Test of the Champion: The Story of the Belmont Dynasty
SohoNYC Magazine|Issue 60

Test of the Champion: The Story of the Belmont Dynasty.

Carly Silver

The grand old names of American Thoroughbred horse racing—Whitney, Phipps, DuPont, Mellon, and Widener—exude images of industry tycoons and lineages traceable to the Mayflower. But several of the most important equestrians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries hailed from a clan far more blue-collar than blue-blooded. Meet the family Belmont, namesakes of Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, as well as the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown. The 149th running of the “Test of the Champion,” as the 1 ½-mile contest has been dubbed, takes place on June 10, 2017.

The Belmonts’ origin story traces back more than 200 years, to the German town of Alzey. There, Simon Schönberg, a prominent Jewish citizen, and his wife, Fredericka, had a young child named August. Some sources claim their last name was Balmain, which was later Anglicized into “Belmont,” but “Schönberg” and “Belmont” both translate to “beautiful mountain” in English. Historian Bernard Livingston recounted in Their Turf: America’s Horsey Set and Its Princely Dynasties that August Belmont I began his career in finance essentially as an unpaid intern. At age fifteen, he started by sweeping the floors and taking out the trash for free at the banking house of the famed Rothschild clan, allegedly his distant cousins.

Young Schönberg worked his way up the corporate ladder so fast that it was rumored he was actually an illegitimate Rothschild, according to horseman Abram S. Hewitt in his Sire Lines. Regardless of the veracity of that claim, Schönberg became a near instant success; a few years after starting at Rothschild, he was negotiating finances with the Pope’s court. Schönberg acquired lavish tastes as he traveled from Germany to Italy and Cuba, as sports historian Steven A. Riess observed in The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime.

In 1837, he emigrated to the United States, formally changing his name, and became a mainstay on Wall Street as the Rothschilds’ stateside representative. Not long after, he created his own firm, August Belmont and Company. Despite the fact that he came up through the world-renowned Rothschild operation, Belmont was still an outsider in the AngloSaxon Protestant set of New York. Apparently, the ladies didn’t feel the same way as their fathers— eligible bachelor August received a limp after being injured in a duel over a woman.

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