Perhaps even more than usual, the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes is represented by the most recognizable names in the sport of horse racing. Many of the top jockeys have mounts but check out the trainers' list — a collection of current and sure-to-be Hall of Famers, plus others who have resumes befitting the Test of the Champion, at the very least.
Maybe more than any other sport, while there's a respect between the people in charge, there's also a healthy willingness to jab each other ahead of big events. That was on full display at the Belmont Stakes post position draw Tuesday in New York at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.
This year's Belmont roster: Bob Baffert, Hall of Fame trainer of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah who has another Triple Crown contender in Justify as well as Restoring Hope; Todd Pletcher, winner of three Belmont Stakes and a pair of contenders in Vino Rosso and Noble Indy; Hall of Famer Bill Mott with Hofburg; Chad Brown, winner of the last two Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Trainer with Gronkowski; Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas with Bravazo; Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen with Tenfold; and many-times Grade 1 winning trainers Dale Romans and Doug O'Neill.
A quartet of those trainers were present for Tuesday's Belmont draw and while there was some serious talk, there was also plenty of ribbing between the four (Baffert, Lukas, Pletcher, Romans).
A sampling here and video below. Host Andy Serling, who cranked up the roasting early on, began with a question about post positions:
Pletcher: I don't know, Bob may be a little nervous about drawing the one (post) if he doesn't break great but so far the horse has been perfect so it's hard to find any weaknesses.
Lukas: Bob is never nervous.
Romans: He better be. He hasn't been very nice to me and I'm in the two hole.
The barbs weren't limited to between the trainers. After D. Wayne Lukas mentioned getting on his pony in the morning to ogle the Belmont competition at Churchill Downs, Serling threw this one at Romans: “Dale, how was it when you got on your pony this morning?”
Romans' reply to the diminutive Serling: “Andy, that's not very nice of you. I hope you need something off the top shelf one day.”
Romans also poked Serling for asking about the trainers' post positions and how their horse was doing:
“Those are the two worst questions in horse racing. What do you think of your post and how's your horse doing? We're four trainers who shipped up here for a classic race, how do you think our horse is doing, first of all, you're going a mile and a half, if you're worried about the post, you don't belong. I told you last year, you're better than this. Come with better questions!”
The ribbing wasn't limited to the Triple Crown races but also included some past late summer classics (as in Keen Ice upsetting American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers). When asked about the experience of the Triple Crown, Romans, who trained Keen Ice, described the pressure of the Kentucky Derby “every jump” then the Preakness as “a lot of fun” with the pressure off.
“Then you come to the big city for the Belmont, especially when a Triple Crown is on the line, and you know you're playing the game we all grew up wanting to play at the very highest level, and I get to walk into the paddock with the guys I idolized growing up or the guys I have the utmost respect for, and I don't care if I'm the 9th man on the field for the Yankees, I feel like a Yankee for a few minutes. And if Bob happens to the win the Triple Crown again, there is always the Travers.”
But there were also more serious and personal recollections. Baffert recalled when Point Given lost the Derby but won the 2001 Preakness and Belmont, how he and assistant Jimmy Barnes were wistful they would never have another horse as good as that colt. Then American Pharoah came along years later.
“I'll never forget the Belmont with American Pharoah, the crowd,” Baffert said. “I was like, speechless. I was in shock watching that horse, knowing that I was going to do it. Anytime you have a horse going for the Triple Crown, it's going to be exciting. There's going to be a lot of electricity in the air.”
One of the final questions the trainers were asked by Serling is what Sunday morning after the Belmont is like, given that the mainstream world's attention wanes after the Triple Crown. The reserved Pletcher stepped in to answer that, and the barbs continued.
“So you're talking about Sunday morning? So let's say Wayne will get up about 3:30 (a.m.) and go to the barn. I'll get up about 4:30 and go to the barn. Bob will get up about 7:30 and Dale about 11:30.
Romans' response: “1:30 if I win.”
A lot more fun than Bill Belichick, isn't it?
Test Your Belmont Trivia
A dozen questions to keep you sharp on your Belmont history (answers below the video of trainers at the draw):
1. In 1993, Julie Krone became the first (and still only) female jockey to win a Triple Crown race in the Belmont. She competed in the Belmont four other times. Name the only other woman to ride in the Belmont Stakes (three times).
2. Jockey Baulio Baez won three Belmonts in the 1960s. His victories have a special distinction. What is it?
3. Trainer Woody Stephens famously won five consecutive Belmonts in the 1980s. Only one other trainer in the modern era has won three straight Belmonts. Who is it and who were the horses?
4. Who was the last owner to win back-to-back Belmonts?
5. Kentucky has bred the most Belmont Stakes winners in history (98), including every single winner of the 21st century except one. Can you name him and his breeding state?
6. In second place on the breeding list is a state with 11 winners. Which state is it? For a bonus, can you name the last three winners from that state?
7. Name the last horse bred outside of the United States to win the Belmont.
8. Name the Belmont-winning sire who not only produced two Belmont winners but one of those two also produced a winner of the Belmont Stakes. Bonus — name all three of the aforementioned winners.
9. In its 150-year history, three fillies have captured the Belmont Stakes. Who were they?
10. What color and what type of flower makes up the winner's blanket for the Belmont Stakes?
11. In 1973, Secretariat ran the fastest Belmont Stakes of all time (2:24). Name the two colts tied for second place with a time of 2:26.
12. A record crowd of 120,139 showed up for which Belmont Stakes?
Belmont trivia answers:
1. Rosie Napravnik (2012, 5th aboard Five Sixteen; 2013, 6th on filly Unlimited Budget; 2014, 7th aboard General a Rod).
2. His Belmont Stakes wins came over three different tracks — old Belmont, Aqueduct and the present Belmont Park.
3. D. Wayne Lukas (Tabasco Cat, 1994; Thunder Gulch, 1995; Editor's Note, 1996)
4. Meadow Stable (Riva Ridge, 1972; Secretariat, 1973)
5. Afleet Alex (2005), bred in Florida
6. Virginia. Last three winners – Colonial Affair, 1993; Hansel, 1991; Secretariat, 1973
7. Victory Gallop (1998), bred in Canada
8. Seattle Slew (1977) — sired Swale (1994) and A.P. Indy (1992). A.P. Indy sired filly Rags to Riches, who edged Curlin in 2007.
9. Ruthless (1867), Tanya (1905), and Rags to Riches (2007)
10. White carnations
11. Easy Goer (1989), A.P. Indy (1992)
12. 2004, where favorite Smarty Jones fell short of winning the Triple Crown
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