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Top Ten Belmont Stakes Upsets of Past 40 Years

Top Ten Belmont Stakes Upsets of Past 40 Years by Reinier Macatangay: Given the 12-furlong distance of the Belmont Stakes (GI), the third leg of the Triple Crown series, it is understandable why strange outcomes and heartbreaking upsets occur in this race. Without any prior starts longer than 10 furlongs, the 3-year-old horses head into uncharted territory and handicapping methods must adjust accordingly.

Tonalist Belmont Stakes 2014

Tonalist and jockey Joel Rosario won the 146th Running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 7, 2014 for trainer Christophe Clement and owner Robert S. Evans.
Photo: Coglianese/NYRA

On June 11 at Belmont Park, the 148th edition will be held.

Trainer Nick Zito, a two-time Belmont winner (2004, 2008) who spoiled a Triple Crown bid each time, offered some wisdom in 2010 before sending out Fly Down to a runner-up finish, and Ice Box, who disappointed fans by placing ninth.

“ … the main thing is that you have to have the horses ready to go the mile and a half,” Zito said. “I think it will all work out with the best horse; whoever the best horse is on Saturday, that’s how it will work out.”

1. Da’ Tara – 2008

In a shocking turn of events, Kentucky Derby (GI) and Preakness Stakes (GI) winner Big Brown was pulled up at the top of the stretch. The 38-1 Da’ Tara, who only owned one prior win out of seven starts, led every step early on and pulled clear in the stretch run. He looked slightly wobbly and switched paths late, but nevertheless got the job done for Zito.

2. Birdstone – 2004

Fans everywhere hoped Smarty Jones could win and become the first undefeated Triple Crown champion since Seattle Slew in 1977. Unfortunately, a mid-race duel with Rock Hard Ten and Eddington hurt his chances. Instead, Birdstone bided his time a few lengths behind them and took advantage in the stretch to win at 36-1. Birdstone’s connections later apologized.

3. Sarava – 2002

War Emblem made his Triple Crown bid for trainer Bob Baffert and rider Victor Espinoza, but an early stumble cost the need-the-lead runner. Approaching the far turn, he did make a move and reached the front for a few moments before fading to eighth. Sarava, who went off at 70-1 despite a previous stakes win, had a well-timed run and proved best over Medaglia d’Oro.

4. Victory Gallop – 1998

Readers may remember Victory Gallop was not a longshot at 9-2. Nevertheless, he deserves a spot on this list. The Baffert-trained Real Quiet was on his way to capturing the Triple Crown, and cleared the field at the top of the stretch. But, Victory Gallop kept grinding away and mowed down his rival to win by a heartbreaking nose.

5. Coastal – 1979

Spectacular Bid chased the loose-on-the-lead Gallant Best and put him away approaching the far turn. The early pace likely weakened the would-be Triple Crown hero though, as Coastal kept grinding on the inside until he took command and upset a horse now considered by some as the “best racehorse ever to look through a bridle.” Coastal’s odds were not long at 4-1.

6. Tonalist – 2014

The Triple Crown-spoiling theme continues. In his attempt for racing immortality, California Chrome settled behind leaders in a pocket, while Tonalist had a wide, but clear, position on the outside. When California Chrome switched outside to rally on the far turn, the win seemed within reach until he flattened out. Tonalist wore down Commissioner for the mild upset at 9-1.

7. Lemon Drop Kid – 1999

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas appeared set to win the Triple Crown for the first time in his storied career with the former claimer Charismatic. Sparring early with the speedy Silverbulletday hurt his chances though, and he looked done at the top of the stretch after briefly holding the lead. The 29-1 Lemon Drop Kid bided his time from the back and rallied late for the win.

8. Temperence Hill – 1980

Not every Belmont Stakes has a Triple Crown bid storyline. Temperence Hill, at 53-1, overcame a slow pace and outkicked the Derby champion and popular filly Genuine Risk to prevail. Months later, he won the Travers Stakes (GI) as well.

9. Commendable – 2000

Lukas avenged his loss with Charismatic the previous year with Commendable, who pressed the leader and 40-1 longshot Hugh Hefner before drawing clear under a hand ride to win at 18-1. The favorite and Derby runner-up Aptitude finished second.

10. Ruler On Ice – 2011

No Triple Crown was on the line, but the race attracted Animal Kingdom and Shackleford, who won the first two legs. At 24-1, Ruler On Ice chased Shackleford early and held off Stay Thirsty late for the upset. Animal Kingdom ended up a troubled sixth.

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