Belmont Stakes notes: Honor Code scores upset in Met Mile

Belmont Stakes notes: Honor Code scores upset in Met Mile
Horse racing fans line the paddock area of Belmont Park before the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

ELMONT, N.Y. — Besides American Pharoah's pursuit of a Triple Crown, Belmont day had at least two other major elements to offer: money and Bayern.

The money was guaranteed.


On a day of 12 races, plus the $1.5-million Belmont, there were purses totaling an additional $6,332,000. Think of it as kind of a pretend Breeders' Cup.

There were six Grade I stakes, two Grade II's and a Grade III. After the Belmont, the biggest deal was the Met Mile. It offered $1.25 million and the strongest and most competitive field of the day.

It also offered Bayern, like American Pharoah a Bob Baffert-trained horse, and, like American Pharoah, a horse with a big reputation. Bayern had won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita last fall, although in a race remembered almost as much for the banging around at the start that appeared to eliminate favored Shared Belief than the victory.

Many felt Bayern's involvement in that messy start should have resulted in his number being taken down. Baffert, of course, disagrees.

"Bayern got an unfair bad rap," Baffert says.

So there, in the ninth race, was Bayern, poised to erase some doubts. Unlike the big purses, his victory was not guaranteed.

Besides owner Kaleem Shah's Bayern, the race included stakes winners such as Private Zone, Wicked Strong, Honor Code and Tonalist. Tonalist won last year's Belmont Stakes, denying California Chrome a Triple Crown.

Honor Code, under a superb ride by Javier Castellano, turned the tables on all of them, winning in a romp and leaving Bayern fans, and probably Baffert, further confused.

Bayern, after leading to the beginning of the home turn, finished last, embarrassingly eased by jockey Martin Garcia.

Japan wins

In a strange sort of contradiction to the big money and the big day, Saturday began with a three-horse race.

It was for 3-year-olds and it was called the Winstar Farm Easy Goer, offering a purse of $150,000. With three horses total, it was the closest thing to easy money in the sport for the owners.

In the end, Japan beat Stanford. That sounds more like an Olympic swimming result than a horse race, but yes, those were the horse's names.

Bill Mott, trainer of Japan, cracked afterward about his horse, "I said before the race, he's the only horse that can upset American Pharoah. I just had him in the wrong race."


What a crowd

Last year, when California Chrome went for his Triple Crown, attendance was 102,199 at Belmont Park. From all reports, that was about 50,000 more than the place and the organizers could handle.

There were endless lines to catch the nearby trains, fistfights in the parking lots, interminable concession lines and lots of people so unhappy that the New York Racing Assn. feared they would never return.

So the NYRA did something. It capped attendance at 90,000 and warned people not to even come out if they didn't have tickets. That, of course, would have been a clever marketing move if there were no Triple Crown being contested, because, when that happens, attendance is usually closer to 70,000.

Saturday, there seemed to be no falloff of crowds, or fan enthusiasm. It's also likely that the biggest winners were the secondary ticket brokers.

Fans crowded around the paddock all morning and formed long lines at both the betting windows and the ATMs. The grandstands, only sparsely populated at first, filled up several hours before post time.

It helped that early rains gave way to sunshine and temperatures in the mid-70s. Riders in earlier races could sense the buzz.

"It was an awesome feeling," said Francisco Torres, the winning jockey aboard Channel Marker in the Jaipur Invitational. "The sun gods and the Belmont gods shined on us today.

Sherman honored

California Chrome's beloved trainer, Art Sherman, will receive the Ed Friendly Industry Service Award from the TOC (Thoroughbred Owners of California) Aug. 15 at Del Mar. The award is given annually for service to the industry.