Longines Says that the Belmont Stakes is the World’s Top Race for Three-Year-Olds. So, Why Wouldn’t You be There?

Marion Altieri,New York writer

Marion Altieri,New York writer

Now that it’s settled, that the Triple Crown isn’t on the line again this year, fewer people will throng to Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day.  This is a pity, and a sign—that those who’ll be conspicuous by their absence aren’t real race fans.

Sadly enough, Nyquist isn’t in the running for the Triple Crown.  I’m the first to write that I really had hoped that he would be, because I believe that, after his racing career is over and the history books are being written—Nyquist will be acknowledged as one of the greatest race horses, ever.

Sure, the buckets of rain and Pimlico’s seeming inability to seal a track cost Nyquist his Preakness.  But clearly, those who think his story is over are sensationalists who live for the moment.  If history has taught us anything, it’s that horse racing’s Pantheon is populated by those whose greatness is measured not by one single series of races (i.e., the American Triple Crown), but by a horse’s entire body of work, during the course of her/his career.

Even if I didn’t know that Nyquist is a Truly Great, I wanted (with every fiber of my being) for him to win the Triple Crown.  If for no other reason than to quiet the idiotic chatter of late-night talk show hosts (who know nothing about horse racing) and their insipid “jokes” about American Pharoah’s romantic life.  Every time I hear or read of one of these overpaid hosts, bloviating about Pharoah in their monologue, I see only Beavis and Butthead, laughing like teenaged boys because someone said the phrase, “chicken breast.”

If any of the aforementioned hosts wants to really learn about horse racing—and, thereby, come up with some new jokes that are based not on misplaced envy and that appeal to those who aren’t allowed to stay up late enough even to watch their shows—I invite them to come to a real race track, and witness a real race.  Get a real turf writer or communications specialist within the sport to show them the ropes—to introduce them to the sport, and thereby broaden their horizons. (Oh, look, Beavis:  I used the word, “broaden.”)

Yes, I’m annoyed by the ignorance of said celebrities, because they have enormous audiences who quote their idiotic meanderings the next morning over the proverbial water-cooler.  I’m annoyed because a stallion’s life in the breeding shed is a business transaction, an endeavor overseen and monitored by professionals—not a peep show in the old, pre-Giuliani Times Square.

That is to say:  equine reproduction is not a sport to be watched; upon which to wager—and definitely not meant to be fodder for morons in overpriced suits.  It’s a business, so please turn your puerile laughfest to other industries.

So, Nyquist has been spared the utter lack of privacy by Hollywood types, simply because he won’t win the Triple Crown.  In that case, I’d write, good.  All that teenaged-boy speculation in front of a live audience is beyond annoying:  it’s providing miseducation for millions who know so little about horse racing that they think that the Kentucky Derby is the Be-All and End-All.

Which is the reason why I’m writing this article:  to share with you a piece of information that you may not (yet) have in your hands, but which you should.

The fact is that, no, children, the Kentucky Derby is not the world’s top race for three-year-olds…wait for it…the Belmont Stakes holds that distinction.

Page 14 of the Spring, 2016 issue of Gallop Magazine—the gorgeous horse racing Bible out of Sweden—is titled, The Top 100 Races Worldwide.

First—I urge you to go out and get your own copy of this issue.  I’m not going to lend my copy to you—I know I’d never see it again. Get your copy—turn to page 14—see there that,

Second—the Kentucky Derby is nowhere to be found.  The key reason for this is that, when Longines and IFAHR (International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities) calculate their “World’s Best” list—horses, tracks, etc.—it’s not a popularity contest.

It’s about statistics:  speed figures, races won, influence and real status of the horses in said races.

In human terms:  Longines and IFAHR don’t give out awards because Kid Rock was seen in the audience.  Their methods are scientific, and—like Longines’ timepieces, themselves—accurate down to the tiniest fraction of a second.

For your further information, only two other races in the U.S. of A. made it onto that list of 100:  the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.  (Be not misled:  the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf didn’t make it onto the list because Longines sponsors it:  the significance and authority of the World’s Best lists don’t allow anyone to pat themselves on the back.  If the race didn’t have the points and power to be on the list—it wouldn’t be, regardless of who sponsors it.)

So, yes, the Belmont Stakes is The Top 3-Year-Old Race, according to Longines.  And who are you to argue with them?

You can’t argue that, well, last year’s Belmont Stakes was the top because American Pharoah was in it.  Hmmmm…he was in the Kentucky Derby, too.  And the Preakness.  The Haskell.  And (ouch), the Travers.  The Champion raced many times in 2015, but only the Belmont Stakes was given the prestigious title of Best.  So, no, Pharoah’s presence in the race wasn’t the deciding factor:  the presence and importance of other horses—history, going back three years—and other factors all came into play before giving the Belmont Stakes that distinction.

