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In recent years, some sportswriters have opined that the route to the Belmont Stakes should include a start in either the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, or both.
For the first 40 years of Derby history, most Eastern trainers skipped the Louisville race, dismissing it as an unimportant "Western" event.
In fact, Sir Barton in 1919 was both the first Derby winner to capture the Preakness Stakes and the first Derby winner to take down the Belmont Stakes.
Since that colt's Triple Crown triumph 90 years ago, two dozen horses (27 percent) have won the Belmont Stakes without having started in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes. And that includes three from the current decade and three from the 1990s.
Included in the 24 are nine national champions, four Horses of the Year, and three members of racing's Hall of Fame.
And of the 24, eight won the Belmont in a year in which there was a Derby-Preakness winner shooting for the Triple Crown.
Test your knowledge of Belmont Stakes winners who did not start in both the Derby and Preakness.
1. John E. Madden, known as "The Wizard," bred five winners of the Kentucky Derby - including Sir Barton - all in the same barn at his Hamburg Place near Lexington, Ky. Yet, he always considered this colt, foaled in the same barn, the best horse he ever bred.
The colt, a foal of 1918, is one of three members of racing's Hall of Fame who won the Belmont Stakes in the past 90 years without starting in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes. The other two were foaled in 1923 and 1989, respectively. Name the three colts.
2. The 1940s was a banner decade for Triple Crown winners (Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, and Citation).
In 1944, Calumet Farm's Pensive looked like he should have made it five for the decade. He came from far back to win the Kentucky Derby ridden out. He then won the Preakness and went to post as the 1-2 favorite in the Belmont Stakes.
Pensive looked like another Calumet Triple Crown winner as the horses turned into the stretch in New York. But this colt, who had been a maiden six weeks earlier, had other ideas. He outgamed Pensive to the wire to win by a half-length at 16-1. Name him.
3. This King Ranch colt was little noticed in three starts at 2 but looked so impressive while training in South Carolina over the winter that newspapers carried a story about an unidentified man who saw the horse and then flew all the way to Agua Caliente to bet $1,000 across the board on the colt in the track's famous Derby future book. (The win odds dropped from 30-1 to 12-1.)
The colt did not run well enough on the track to warrant a start in the Derby, but he did win his first stakes (the Peter Pan) on June 5 and came back a week later to capture the Belmont Stakes. Name him.
4. The year 1968 marked two milestones for Belmont Park. It was the 100th running of the Belmont Stakes and signaled the return of the classic to Belmont Park from Aqueduct, where it had been run for five years while the Belmont stands were completely rebuilt.
Not only did the winner of the 100th Belmont Stakes not run in the Derby and Preakness, he did not win his maiden race until four days after the Derby. Name this horse.
5. Some say all records are made to be broken, but it is unlikely that anyone around today will live to see Kelso's five straight Horse of the Year titles (1960-1964) equaled or bettered.
Likewise, Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens's five straight victories (1982-1986) in the Belmont Stakes is a record that is likely safe for decades to come.
Three of Stephens's five Belmont winners were horses who skipped the Derby and Preakness. Name the three horses.
1. Grey Lag, bred by John E. Madden, was expected to be the Kentucky Derby favorite in 1921 but suffered a minor leg injury the day before the race and was scratched. He returned to win the Belmont Stakes and was acclaimed at year end by trade publications as Horse of the Year.
In 1926, Crusader, a son of Man o' War, raced exclusively in New York the first six months of the year. He used the 10-furlong Suburban Handicap, a race for older horses, as his prep for the Belmont. He won the Suburban by five lengths and came back seven days later to win the Belmont Stakes by one length. He was acclaimed Horse of the Year that season.
Seventy-one years after Grey Lag scratched on Derby eve, A.P. Indy, second choice on the Derby program, was scratched the morning of the big race due to a minor injury. The colt returned to the races with an easy win in the Peter Pan Stakes, before capturing the Belmont Stakes. He was voted 1992 Horse of the Year.
Grey Lag was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 1957; Crusader in 1995; and A.P. Indy in 2000.
2. Bounding Home was winless in seven starts at 2 in 1943 and did not win his maiden until April 24 of the following year. He prepped for the Belmont Stakes in the Swift Stakes (finishing third), Withers Stakes (fourth), and Peter Pan Handicap (second). The Belmont Stakes was his first stakes win - and last. He started 10 more times that year, but was winless.
At the same time, Derby-Preakness winner Pensive didn't fare any better. He made seven more starts, couldn't win one, and was retired.
Despite coming within a half-length of Triple Crown immortality, Pensive wasn't even voted 1944's 3-year-old champion. That honor went to By Jimminy.
3. The 1954 Belmont Stakes set a record in that it marked the first time in history that the same horse was favored in all three legs of the Triple Crown, losing each time. That was Correlation. (Chief's Crown was the second to do so in 1985.)
Neither Derby winner Determine nor Preakness winner Hasty Road were entered in the 1954 Belmont Stakes. Fisherman put away favored Correlation and looked like an easy winner until King Ranch's High Gun staged a furious stretch run to get up to win by a neck.
High Gun went on to win the Dwyer Stakes against his own age and the Sysonby Stakes, Manhattan Handicap, and Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses and was voted 3-year-old champion.
4. The 100th Belmont in 1968 was clouded in uncertainty. Derby-Preakness winner Forward Pass was going for the Triple Crown, but his Derby win (via disqualification of Dancer's Image) was being contested in the Kentucky courts, with an uncertain outcome.
The late-developing Stage Door Johnny, a maiden 25 days earlier and making his first stakes appearance, made the issue moot by winning the Belmont Stakes, with Forward Pass a length back in second.
Stage Door Johnny raced only twice more in his career, winning the Saranac Handicap in late June and the Dwyer Handicap in July, but it was just enough for him to eke out the 3-year-old championship.
5. In 1982, Conquistador Cielo stunned the racing world by winning the historic Metropolitan Mile against his elders in track-record time on Monday and the Belmont Stakes by 14 lengths five days later. It was Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens's first win in the New York classic. He wasn't through.
Stephens won the race in 1983 with Caveat; 1984 with Derby winner Swale; 1985 with the gelding Creme Fraiche; and 1986 with Danzig Connection.
Only Swale was favored in his race. Danzig Connection was 8-1. The other three were each second choices in the wagering.
Conquistador Cielo, Creme Fraiche, and Danzig Connection had not started in either the Derby or Preakness.