When horses break from the gate for the 147th Belmont Stakes on Saturday, they will do so directly in front of tens of thousands of people, on their feet on the crowded apron and in the clubhouse and grandstand. They will circle the enormous Belmont oval, the only one of its kind in the United States, its mile-and-a-half circumference exactly the distance of the race, back to where they started, at a finish line that touches the western end of the grandstand, where it meets the clubhouse.
This is what Belmont Park and the Belmont Stakes are known for: that vast expanse, that testing distance.
It was not ever thus. The first running of the Belmont Stakes had nothing to do with Belmont Park. It wasn’t run over the iconic 12-furlong oval with which it has become so associated, and it wasn’t even run at a mile and a half. For the first 15 editions of the race after its arrival at Belmont Park, spectators couldn’t even see the start, or much of the contest at all.
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Photo: Palace Malice winning the 2013 Belmont Stakes. NYRA/Adam Coglianese