August Belmont Jr.: A Life of Horse Racing


August Belmont Jr., undated. Keeneland Library Cook Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Belmont is a name synonymous with horse racing. He built an iconic racetrack, bred and owned some of racing’s greatest horses, and led many important organizations. His contributions helped to shape the sport that we have today.


Early Life August Belmont Jr. was born in New York City on February 18, 1853. His father, August Belmont, was a very successful financier. His mother, Caroline Siddell Perry, was the daughter of Navy Commodore Matthew Perry.


With so many leaders in his family, it was almost certain that August Belmont Jr. would make his mark in the world of business. August graduated from Harvard University in 1875 and went to work for his father’s August Belmont & Co. Bank.


1890 saw the passing of August’s father, leaving the young man in charge of the bank. Shortly after he began to finance big projects, including the Interborough Rapid Transit Company in 1902.


Involvement in Thoroughbred Horse Racing

The bank wasn’t the only thing August’s father had left behind. The older Belmont bred and raised Thoroughbred racehorses at Nursery Stud in Kentucky. August Belmont Jr. had always enjoyed horse racing, but didn’t really participate in it himself while his father was still alive.


When Belmont Sr. passed away, his breeding stock went to a dispersal sale. August purchased seven of his father’s mares at the sale to continue breeding and raising horses at Nursery Stud. Shortly after he purchased a stallion by the name of Hastings for $37,000. The young and aggressive colt won the 1896 Belmont Stakes at Morris Park, a race inaugurated in 1866 that was financed by Belmont Sr. and thus named after him.


August couldn’t settle for just one avenue in horse racing. This natural born leader wanted to be involved in many aspects of the sport as he could. In 1894 he was one of the founding members of The Jockey Club, serving as chairman from 1895 until his death. He also helped to revitalize Saratoga Race Course in the early 1900s and served as the head of the New York Racing Commission.


It was finally time for August to build his own racetrack in New York. Alongside William Collins Whitney, August purchased the land for the racetrack and constructed Belmont Park, named in honor of his father.


The track opened its doors for the first time on May 4, 1905. Racing was conducted clockwise, an English tradition, for many years. The Belmont Stakes was transferred from Morris Park to Belmont Park that year, a sensible decision considering that Morris Park was financially troubled and the race, like Belmont Park, was named after August’s father.


In addition to American horse racing, August Belmont Jr. participated in European horse racing and even had his own breeding operation in France!

[Video: Learn the history of Belmont Park]


Belmont’s Greatest Horse

August Belmont Jr.’s Nursery Stud was quite prolific. His farm produced 129 stakes winners, many of them being racehorses we still love and admire today.


Perhaps August’s greatest breeding accomplishment was a chestnut colt born on his farm on March 29, 1917. August had bred his winning mare Mahubah to Fair Play, a mating he did time and time again. This time, the colt turned out extra special.


But August Belmont Jr. wouldn’t get the privilege of owning this horse. Despite being 64-years old, August decided to join the Army to fight in World War I. While he was away, August’s wife named the colt “My Man O’ War” with the intention to race him.


However, the Belmonts decided to liquidate their racing stable in 1918 and off went the young colt. He was purchased by Samuel Riddle for $5,000 at the Saratoga Yearling Sale. The “my” was dropped from his name and thus he became "Man o’ War".


Man o’ War raced 21 times, losing just once. He even won the 1920 Belmont Stakes. Man o’ War is considered to be one of the greatest racehorses of all time, not too shabby for his breeder August Belmont Jr.


Death and Remembrance

August Belmont Jr. died on December 10, 1924 at 71 years old in his New York apartment. His wife Eleanor sold much of his estate to property developers. She outlived August Belmont Jr. by more than fifty years. Upon her passing, the rest of Belmont’s estate was taken over by New York State.


Belmont’s New York estate was expanded and turned into Belmont Lake State Park. His mansion served as the New York State Park headquarters for many years before being demolished.


All of Belmont’s bloodstock was sold after his death. The majority of his land that raised some incredible Thoroughbreds is now a condominium development. The land that held Nursery Stud’s horse graveyard has transferred owners many times, today being owned by Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital.


Other than Thoroughbred horse racing, August Belmont Jr. served as president of the American Kennel Club. He financed many important projects and was a well-known and respected businessman.


Today the horse racing industry remembers August Belmont Jr. for his many contributions to the sport. He was a leader and an entrepreneur. Belmont Park is still packed full of attendees every year for the running of the Belmont Stakes. Historians and racing fans alike still bow to him for his gift of Man o’ War.


August Belmont Jr. is a name that will forever be associated with the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing.



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Sources:

National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame

Jrank Sports

Daily Racing Form

August Belmont Jr.

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