers at Greentree Stud and, upon its closing, the neighboring Gainesway Farm.  Gainesway stands two Belmont winners nowadays, too - Afleet Alex and Birdstone.

Above:  The immortal NASHUA (1952 - 1982, by Nasrullah - Segula, by Johnstown), winner of the 1955 Belmont Stakes, at age 25 at Spendthrift Farm in Lexington, Kentucky.  It was the first time I'd seen a great, older stallion, and I've never forgotten how alive - powerful, magnificent, proud - he was.

NASHUA, one of history's all-time greats, won 22 of 30 starts, with 4 seconds and a third, and earned $1,288,565 (a tremendous number for the '50s...not a bad number nowadays, either).  Among his many stakes victories were the Belmont, Preakness Stakes, Arlington Stakes, Flamingo Stakes, Widener Handicap, Suburban Handicap, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Hopeful Stakes and Wood Memorial.

In the 1955 Belmont, NASHUA, ridden by Eddie Arcaro, was the prohibitive favorite at .15-1.  He scored by 9 lengths, in 2:29, and paid $2.30, 2.30 and 2.10.  NASHUA was so respected by bettors that the second choice, Portersville, who ran third, was 8.75-1.

Syndicated for stud for a record $1,252,000 in 1955 - a record - NASHUA became a tremendously popular sire and broodmare sire.  He died in 1982 at age 30.  His barn's courtyard was nicknamed the Nashua Motel when he held court there, and the great stallion is buried beneath a statue that shows him with his long-time groom Clem Brooks.

Above:  Nashua with his friend and groom, the delightful storytelling Clem Brooks, in 1977.

Above:  *Gallant Man at age 30, Spendthrift Farm, May 1984

*GALLANT MAN (1954 - 1988, by *Migoli - *Majideh, by Mahmoud), sometimes called the greatest horse to never win a championship, was born the same year as other superb racehorses like Round Table, Gen. Duke and Bold Ruler.  Nonetheless, the diminutive colt won 14 of 26 starts, with 4 seconds and a third.  He earned $510,355, and among his wins were the Belmont Stakes, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Travers Stakes, Peter Pan and Nassau County.  Were it not for a miscalculation on Willie Shoemaker's part - he misjudged the finish line and stood up before the wire - GALLANT MAN likely would have worn the title of Kentucky Derby winner, too.

GALLANT MAN dominated in the 1957 Belmont Stakes, winning by 8 lengths and setting a new American record of 2:26 3/5 (his Belmont record would stand until 1973).  The stronger part of an entry, GALLANT MAN went off at .95-1 and paid $3.90.  The favored Bold Ruler, at .85-1, ran third.

GALLANT MAN became a stellar sire and broodmare sire, standing at Spendthrift Farm.  He died there at age 34, in 1988, and is buried at the farm.

Above:  Then 23-year-old GALLANT MAN at Spendthrift Farm, 1977.

Above/below: GALLANT MAN at age 30.  The groom that day told me that the reason GALLANT MAN curled his lip was because the kindly old stallion knew that trick might result in a peppermint.  Sadly, I hadn't brought any candy that day - nor did the groom have any.  28 years later, I still feel badly about it.

Above:  GALLANT MAN, at Spendthrift Farm on a spring day, 1977.

Above:  DAMASCUS, the 1967 Belmont Stakes winner, at age 14 at Claiborne Farm, 1978

DAMASCUS (1964 - 1995, by Sword Dancer - *Kerala, by My Babu), is another truly great racehorse to win the Belmont Stakes.  This Hall of Fame member, ranked #16 on the Blood-Horse's list of the 20th century's greatest racehorses, was the 1967 Horse of the Year, and champion 3-year-old and handicap horse.  

Although he had to race against Dr. Fager and Buckpasser, DAMASCUS won 21 of 32 starts, was second 7 times and third 3 times (only unplaced once).  He earned $1,176,781 AND among his 16 (!) stakes wins Are the Belmont, Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Brooklyn, Aqueduct, San Fernando, Malibu, Woodward, Dwyer and Travers.

In the 1967 Belmont, DAMASCUS was .80-1 in a 9-horse field - and he won in odds-on fashion.  Willie Shoemaker guided him to a 2 1/2 length victory in 2:28 4/5.  The second choice, Proud Clarion, that year's Kentucky Derby winner, ran fourth.

The 1967 Woodward is often considered the greatest of his stellar career, when DAMASCUS powered home 10 lengths clear of Buckpasser and Dr. Fager.  How about that field?

DAMASCUS proved a highly successful stallion at Claiborne Farm, both as a sire and broodmare sire.  He resided at Claiborne until his death at age 31, and he is buried at the farm.

Above: DAMASCUS at Claiborne Farm in early 1978.  In the background is the also amazing Sir Ivor.

