One weighty CrownThe list of those who couldn't hit a triple at the Belmont is long indeed
By ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun
First it was Silver Charm, then Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem and, 12 months ago, Funny Cide.
Five times during the previous seven years, Triple Crown dreams have gone poof at various points of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Park racetrack known as Big Sandy.
Eyes of the sporting world again will zoom in here on leafy Elmont, N.Y., tomorrow to see if Smarty Jones can become the 12th Crown winner and first in 26 years.
Can he do it? Though not exactly teeming with confidence, eight other three-year-olds are hoping to be Smarty Party poopers. They will cling to the hope that nerves may get to Toronto-born jockey Stewart Elliott, even though he has been cool in the saddle in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories.
Or that Smarty Jones finally reveals a flaw not evident in his eight career starts, all of them wins.
"Some things are out of your control," Smarty Jones' trainer, John Servis, said yesterday. "I just concentrate on my horse. If he gets beat, it's going to be something out of the ordinary, I think."
To varying degrees, the five horses who have most recently failed haven't been extraordinary enough. There's only one way to win a Triple Crown but many ways to lose one. Here are five of the most recent examples:
- Silver Charm, 1997: The talented silver-coated horse thrust silver-haired trainer Bob Baffert into the spotlight and won over many with his gritty victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. But in the Belmont, he used too much in an early speed duel with his nemesis in all three races, Free House. That set the stage for closer Touch Gold (owned by Canadian Frank Stronach) to storm down the middle of the track and nip Silver Charm at the wire.
- Real Quiet, 1998: Baffert was back with another shot and this time looked like he might get it, as most believed the horse was a standout. Trouble was, jockey Kent Desormeaux thought he was riding Secretariat and pulled the trigger with a half-mile remaining, far too soon.
Real Quiet managed to open up seven lengths early in the stretch but soon was spent and caught by closer (and Canadian-bred) Victory Gallop.
- Charismatic, 1999: A stunning long-shot winner of the Derby, this colt was a former claimer trained by D. Wayne Lukas. He took the lead at the quarter-pole and held it deep in the stretch before breaking down with a career-ending injury and hobbling across the wire in third place behind long-shot Lemon Drop Kid. The loss and it's sickening end showed how much pressure these three-year-olds are under racing three times in five weeks.
- War Emblem, 2002: Baffert was back with a third shot with a horse who loved racing on the lead. So when War Emblem stumbled leaving the gate, literally falling to his knees, all hope was lost. War Emblem had the lead for a few steps midway through the race but was all done after that, eventually finishing eighth well behind 70-1 shot Sarava. This time, ugly racing luck reared its head.
- Funny Cide, 2003: Trouble began in the Preakness when jockey Jose Santos aggressively (and needlessly) rode his horse to the wire despite a nine-length lead. A too fast morning work days before the Belmont took more zip out of him as did a quagmire of mud on race day. But despite the appealing story of his laugh-a-minute owners, Funny Cide finished third, ultimately proving to be an inferior beast to Belmont winner Empire Maker.
Which brings us to tomorrow. As much as the racing world is aching to see a coronation, a horse must earn it. By nightfall we'll know if an undefeated colt named Smarty Jones is a contender or just another heartbreaking pretender.