So if you miss this year’s Belmont Stakes on June 11th—you’re only missing The Best Race for 3-Year-Olds in the world. 

That’s all.  Not much.  Important only if you’re a real fan of horse racing.

If you’re a race fan, and you’re not there, you’ll be (rightfully) sad.

I’ll tell you who won’t be there, because, ummmmm, they don’t care:

*           The Buffies and Biffs who bought up good seats to last year’s Belmont Stakes, because they wanted to be seen in their hoo-ha-high skirts, bow ties and Madras shorts.  Those little ferrets were easy to identify, as they spent more time with their backs to Big Sandy—taking selfies—than they did, facing the track and actually watching races.

*           The aforementioned, fluffhead “celebrities,” who show up at races like the Kentucky Derby because they can wear pretty hats, or be seen smoking Cubans and talking trash.  The same famous people who wouldn’t know a horse’s withers from her cannon bone.  Yeah, they’ll be absent, too.  (This is not to say that many famous people are horse- or racing-ignorant.  One’s relative fame has nothing to do with their capacity to learn and understand a sport.  So don’t get all in my face, and say that I’m jealous of the Kardashians.  I point out, merely, that, unless it somehow benefits them in terms of PR or face time on “Good Morning America”—most celebrities will have no interest in the Belmont Stakes.)

*           Media hotties whose beat normally doesn’t cover horse racing.  If they weren’t out there in the mud and muck on Preakness Day—they won’t be at morning workouts with their camera guy at Big Sandy.  No matter how easy it is to get to Elmont—if there’s no Triple Crown on the line—no “big story” to be found—they won’t drag their cans of hair spray and makeup artists to the track at the beastly hours that test the mettle of real racing media.

And who will be there on Saturday, June 11th and the days previous? You.  Me.  Real racing media pros, and real race fans.

Because a great horse race is a great horse race—and this year’s Belmont Stakes promises to be one heck of a contest.  In this year’s Preakness, we saw the birth of that-which-may-turn-out-to-be one of the great rivalries in horse racing history:  that between Nyquist and Exaggerator.

It was easy enough for many to write off Exaggerator after the Kentucky Derby.  Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then.  Exaggerator—had he not been a son of Curlin, and shown such prowess—could have been written off as a blind squirrel,  for snagging that Place in the Derby.

But then he went and won the Preakness, slopping his way to a quite-impressive victory romp.

The only blind squirrels I can see in this scenario are those people who skip the Belmont Stakes because they don’t realize the importance of the event, or of the place.  (Assuming that both horses show up and race against each other–we’ll see the figurative blood in their eyes as the sentient beings knowingly acknowledge their arch-rival’s presence and prowess.)

Belmont Park is unlike any other track in the world.

Big Sandy is unlike any surface on Earth.

My Longines PenThe Belmont Stakes is The Top 3-Year-Old Race, period.

Longines doesn’t give these designations willy-nilly, any more than they make timepieces without regard to longevity.  A precision watch is a work of art:  regardless of how pretty, if it’s not accurate to a breathtaking percentage of a second—it won’t cut it as a Longines watch.

The same is true of the Belmont Stakes:  regardless of the lovely ivy inching its way up the wall that faces the historic paddock—no matter how pretty the track, the grounds, Roy and his crew—if the Belmont Stakes hadn’t earned the points and respect of Longines and IFAHR—it wouldn’t be on the list, anywhere—never mind, as The Top.

So if  you miss the Belmont Stakes this year, don’t blame Nyquist. Don’t blame NYRA, or the LIRR, or anyone but yourself. If you’re a real race fan, a Triple Crown on the line isn’t what’s important.  Real fans look for overall quality, Return on Investment.

Investing your time, money and passion in one spectacular day at Belmont Park on June 11th can only return dividends that are exponentially higher than you’d hoped—and emotionally, spiritually, more lofty than the human heart can imagine.  Come, witness The Top.  Then go home, and talk for the next decade about your day spent among the world’s greatest Thoroughbreds, at America’s Track—at, yes, the event touted as The Top 3-Year-Old Race on Earth.

Yeah, you’re gonna thank me, and NYRA:  me, for encouraging you to do it.  NYRA, for moving forward and hosting this race with enthusiasm and New York flair.  This race—the importance of which is singular in its challenge, in its legend and in its importance to racing on this (or any other) planet–really should not be missed.   That is, not if you’re really a fan.