Belmont Stakes closes out US Triple Crown 50 years after Secretariat’s historic victory

Ryan Moore back in Ireland with three rides for Aidan O’Brien in Navan on Sunday

This weekend’s international Classic focus is on New York where the Belmont Stakes takes place in both a historical and very modern context just after midnight on Saturday.

The final leg of the US Triple Crown is set to start at 12.02 Irish time – live on Sky Sports Racing – having at one point appeared to be under threat from poor quality air due to Canadian wildfires.

Racing at the track just 14 miles from Manhattan was cancelled on Thursday, although improving weather conditions meant action went ahead 24 hours later.

The 155th renewal of what’s labelled the ‘Test of a Champion’ takes place too in a fraught climate of continuing welfare and medication issues for US racing generally, but also on a notable anniversary.


It is half a century since Secretariat’s landmark Belmont success completed the first Triple Crown in 25 years and with a display that arguably still ranks as the most spectacular single performance ever.

That 31-length rout helped the colt known as ‘Big Red’ achieve a level of profile in America that those charged with promoting the modern sport can only wish for.

There is no Triple Crown on the line this time, although last month’s Preakness winner National Treasure is among nine lining up.

That he is trained by Bob Baffert, the 70-year-old who has trained more Triple Crown race winners than anyone else, but was suspended from racing in New York last year due to medication violations, underscores a tone of ambivalence that continues to surround the sport generally in the US.

Another Belmont anniversary is the 33 years since Dermot Weld’s Go And Go created history under Michael Kinane in 1990. He remains the sole European-trained horse to win a leg of the US Triple Crown.

Forte, removed from last month’s Kentucky Derby on the eve of the race due to a minor injury, is favourite to eventually secure Classic glory. However, the mile and a half race distance, viewed in marathon terms across the Atlantic, could suit his stable companion, Tapit Trice, more.

The next major European Classic is Sunday week’s French Oaks, which is followed in turn a couple of days later by the start of Royal Ascot.

That makes for a relative lull this weekend with Punchestown hosting back-to-back National Hunt meetings, while only Navan on Sunday supplies domestic flat action.

Ryan Moore is currently fighting it out for the lead in Ireland’s jockey standings with 23 winners this season and he has three rides for Aidan O’Brien on Sunday.

It’s unlikely the Englishman, a former triple-champion in Britain, has any ambitions to try to emulate Jamie Spencer and Pat Eddery by using his regular flying visits to also land the title here.

However, his trio of Sunday spins could prove lucrative and as a sister to Churchill, there’s plenty riding on Dower House securing Listed success in the featured Darley Kooyonga Stakes.

She looked to pay the price for being ridden prominently in the closing stages of last month’s Irish 1,000 Guineas and more restraint could pay off in this company.

The well-bred newcomer Pearls And Rubies can continue Ballydoyle’s recent run with juveniles in the opener while Canute, a son of Alice Springs, was repeatedly hampered in his last start at the Curragh and should appreciate a step up in trip on quick ground.

Star appeal isn’t immediately obvious at Punchestown, although Saturday’s bumper finale has a pedigree of throwing up top-class performers.

Marine Nationale, victorious in the Supreme at Cheltenham in March, got his unbeaten career off to a flyer in last year’s renewal, while another subsequent festival winner, City Island, was successful in 2018.

It is a decade since no less than Faugheen also began his stellar career in the same race and Willie Mullins could provide the solution this time in I Will Be Baie. He changed hands for £150,000 after winning a point-to-point for Colin Bowe on fast going.

Jessica Harrington’s Striking looks like he will be hard to beat in a maiden hurdle, although the trainer’s main attention on Saturday will be earlier when Ashdale Bob lines up in Auteuil.

Champion jockey Paul Townend makes the trip to Paris to team up with Harrington’s high-class stayer in the €185,000 Grade Two Prix La Barka. Townend has already won the race twice before through Bapaume (2018) and Thousand Stars in 2012.

Among Ashdale Bob’s eight opponents is the Paul Nicholls-trained Red Risk who will be ridden by Harry Cobden. The race is off at 2.32.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column