Dornoch Wins Tainted Belmont

In 1982, a British new wave duo named Soft Cell informed everyone that yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as Tainted Love.

On Saturday, we found out that a victory in a Triple Crown race can be tainted, too — when Dornoch, who barely cracked the "first division" in the Derby (finishing 10th in a field of 20) and is partly owned by Jayson Wirth, who played 15 seasons with four different Major League Baseball teams, crossed the finish line first in a bowdlerized Belmont Stakes at 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga — this change of venue becoming necessary because Belmont Park is presently undergoing a total makeover that is expected to continue until at least 2026.

(Of course the same thing happened in 2020 — because of the COVID pandemic, whose very existence scores of millions of the most "patriotic" Americans deny. The Belmont was run at 1 1/8 miles that year — and was run as the first leg of the Triple Crown, instead of its customary position as the final race of the series).

It turns out, however, that this year's renewal could have been run at 1 3/8 miles.

You see, the track layouts at Saratoga and Aqueduct are as near as makes no difference to being identical: the length of the stretch at Saratoga is 1,144 feet, from the finish line to the first turn it is 341 feet — while at Aqueduct, the stretch is 1,155.5 feet long and the distance from the finish line to the first turn is 330 feet.

Furthermore, a 1 3/8-mile dirt race was run at Aqueduct on March 30 — and the Grade 2 Brooklyn Stakes (formerly known as the Brooklyn Handicap) will be run at that distance on July 5.

In 1 3/8-mile dirt races at Aqueduct, there is a run-up of 40 feet before the timer is turned on (this is done so that the horses have an opportunity to gather momentum before the timing begins).

So if you "do the math" (i.e., Saratoga's stretch is 11 1/2 feet shorter than Aqueduct's), a 1 3/8-mile race at Saratoga could have a run-up of about 28 feet (by comparison, there is no run-up at all in either six-furlong dirt races at Pimlico or one-mile dirt races at Gulfstream Park).

To add insult to injury, the Belmont Stakes has actually been run at 1 3/8 miles 20 times — from 1906 through 1925, all inclusive — and in the 1920 running, the legendary Man o' War trounced Donnaconna by 20 lengths in a "match race" (although technically it was not a match race, since Man o' War and Donnaconna were the only two horses who were nominated, passed the entry box, and showed up to start).

The track record for 1 3/8 miles on the dirt at Aqueduct is 2:12 1/5, set by Demi's Bret on October 26, 1997, so the 1 1/4-mile fraction had to be right around two minutes flat — a time that would win the vast majority of Kentucky Derbys.

One 1 3/8-mile dirt race has already been held at Aqueduct this year, on March 30 — and the Grade 2 Brooklyn Stakes (formerly known as the Brooklyn Handicap) will be contested at that distance on July 5.

And had this year's race been run at 1 3/8 miles, Dornoch, with his miler's pedigree — no Solid or Professional chef-de-race influences in his Dosage Profile — might not have been able to get the extra furlong.

Hopefully NYRA will correct this oversight in time for next year's "Belmont at Saratoga."

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