August Schonberg Belmont

It’s difficult for contemporary racing fans to see August Belmont as anything other than the namesake of the stakes race first and then the racetrack, but when he died in 1890, his very long New York Times obituary doesn’t even mention racing until the thirtieth (!) paragraph.

A native of Germany, Belmont was born August Schonberg. He changed his name after he came to New York in his early twenties, continuing the work he had begun with the Rothschilds and “quickly [becoming] one of New York’s most talked-about men,” according to William H.P. Robertson. Belmont eventually became a U.S. citizen and, as a result of his marriage to Carolyn Slidell Perry, a prominent member of New York society.

Belmont’s connections and talents eventually led to his involvement with politics; he served his adopted country as a Congressman, a U.S. diplomat in the Netherlands, and the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. His fervent support of the Union cause led to the inclusion in his obituary of eleven paragraphs of various letters that he wrote against secession and in favor of the Union.

Belmont’s leadership wasn’t limited to business and politics; he held administrative roles in the American Jockey Club, the Coney Island Jockey Club, and the New-York Jockey Club, and he was one of the founders of Monmouth Park in New Jersey. First and foremost, though, Belmont was a horseman; the Times conveys his pure love of racing:

Mr. Belmont was a true sportsman in all that the term implies. He never started
a horse but that he longed to see it win, and he never bred a horse but that he
hoped it might become a winner. He was passionately fond of racing, and he was
one of the most familiar figures on the race track. Whenever the chances of his
horses were particularly good he was sure to be on hand, and this fact was so
commonly known that the presence of Mr. Belmont at the track was certain to
influence the general betting in favor of his entry.

Mr. Belmont was fortunate to see one of his horses win his eponymous race, and we’ll take a look at the 1869 Belmont, along with Belmont’s place in popular culture, later in the week.

Don’t forget to enter the Brooklyn Backstretch charity attendance guessing game—the person whose guess about Saturday’s Belmont attendance comes closest to the published number will win a $50 donation to the racing charity of his/her choice. More information here (scroll down to the end).

2 thoughts on “August Schonberg Belmont

  1. Always good to remember Gussie. There’s a statue of him, I’m pretty sure, in the American wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.For those who don’t know French and/or German/Yiddish, “Belmont” is just a French version of Scho(e)nberg. In Eglish, it’s “pretty mountain,” which might make it as a book or movie title, but probably not as a surname.And, as you might guess from the association with the Rothschilds, Belmont was part of the German-Jewish elite that emigrated to the US in the mid-19th century. I’m not sure if he converted to a more socially acceptable (for the time) religion, but marrying someone named Perry suggests it.Lots of Jews in racing, actually, as my occasional research for a sometime-to-be-written book suggests.Thanks for the reminder, Teresa.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the logic behind the name change, Steve, and for providing some historical context on Mr. Belmont.More on his life in New York in Wednesday's post…

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