By Ashley Herriman
While the origin of the white carnation as the official flower of the Belmont Stakes is unknown, it’s a fitting choice to crown the winner of the 1½-mile “Test of the Champion.” Traditionally, pure white carnations stand for love and luck, but they are also hardy, long-lasting flowers, not unlike the Belmont winners they come to adorn.
It takes approximately 700 “select” carnations imported from Colombia to create the 40 pound blanket draped over the winner of the Belmont Stakes. The New York Racing Association has long used The Pennock Company, a wholesale florist based in Philadelphia to import the carnations used for the mantle.
“They’re the best at getting us the bigger carnations that have that fluffy look,” said NYRA florist Tony Green. “When you drape the blanket over the horse you want it to look like a bed of carnations.”
To create that bed of carnations, Green keeps the flowers in water for two full days so that they hydrate properly and the blossoms thicken. When ready, Green hand glues each individual flower in staggered rows to seven yards of green velvet cloth, folded and sewn to give it the necessary heft to retain its shape and support the carnations. The process of creating the winner’s blanket takes Green about five hours on the day of the race.
There is only one winner’s blanket, but Green also makes a similar blanket in advance to adorn the Secretariat statue in Belmont’s backyard on race day. If it’s very hot and humid, or inclement weather is expected, Green makes two blankets for the statue and switches them mid-afternoon.
For fans looking to catch a glimpse of the official blanket, the best place is actually not in the winner’s circle. Starting at about 1 p.m. on Belmont Stakes Day, Green and several other NYRA staffers tour the building with the carnation mantle, stopping for about 20 minutes on all four floors of the Clubhouse to answer questions and pose for photos.