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Belmont Stakes: August Belmont, Jr.
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Part Three:  August Belmont, Jr.

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Back in the days when I was a little Bunny, five to six years old, my father was stationed in Long Island, New York.  My mother, my sister and I would take the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan four days a week for ballet class.  The train passed right next to the racetrack and would announce, “Belmont Park”. Every time my mother would say, “Look, there’s Belmont.  That’s where Secretariat won the Triple Crown.”  

Who could have imagined at that time I would be enamored with everything horseracing.  We were living just minutes down the street when Point Given (who I love by the way!) won his Belmont.  Who could blame me for missing the race; I four and a half years old.  Just another one of those moments missed because of my age!

The history of racetracks themselves can be quite interesting.  Maybe when we all turn to watch this year’s Belmont Stakes, knowing just a little bit about the man who is responsible for building the track will leave us with a deeper appreciation for the race as a whole.   

August Belmont, Jr. had a massive impact on horseracing, not only for being the breeder of Man O’ War, but also credited for saving horseracing in New York.  He was the first president of the Jockey Club that, since 1894, is the registry and rulebook for Thoroughbred horseracing in America.  Aside from this prestigious title, Belmont was one of the nine founding members of the National Steeplechase Association in 1895, as well as the chairman of the New York Racing Commission.

August Belmont’s plans for building a racetrack were realized when Belmont Park was officially opened in 1905 on Long Island.  Since 1867 the Belmont Stakes, which was named for his father, had been run at the monetarily troubled Morris Park Racecourse.  The Belmont Stakes was moved to its current home in the track’s inaugural year.  Horses carrying August Belmont’s racing colors won the Belmont Stakes in 1902, 1916, and 1917.

In 1908, August Belmont established a breeding farm in Upper Normandy, France.  Haras de Villers produced horses that would run on an international scale.  In 1908, his Norman III would win the British 2,000 Guineas.  He also bred Prix de Diane winner, Qu’elle est Belle, and Vulcain, a top three year old colt.  After the law passed in New York to ban pari-mutuel wagering, he shipped three of his stallions to his farm in France.

He inherited his father’s 1,100 acre Nursery Stud, located three miles outside Lexington.  There, he would not only raise racehorses, but also Polo Ponies.  Polo Pony Hall of Fame stallion, Kentucky, would stand stud at Nursery.  However, his greatest success would come with the racehorses.  August Belmont bred one hundred twenty-nine stakes winners, including Man O’ War, who had an extraordinary 20-1 racing record. 

By 1918, Belmont had been serving overseas in World War I for some time, and had decided to sell most of his stock.  However, he had a special attachment to one yearling in particular; a chestnut colt by Fair Play, and out of Mahubah, by his widely sought-after import, Rock Sand, whose greatest success was as a broodmare sire.  It wasn’t until just prior to the sale when he decided to send the colt to auction at Saratoga.  The colt was named for him by his wife, Eleanor, a year before, while he was off at war.  She named him, “My Man O’ War”.  Despite revision of his name to “Man O’ War”, the colt went on to become an all-time great.

After August Belmont’s death in 1924, George Herbert Walker and a partner would purchase Nursery Stud.  It is interesting to note that George Herbert Walker was the grandfather of President George H. W. Bush.

People’s primary focus on the “horse” in horseracing is absolutely justifiable.  But the incredible backdrops built for horseracing’s historic moments deserve to be appreciated.  Unlike today’s mega-modern racing facilities, our legends of racing graced the grounds that were built, typically by one person putting their fortune on the line, particularly in a time that was very precarious for the racing industry.

These brave people passionately ventured into the undertaking of building a course that have offered many of racing's memorable and not-so memorable moments for us all.  I am grateful.    

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