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Winning the Belmont Stakes: Graveyard of Champions
I'll Have Another, 2012's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes champion, has a date with destiny on June 9, when he becomes the twelfth Thoroughbred since Spectacular Bid in 1979 to attempt to become America's twelfth ever Triple Crown Champion.
Before the 'Bid's attempt, ten others fell by the wayside, dating back to Burgoo King (1932), after winning the Derby and the Preakness. (Only Burgoo King and Bold Venture were not entered in the Belmont.)
Triple Crown Failures
The number of horses who have been pretenders to the next American Triple Crown throne has grown steadily since 1979. Not only pretenders, but "sure things" have failured to capture the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, after winning the first two events. At 1-1/2 miles, the Belmont Stakes is known as "The Test of A Champion", but it has become a visible graveyard of champions in recent years.
Wooden legs in the Belmont have doomed such great runners as Smarty Jones (2004) and Big Brown (2008), both undefeated entering the marathon at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
Pretenders and Sure Things Fail
In 2003, Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide went to Belmont with a contingent of owners from ordinary places that were making the most of their gelding's party. But it rained on Belmont day, and Funny Cide had no humor. He went third behind Empire Maker, who was supposed to have been the season's hot ticket to capture the twelfth Triple Crown championship -- thus his name.
In 2004, a little guy by the name of Smarty Jones became tremendously popular after his storming Kentucky Derby win in rainy conditions. Only Seattle Slew before him had entered the Derby unbeaten and left the same way to go on to a Triple Crown championship (1977).
But in the Belmont, Smarty insisted on an early speed duel with Eddington and Rock Hard Ten. By the time he had pushed into his third and fourth gears in the lane and leaped to a huge lead with the audience screaming and chanting, Smarty had gassed himself. He couldn't hold on, and a little 900-pound-plus steam engine named Birdstone, jockeyed by Edgar Prado, ran him down just a length before the wire. The collective gasp in the stands relayed the crowd's shock.
Smarty's jockey, first-time Belmont contender Stewart Elliott, seemed non-chalant about the Triple Crown loss. He dismounted, went to weigh-out, and scrambled off to the next race of the day, in which he was due to ride. His brief statement left the nation wondering why he had let Smarty run so hard so early, then bolt for the wire way too soon. And why was Elliott riding in the next race of the day? Wasn't he expecting to enter the winner's circle for endless interviews?
In 2002, War Emblem, one of the most stunning-looking Thoroughbreds ever to race, took the Derby and Preakness and headed for Belmont the clear favorite. But he stumbled coming out of the gate.
And Prado was riding his winning closer, Sarava, on Belmont day. War Emblem finished eighth.
In 1999, Real Quiet got to the wire even closer as the second place finisher than Smarty Jones eventually did after him. With Kent Desormeaux in the saddle, Real Quiet geared to the wire a little too quietly and was nosed out of the twelfth Triple Crown by appropriately named Victory Gallop.
Biggest Pretender Big Brown
Big Brown, a big handsome light bay who had connections connected to the other big brown, UPS, arrived in New York as the sure thing in 2008, according to his irrepressible trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr.
And, indeed, the undefeated Big Brown had loomed large, big as a train in the Florida Derby, larger than life in the Kentucky Derby, and onward-marching through the Preakness.
Controversy swirled around the entire Thoroughbred industry after the 2008 Run for the Roses because a game filly in the race named Eight Belles chased Big Brown through the lane, placed second easily, then collapsed past the wire on two broken front ankles and died on the Derby track. It was the most hushed moment in Derby history.
Perhaps Big Brown was still thinking of the brave filly as he entered the Belmont gate with the twelfth ever Triple Crown on the line. Shortly after the break, Big Brown loosened a shoe and fought Desormeaux in the saddle.
Desormeaux managed to get the bay straightened into a striking position, but when he asked Big Brown for homestretch run, the bay smugly refused, and he finished an astounding last. "I had no horse," Desormeaux said after the race.
Big Brown's mind was somewhere else on Belmont day. A calm, but visibly frustrated Dutrow Jr. stood in shed row, staring back at his Triple Crown contender and wondering what might have been on a sunny day at the races.
In 1999, the unfortunate Charismatic broke down in the Belmont Stakes yards before he might have become the twelfth Triple Crown winner. His fracture healed and he was sent to stud duty.
The White Carnations Graveyard 21
Kentucky Derby--Preakness Stakes winners in a single year who lost in the Belmont Stakes (1979 to present) include:
- Spectacular Bid, 1979 -- 3rd to (winner) Coastal
Pleasant Colony, 1981 -- 3rd to Summing
Alysheba, 1987 -- 4th to Bet Twice
Sunday Silence, 1989 -- 2nd to Easy Goer
Silver Charm, 1997 -- 2nd to Touch Gold
Real Quiet, 1998 -- 2nd to Victory Gallop
Charismatic, 1999 -- 3rd to Lemon Drop Kid
War Emblem, 2002 -- 8th to Sarava
Funny Cide, 2003 -- 3rd to Empire Maker
Smarty Jones, 2004 -- 2nd to Birdstone
Big Brown, 2008 -- last to Da' Tara
From 1932 through 1976, these Thoroughbreds won the first two races of the Triple Crown, only to miss out at the Belmont Stakes:
- Burgoo King, 1932 -- not entered
Bold Venture, 1936 -- not entered
Pensive, 1944 -- 2nd to Bounding Home
Tim Tam, 1958 -- 2nd to Cavan
Carry Back, 1961 -- 7th to Sherluck
Northern Dancer, 1964 -- 3rd to Quadrangle
Kauai King, 1966 -- 4th to Amberoid
Forward Pass, 1968 -- 2nd to Stage Door Johnny
Majestic Prince, 1969 -- 2nd to Arts and Letters
Canonero II, 1971 -- 4th to Pass Catcher
Forward Pass was moved to first place in the 1968 Kentucky Derby when winner Dancer's Image was disqualified for failing a mandatory post-race drug test. The event marked the only time in Derby history since its 1875 beginning that a disqualification occurred.
I'll Have Another's Gig on June 9, 2012
The historic Thoroughbred winners of the American Triple Crown, eleven all time, are here:
- 1978 -- Affirmed
1977 -- Seattle Slew
1973 -- Secretariat
1948 -- Citation
1946 -- Assault
1943 -- Count Fleet
1941 -- Whirlaway
1937 -- War Admiral (Man o' War's son)
1935 -- Omaha (Gallant Fox's son)
1930 -- Gallant Fox
1919 -- Sir Barton
Will I'll Have Another join the ranks of Triple Crown pretenders and failed sure things when the chestnut colt takes the Belmont Stakes track on June 9?
Or will he prevail to have another? (win) ? and change the white carnations of the Belmont Stakes graveyard to a Triple Crown champion's garland of victory??
- Part One Kentucky Derby Thoughts and Tips From the Thoroughbred Contenders
Get some tips and thoughts on the 138th Kentucky Derby straight from the horses' mouths!