Although racing hasn't experienced a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed's legendary conquest of archrival Alydar in 1978, the third jewel of the Crown has packed plenty of excitement. From Coastal's upset of Spectacular Bid and Conquistador Cielo's romp five days after capturing the Metroplitan Handicap to Easy Goer's revenge on Sunday Silence and Victory Gallop's denial of immortality to Real Quiet by a bob, the Belmont Stakes takes a back seat to no race.
On the eve of Saturday's 145th Belmont, as competitive a renewal as we've seen in a while, I sifted through the photo archives from the past 10 runnings of the 1 1/2-mile Classic for a trip down memory lane. After all, racing is about history and nostalgia. Remember when...
Unlikely hero NY-bred Funny Cide was going for the Triple Crown in the sloppiest of Belmonts in 2003, but a healthy Empire Maker took the race. Ten Most Wanted finished second, Funny Cide third.
In 2005, it was the popular Afleet Alex and jockey Jeremy Rose capturing the carnations.
Afleet Alex's fans before the start of the 2005 Belmont.
A tight shot of Afleet Alex and Jeremy Rose in the 2005 Belmont.
Afleet Alex to the post in the 2005 Belmont.
More than 120,000 fans packed Belmont in 2004 to see the Triple Crown coronation of Smarty Jones, but it was Birdstone and Edgar Prado, left, that pulled the upset.
Longshot Da'Tara and Alan Garcia stun the world -- and heavy favorite Big Brown -- in 2008.
From the start of the 2008 Belmont, Big Brown (1) struggled and never seemed a factor.
Though it poured like the end of the world, Bobby Frankel (and daughter Betthany) Frankel was all smiles as NY Governor George Pataki, left, presented the trainer with the Belmont Stakes trophy after Empire Maker's win in the 2003 Belmont.
On a hot, humid day in 2008, jockey Kent Desormeaux eased 1-5 favorite Big Brown across the wire last, shocking just about everyone at the track.
Marylou Whitney's Birdstone, with Edgar Prado up, heads to the post for trainer Nick Zito in 2004.
Eventual winner Summer Bird (red cap) at the break in the 2009 Belmont. For all you steeplechase fans, that's Mr. Hot Stuff, second from the right with the white noseband, who continues to run and win over hurdles at age 7.
Da'Tara and Alan Garcia cross the wire in the 2008 Belmont, defeating Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown at 38-1.
Alan Garcia in all his glory aboard Da'Tara after winning the 2008 Belmont.
Empire Maker and Jerry Bailey stride down victory lane in 2003 as a smiling trainer Bobby Frankel looks on.
Birdstone, on the outside, draws off from Smarty Jones nearing the wire in the 2004 Belmont.
Afleet Alex and Jeremy Rose are greeted by trainer Tim Ritchey after crushing the field in the 2006 Belmont.
Shock and awe. Big Brown's handlers usher the defeated heavy favorite back to the barn in 2008.
Eighteen-year-old Fernando Jara beams after Jazil's victory in the 2006 Belmont Stakes.
Fernando Jara tosses his whip after Jazil takes the 2006 Belmont.
Jazil, in the blue and white, leads Bluegrass Cat turning for home in the 2006 Belmont.
Jazil and Fernando Jara lead Bluegrass Cat to the wire in 2006.
Rising steeplechase star Mr. Hot Stuff and Edgar Prado return after an off-the-board finish in the 2009 Belmont for WinStar Farm.
After filly Rags to Riches knocked off Curlin in the 2007 Belmont, the Coolmore contingent hoists the Belmont Stakes trophy with trainer Todd Pletcher (center).
Rags To Riches, in the blue and orange on the outside, locks horns with Curlin (yellow) turning for home in the 2007 Belmont.
In 2004, George W. Bush was president, but a more popular candidate was emerging.
Smarty Jones and Steward Elliott walk onto the track before the 2004 Belmont.
Trainer Tim Ice greets Summer Bird and Kent Desormeaux after the 2009 Belmont.
Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith lead Rags to Riches and John Velazquez down victory lane after the 2007 Belmont.
Rags to Riches (7) nips Curlin in a thrilling stretch duel in 2007.
Fast forward to 2010 and Drosselmeyer and Mike Smith defeat Fly Down and First Dude for WinStar and trainer Bill Mott.
Mike Smith and Drosselmeyer in the winner's circle in 2010.
In 2011, eventual winner Ruler on Ice gave trainer Kelly Breen (in the white hat) some worrisome moments during the post parade.
The large winner's circle celebration after Ruler on Ice defeated Stay Thirsty in 2010.
Ruler on Ice and jockey Jose Valdivia edge Stay Thirsty in 2010.
Jose Valdivia Jr. shows some emotion just past the wire aboard Ruler on Ice in 2010.
Last year, it was a popular win when Phyllis Wyeth's Union Rags, in the yellow colors, edged Paynter.
At the break in the 2012 Belmont: Irgun, 4, takes aim at eventual winner Union Rags (3).
Union Rags and John Velazquez lead Paynter and Mike Smith in the 2012 Belmont.
Owner Phyllis Wyeth and husband, Jamie, welcome Union Rags and John Velazquez to the winner's circle in 2012.