Above:  Here comes STAGE DOOR JOHNNY (1965 - 1996, by Prince John - Peroxide Blonde, by Ballymoss), winner of the 1968 Belmont Stakes.  At age 19, Greentree Stud, Lexington, Kentucky, 1984

STAGE DOOR JOHNNY had an abbreviated career - just8 starts - but it was a classic-winning one.  He won 5 starts, was second twice and third once - never off-the-board.  He earned $223,964, and, in addition to his Belmont score, won the Dwyer and Saranac handicaps.  In the Belmont, he defeated Forward Pass by 1 1/2 lengths under Heliodores Gustines, in 2:27 1/5, and paid $10.80.

He later became a tremendous sire, first at Greentree Stud and then later at Gainesway, where he died in 1996.  He is buried at old Greentree Stud, now owned by Gainesway.

Above and below:  19-year-old STAGE DOOR JOHNNY at Greentree Stud.

Above:  The handsome - and solidly built - STAGE DOOR JOHNNY, 1984.

Above:  ARTS AND LETTERS, also at Greentree Stud in 1984 and later at Gainesway, was a long-time stable buddy of Stage Door Johnny

ARTS AND LETTERS (1966 - 1998, by Ribot - All Beautiful, by Battlefield), was bred and raced by Rokeby Stables.  He raced 23 times, with a record of 11-6-1, $632,404,.  The 1969 Horse of the Year, champion handicap horse and champion 3-year-old, ARTS AND LETTERS is a Hall of Fame inductee.  He won the Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes, Woodward, Metropolitan Handicap, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Blue Grass Stakes, Jim Dandy and Everglades Stakes.

ARTS AND LETTERS crushed Majestic Prince's Triple Crown bid in winning the 1969 Belmont.  Under Braulio Baeza, Arts and Letters was close to favoritism - 1.70-1, in comparison to Majestic Prince's 1.30 - and he beat that rival by 5 1/2 lengths.   Dike, who ran third, was so highly regarded that his odds were 2.30-1.  ARTS AND LETTERS Belmont time was 2:28 4/5.

A popular and beloved stallion, ARTS AND LETTERS lived to age 32.  He is buried at old Greentree Stud (now part of Gainesway).

Above:  ARTS AND LETTERS, age 18, Greentree Stud

Above:  ARTS AND LETTERS, age 11, at Greentree Stud

Above:  HIGH ECHELON (1967 - 1991, by Native Charger - Luquillo, by Princequillo), at age 10, Gainesway Farm, 1977

HIGH ECHELON certainly isn't the most remembered Belmont Stakes winner, but he proved best in the 1970 Test of the Champion.   He raced 32 times, with 4 wins, 5 seconds and 4 thirds, and earned $383,895.  Three of his wins came in stakes - the Futurity, Pimlico-Laurel Futurity...and the Belmont Stakes.

Considering his overall record of just 4 wins in 32 races, it seems a bit surprising HIGH ECHELON only paid $11 in his Belmont win.  Under John Rotz, he scored by 3/4-length over Needles N Pens (anyone remember that name?) in a time, over sloppy going, of 2:34.  The favored My Dad George (that's a memorable name!) ran fifth.

HIGH ECHELON was at Gainesway Farm when I photographed him at age 10 (above), but he moved around during his stud career, dying at Franks Farm in Florida in 1991.

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Chart of NASHUA's Belmont Stakes:  http://www.belmontstakes.com/UserFiles/file/1955.pdf

Chart of GALLANT MAN's Belmont Stakes:  http://www.belmontstakes.com/UserFiles/file/1957.pdf

Chart of DAMASCUS's Belmont Stakes: http://www.belmontstakes.com/UserFiles/file/1967.pdf

Chart of STAGE DOOR JOHNNY's Belmont Stakes: http://www.belmontstakes.com/UserFiles/file/1968.pdf

Chart of ARTS AND LETTER's Belmont Stakes: http://www.belmontstakes.com/UserFiles/file/1969.pdf

Chart of HIGH ECHELON's Belmont Stakes: http://www.belmontstakes.com/UserFiles/file/1969.pdf

Video of NASHUA's match race vs. Swaps (I couldn't find the Belmont): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePbBleObAuM

Video of GALLANT MAN's Travers (couldn't find the Belmont): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKdfjh7JrR4

Video of DAMASCUS's Travers (couldn't find the Belmont): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWGOzCcR2wQ

Video of STAGE DOOR JOHNNY's Belmont Stakes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJ-Xn85t87k&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PL79FDF4D1202B011E

Video of ARTS AND LETTER'S Belmont Stakes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAoU4mc_4go

Video of HIGH ECHELON's Belmont Stakes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbK4wmdlPyk