For the first time in the same year, the Derby Stakes at Epsom was run in faster time than the Belmont Stakes. In New York, Drosselmeyer toddled home in 2:31.57. But in stark contrast, Workforce crushed his opposition at Epsom in 2:31.33 and won by seven lengths.
The internationally famed bloodstock commentator Tony Morris also noted the historic reversal of time (Belmont is typically much faster than Epsom). So I did a bit of research to see how much difference there is between the two tracks and races.
The first Belmont run at the current distance of 12 furlongs came in 1926; so the race is a youngster compared to its Epsom ancestor. The first Belmont Stakes at the present distance was won by Crusader in 2:32 1/5. The same year’s winner at Epsom was Coronach in 2:47 4/5, the slowest time of the 20th century.
Over the years, most of the Belmonts have been run in times that range from the high 2:20s to the lower 2:30s. During the same period, the Derby at Epsom has tended to run in the low to mid-2:30s. In a few years, the Belmont has flirted with being slower than some Derbys, with the slowest Belmont being High Echelon’s 2:34 in 1970 over a gumbo-like surface and Vito’s 2:33 1/5 in 1928.
During this period, Nijinsky came closest to the Belmont time with 2:34 3/5 in the 1970 Derby … although that was the Belmont run in hock-deep mud.
The time difference is clearly the result of Epsom’s tricky gradients and eccentricities because the Derbys run at Newmarket during wartime are not far off the times for Belmonts.
As further evidence of this, I made a list below of the war years, race winners, and times:
1940 Pont l’Eveque 2:30 4/5 Bimelech 2:29 3/5
1941 Owen Tudor 2:32 Whirlaway 2:31
1942 Watling Street 2:29 3/5 Shut Out 2:29 1/5
1943 Straight Lead Deal2:30 2/5 Count Fleet 2:28 1/5
1944 Ocean Swell 2:31 Bounding Home 2:32 1/5
1945 Dante 2:26 3/5 Pavot 2:30 1/5
From the data above, it would appear that Newmarket in June is approximately a second slower than Belmont Park for 12 furlongs. The two outliers in this small sample are the outstanding Triple Crown winner Count Fleet and the exceptional Derby winner Dante.