Although many will likely disagree with me, Nyquist skipping the Belmont Stakes could be a blessing in disguise. All too often, horses that have run in the Belmont Stakes never recover. The grueling 1 1/2 mile Test of Champions is often times the longest race of a horse’s career. More importantly, a lot of times three-year-olds aren’t mature enough by June in order to run in, much less win, a race like the Belmont Stakes. Many a horses’ career has ended due to pushing too hard in the Belmont Stakes. Some horses just never were the same after the rough and tumble Test of Champions. See below for a list of 5 horses that never recovered after winning the Belmont.
Afleet Alex – Sired by Northern Afleet, Afleet Alex provided one of the most awe-inspiring closing kicks at Big Sandy in history when winning the Test of Champions in 2005. It was as good of a Belmont victory as any that I’ve seen. He pummeled his competition, including dominating Giacomo who beat him in the Kentucky Derby that year, by 7 lengths. Afleet Alex ran the final quarter-mile in 24 seconds. But, like everyone on this list, Afleet Alex’s win in the Belmont cost him for the rest of his career. He ended up suffering an injury in the Belmont and was subsequently retired.
Rags to Riches – Before there was Zenyatta, before Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness Stakes, Rags to Riches took it to 2-time Horse of the Year Curlin in the Belmont Stakes. Curlin went off 6/5 in a race where trainer Todd Pletcher felt that his filly had a huge chance of winning. How good was Rags to Riches in 2007? She beat Curlin who was all out to beat Street Sense, the Breeders Cup Juvenile winner who had taken home the Kentucky Derby, in the Preakness Stakes. Add in Hard Spun and you start to see how deep the three-year-old division was in 2007 . Unfortunately, Rags to Riches would run only one more time, finishing second to Lear’s Princess in the Grade 1 Gazelle.
Empire Maker – It’s hard to remember how good of a horse Empire Maker truly was. The late, great Bobby Frankel trained the son of Unbridled and Toussaud who was unlucky to finish second in the Kentucky Derby to Funny Cide. Empire Maker went to Churchill Downs with a quarter crack. Without the quarter crack, he probably would have caught the very good Funny Cide. After skipping the Preakness, Frankel entered Empire Maker into the Belmont Stakes where he went on to dominate his three-year-old rivals. Like Rags to Riches, Empire Maker would have 1 more race in his career. It ended up being a second place finish to Strong Hope in the Jim Dandy Stakes as a 30 cents on the dollar favorite.
Sarava – Some might argue that Sarava got lucky in the Belmont Stakes. Unless you’re named American Pharoah, luck usually plays a role for horses that win the Belmont. So, yes, Sarava got lucky. But he was also a good horse. Lest we forget, before Sarava put a beat down on Medaglia D’Oro, Sunday Break, Proud Citizen, Perfect Drift, Essence of Dubai and Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem in the Belmont Stakes, he had won the Sir Barton. Sarava had some talent. He was never the same after the Belmont Stakes. Who knows why? My guess is that he just didn’t want to run any more after racing so hard for so long at Big Sandy.
Racing fans would have loved to have seen Nyquist and Exaggerator throw down in the third jewel of the Triple Crown. But the fact is that skipping the Test of Champions, even if Nyquist hadn’t gotten sick, may have been the prudent move. A lot of great horses have exited the Belmont Stakes worse off than when they entered it. It’s not called the Test of Champions for nothing.
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