UPDATE TO ORIGINAL STORY:
Justify has won the Belmont Stakes to become 13th Triple Crown winner and is the second in four years. Justify and 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew are the only horses to win the Triple Crown as an undefeated horse.
By Suzanne Corbett, STLSportsPage.com Travel/Food Editor
Horse racing fans are on a royal watch. Waiting to see if Justify will win the coveted Triple Crown during at the 2018 Belmont Stakes.
The Belmont race is older than either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, races which collectively makes up the American Triple Crown. Of the three, The Belmont presents the greatest challenge, a 1.5-mile track, the longest and most challenging race that has proved the nemesis of many would be Triple Crown winners.
Justify’s win at the Derby and the Preakness punched his ticket for a shot at the title. In doing so, if Justify wins, it would be the second Triple Crown winner for Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, who also trained Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh. For the record, Baffert also can claim five Derby winners, seven Preakness winners and two Belmont Stakes winners – success few trainers can claim.
Baffert does seem to bring the best out in his four-legged friends, such as Game On Dude, who finished fourth at the 2010 Belmont – a 17/1 odds favorite, who was co-owned by Baseball Hall of Famer and former Cardinal, Joe Torres. As Torres wrote in a 2014 Sports Illustrated article, “For me there has been no horse quite like Game On Dude. He’s been an amazing horse. I’ve seen him stare down challenges just like that hitter who says, I dare you to get me out.”
Game On Dude retired and now lives with fellow equine athletes at Old Friends Farm, a thoroughbred rescue and retirement farm located in Georgetown, Kentucky. Founded in 2003 by former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen, Old Friends has care for many past champions, including Affirmed Success, son of Triple Crown winner Affirmed, the rival of Alydar, who was ridden by Hall of Fame Jockey Jorge Velasquez.
Velasquez, became nationally famous for being one of the jockeys involved in one of the greatest racing rivalry in history. He finished second aboard Alydar to Affirmed in all three of the 1978 American Triple Crown races, losing by a combined total of less than two lengths. Velasquez was visiting his “old friends” at the Old Friends Farm during Derby week when I decided to saddle up to him and ask a few questions.
When asked about those legendary races aboard Alydar he said, “ He was the best horse I rode. At the 1978 Belmont I was beaten by a nose – each of those races where close. So close that if you combine all three races I lost by less than two lengths.”
While winning the Belmont Stakes eluded Velasquez, he won both the Derby and the Preakness in 1981, and the 1985 Breeder’s Cup, which is considered the World’s Series of horse racing.
“All in all, I’ve raced over 30,000 races in my career,” said Velasquez. Of those races, he won 6,795 before retiring in 1997. Velasquez has been inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and works today as an agent for young jockeys.
When asked about any inside tips on picking a winner, Velasquez smiled and said, “Horses are like people. They all have their own personalities. You have to get to know them.”
By the end of June live racing at most of the historic tracks ends until the Fall season begins. A sad situation akin for baseball fans when the season closes. However, if you share Joe Torres affection for thoroughbreds and racing, and looking for a historic track venue like Churchill Downs, consider Belterra Park.
Belterra Park’s history began in 1925, opening as Coney Island track. It soon was renamed to River Downs before undergoing extensive renovations, reopening in 2013 as Belterra Park. Track history includes appearances by the fabled Seabiscuit, and where Steve Cauthen, known as “the kid” jockey and Velasquez’s rival who rode Affirm, began his career.
Belterra Park, located in Cincinnati, Ohio is part of the area’s Tri-State Racing Destination, which hugs the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Louisville to Florence, Indiana. Its one-mile dirt track and 7/8- mile turf track hosts live racing from April through September, and sports grounds reminiscent of the vintage days of racing with a touch of elegance.
Belterra harkens back to the those days when race tracks were beautifully landscaped, grandstands were impeccably maintained, and plush perches for the well-heeled were reserved for luxurious dining at window tables overlooking the finish line. Gilded Age panache, along with window table views, which are still available along with a winning cuisine from Belterra’s executive chef, Josh Miragliotta, at Favorites Steak & Pasta. A perfect place to celebrate when your horse comes with a 28-day aged, 24-ounce Bone-in Ribeye. Or you can cash in for the Filet and Lobster Tail, the odds-on favorite at 19 Steak & Seafood, located nearby at Belterra Park’s sister operation Belterra Casino Resort.
To catch the passion and learn more about thoroughbred racing check out The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (www.ntra.com). To experience live racing and plan to a race weekend explore the options and packages and trip ideas at Belterra Park www.belterrapark.com and Churchill Downs www.churchilldowns.com. Don’t forget Old Friends (http://www.oldfriendsequine.org) where you can meet and feed a carrot to Joe Torre’s beloved Game On Dude. Last but far from least, plan a visit around a Louisville Bats game–farm club for the Cincinatti Reds.. Louisville is a great sports town offering baseball to racing, to one of a kind experiences that will keep any fan happy. Just check out www.gotolouisville.com.