Esteemed sportsmen August Belmont II and Paul Mellon have been selected as the inaugural Pillars of the Turf inductees into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Belmont II and Mellon will be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with jockey Calvin Borel and the Thoroughbreds Housebuster, Invasor, Lure, McDynamo, and Tuscalee on Friday, Aug. 9. The ceremony will be held at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion at 10:30 a.m. It is open to the public and free of charge.
Belmont II was born in 1853 and spent the first four years of his life at The Hague, where his father was serving as U.S. Minister to the Netherlands. He later graduated from Harvard and went into the family banking business before having a profound influence on racing.
Upon his father’s death in 1890, Belmont II became heavily involved with racing and took over August Belmont & Co., a New York City bank. He also served as chairman of the board of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and director of the National Park Bank.
Belmont II bought seven of his father’s mares at a dispersal auction and continued his father’s practice of raising horses at Nursery Stud in Kentucky. Belmont II bred more than 100 stakes winners, including seven champions: Man o’ War, Beldame, Rock View, Friar Rock, Hourless, Mad Hatter, and Chance Play. Belmont II sold his entire 1917 yearling crop, including Man o’ War, because of his involvement in World War I. At the age of 65, Belmont II served his country in Spain with the Quartermaster Corps, procuring supplies for the American forces.
Before and after his military service, Belmont II was deeply entwined in the workings of American racing. He was associated with William Collins Whitney in the revitalization of Saratoga in the early 1900s, and also served as chairman of both The Jockey Club and the New York Racing Commission. Belmont II was among the founding members of The Jockey Club, in 1894, and served as chairman from 1895 until his death in 1924. He was also a founding member of the National Steeplechase Association in 1895 and organized the Westchester Racing Association that same year.
In 1905, Belmont II opened Belmont Park on Long Island, N.Y. That year, the Belmont Stakes, inaugurated in 1867, and named in his father’s honor, was transferred from Morris Park to Belmont Park. Belmont II won the prestigious race in 1902 with Masterman, and in 1916 and 1917 with Friar Rock and Hourless, respectively.
Away from the track, Belmont II founded the Interborough Rapid Transit Company in 1902, helping finance the construction and operation of New York City’s first underground rapid transit line. He also spent much of his personal fortune on the construction of the Cape Cod Canal.
After his death in 1924, fellow members of The Jockey Club expressed their admiration for Belmont II: “He loved the horse as an animal and saw in racing an opportunity for raising the standard and improving the qualities of the thoroughbred, thus adding to the prosperity of the breeder and furnishing broader avenues for clean and honest sport.”
Time magazine said Belmont II “is credited with having saved thoroughbred racing when it was at its lowest ebb in the East.”
Mellon was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1907. After graduating from Yale in 1929, he went to work for Mellon Bank, which was founded by his grandfather, Thomas, and later passed to his father, Andrew, who served more than a decade as the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Mellon later joined the U.S. Army, serving in the Office of Strategic Services in Europe, where he earned four Bronze Stars.
Mellon began racing under the banner of Rokeby Stables in 1948. His horses won more than 1,000 stakes races and had total earnings in excess of $30 million. Mellon won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Breeder in 1971 and 1986. Among his many exceptional runners, Mellon campaigned Hall of Fame members Arts and Letters and Fort Marcy. Other standouts included Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Sea Hero, Belmont winner Quadrangle, and champions Key to the Mint and Run the Gantlet.
Along with his success in America, Mellon had a prominent European division of horses, including champions Mill Reef, Glint of Gold, and Gold and Ivory. Virginia-bred Mill Reef won the Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, among other Group 1 events. Mellon is the only individual to win the Kentucky Derby, Epsom Derby, and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Mellon was a trustee of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and one of only six individuals to be named an Exemplar of Racing by the Museum. He was inducted into the English Jockey Club Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. Mellon also served as vice chairman of The Jockey Club, director of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, and maintained key leadership and support roles with the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and the National Steeplechase Association.
A noted philanthropist, Mellon donated many priceless works of his art collection to various museums, one of which, the Yale Center for Sporting Art, he also paid to have built. He donated and bequeathed millions of dollars to support equine research and Thoroughbred aftercare programs. He also received the Eclipse Award of Merit. Mellon died in 1999 at the age of 91.
Belmont and Mellon were selected as finalists by the Museum’s Pillars of the Turf Selection Committee and were required to receive 75 percent approval from the committee’s members to gain election.
In an effort to tell a more comprehensive history of Thoroughbred racing in America, the National Museum of Racing’s Executive Committee approved a motion to expand its Hall of Fame with a new category, Pillars of the Turf, beginning this year.
Joining the three original Hall of Fame categories — horses, jockeys, and trainers — the Pillars of the Turf category is designated honor individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to Thoroughbred racing in a leadership or pioneering capacity at the highest national level. Candidates must be deemed to have represented the sport with indisputable standards of integrity and commitment through disciplines including, but not limited to, innovation, philanthropy, promotion and education, and breeding and ownership.
A committee of 12 industry experts and historians, under the guidance of Edward L. Bowen, comprise the Pillars of the Turf Selection Committee: Bowen, Christopher Dragone, Jane Goldstein, Ken Grayson, Jay Hovdey, G. Watts Humphrey, Bill Marshall, Bill Mooney, Mary Simon, D.G. Van Clief, Michael Veitch, and Gary West.