06/09/2011 3:46PM

Top 10 Belmont Stakes rides

Bob Coglianese/NYRA
Steve Cauthen, right, trying to hold off Alydar while riding Affirmed to victory.

It takes a supremely fit and durable racehorse to win the Belmont Stakes -- especially when a sweep of the Triple Crown is pending. But no other race in America places so much emphasis on the courage, talent, and judgment of the men and women who daringly risk their lives to ride Thoroughbreds for a living.

The Belmont Stakes is known as a "rider’s race" because its demanding 1 1/2 miles requires each jockey to have a solid grasp of the horse’s energy expenditure, and because the race frequently develops into a cat-and-mouse game of tactics as the horses make one full trip around the track’s oval, the biggest in American racing.

"Without a well-timed ride, even a very good horse won’t sustain its momentum going 1 1/2 miles," said trainer Nick Zito, who readily credits jockey Edgar Prado for an expertly timed rally in the 2004 Belmont Stakes, when Birdstone, trained by Zito, overtook a game but tired Smarty Jones. Zito won the Belmont a second time, in 2008, with Da’ Tara and a canny front-running ride by Alan Garcia.

Zito’s perspective is shared by many experienced racing players, including the late, great jockey Bill Shoemaker, who rode five Belmont stakes winners from only 11 mounts. "A mile and a half can empty out a lot of horses," Shoemaker once said. "Most jockeys don’t get that many chances to ride that far. And Belmont Park is so big that some riders do have trouble on the backstretch not realizing just how far they have to go to get to the finish line." Shoemaker got lost only once on horseback – when he misjudged the finish line aboard Gallant Man in the 1957 Kentucky Derby. A month later, he atoned with a smashing victory in the Belmont Stakes aboard the same horse. When asked to name the single best ride he had ever seen, Shoemaker was quick to cite the one that tops my own list -- Angel Cordero Jr.’s all-out effort aboard Bold Forbes in 1976.

So, here they are, my personal choices for the 10 best rides in the Belmont Stakes, restricted to the races I have seen in 58 years as a fan or a reporter.

The top 10 rides in Belmont Stakes history >>