The biggest Belmont Stakes upset of the 21st century

In 2002, trainer Bob Baffert was looking to secure the Triple Crown with War Emblem, who had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but things were to go awry in the Belmont Stakes...

The 153rd running of the $1.5million Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the three-race Triple Crown Series, will take place on Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

It will be run over its traditional mile-and-a-half distance after it was shortened to a mile-and-an-eighth in 2020 due to COVID-19. It was also the first race run instead of being held in its usual spot following the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.

The last time the race was run at its full length in 2019, 10/1 underdog Sir Winston was the winner, but as an upset, his effort is far down the list since the turn of the 21st century. Between the length of the race and the introduction of entries that have skipped the first two Triple Crown races, both combine to make the Belmont Stakes highly unpredictable.

War Emblem to Sarava: From Triple Crown hopeful to longshot

In 2002, trainer Bob Baffert had picked up the first two legs of the Triple Crown as War Emblem was victorious in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. This gave him the chance of being the first winner of the prestigious Triple Crown Series since Affirmed in 1978. To do this, he needed to win the Belmont Stakes, and War Emblem was the overwhelming favourite at odds of 5/4 over Perfect Drift at 11/2.

The second-longest shot in the 11-horse field at 70/1 was Sarava, trained by Kenneth McPeek and making his graded stakes debut after winning the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico on the same card as the Preakness Stakes three weeks before. His only other career win had come when he broke his maiden at Churchill Downs on November 21, 2001.

2002 Belmont Stakes: Race recap and outcome

War Emblem, breaking from the 10th post position, stumbled out of the starting gate, effectively taking him out of contention as the rest of the field sped forward without the top two betting favourites anywhere close to the front. Sarava had the outside post position and broke well, moving toward the rail in fifth spot.

He was able to work his way methodically through the field and took the lead at the top of the stretch over 16/1 underdog Medaglia d'Oro, who had been at or near the front from the start. Sarava held on to win by half a length, becoming the longest shot to ever win the Belmont Stakes, a record that still stands to this day.

Race payouts

Sarava paid $142.50, $50.00, and $22.40, Medaglia d'Oro had a runner-up payout of $16.00 and $10.80, with third-place finisher Sunday Break paying $7.10 at odds of 8/1. The winner earned $600,000 of the total purse of $1million, which comprised a substantial piece of his career winnings of $773,832.

Following the upset win, Sarava competed in eight more races in his career over the following two years, but wasn't able to finish in the money in any of them, with a pair of fourth-place finishes the best he could muster. Despite this, it is clear that outsiders can triumph in the Belmont Stakes so the likes of Brooklyn Strong and France Go De Ina (33/1 and 40/1 with Skybet respectively) still have a chance this coming Saturday.