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Belmont Park Belongs to Woody Stephens

<i> United Press International </i>

The expensive champagne with which he toasted his unprecedented fourth straight Belmont Stakes victory loosened Woody Stephens’ tongue a bit, but it did not go to his head.

The trainer visibly blanched, then blushed, when some party guests suggested that Belmont Park be renamed in his honor following his latest triumph in the final leg of racing’s Triple Crown: A 1-2 finish by his coupled entry of gelding Creme Fraiche and colt Stephan’s Odyssey.

Consider then how embarrassed Stephens would have been had he followed up his cold-sober, early-morning visit to the backstretch with a trip to the clubhouse and heard track announcer Marshall Cassidy introduce Sunday’s race card.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Cassidy said, drawling his words for dramatic effect, “Welcome to Woody Stephens Park.”

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Though it is highly unlikely the historic thoroughbred complex on Long Island will ever be renamed, Stephens is quite likely to end up being commemorated by a plaque or photo or two.

Winning four straight--Stephens took the three previous Belmonts with Conquistador Cielo, Caveat and Swale--was not the only record Stephens established with his Creme Fraiche-Stephan’s Odyssey triumph.

The 1-2 finish was the first by an entry since 1907 and the first since pari-mutuel betting was introduced to racing.

Creme Fraiche, meanwhile, became the first gelding ever to win the grueling 1 1/2-mile race, longest of the Triple Crown series, and he did so in the fastest time ever on a Belmont Stakes track officially rated as “muddy.” The winning time of 2:27 also was the fourth-fastest time in Belmont history.

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The record time of 2:24 set by Secretariat in 1973, as well as the 2:26 3/5 run by Gallant Man in 1957 and 2:26 4/5 by Affirmed in 1978, all came on “fast” tracks.

Creme Fraiche and Stephan’s Odyssey also managed to put the show-horse in the record books: Chief’s Crown, 4 1/2 lengths back, became only the third horse in Triple Crown history to be favored and defeated in all three races. The other thrice-beaten favorites were Correlation in 1954 and My Dad George in 1970.

“I really thought Roger Laurin’s colt was the one to beat. Then to be 1-2!” Stephens exclaimed. “I was hoping to win, but to go 1-2, who would expect that?”

Stephens also made big winners out of Kentucky Derby champion Spend a Buck, who skipped the two final legs of the Triple Crown to successfully attempt to win a record $2.6 million in the Jersey Derby, and for Robert Brennan, the silver-tongued racing entrepreneur who lured the bay away from the Preakness and Belmont in order to run at Garden State Park.

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Creme Fraiche, held out of the first two Triple Crown races because Stephens did not think him good enough, went to the Belmont by virtue of his one-neck finish behind Spend a Buck in the Jersey Derby.

“Bob Brennan is the guy who won big yesterday,” said Brownell Combs II, president of Spendthrift Farm and part-owner of Eternal Prince, a disappointing 10th among the 11-horse Belmont field.

“All this talk that Spend a Buck isn’t the best horse--well, he beat the winner of the Belmont in the Jersey Derby. The case is closed,” Combs added.

“Oh, three still will be much weeping and griping and gnashing of teeth, but the issue is settled. He’s proved he’s the best horse.”

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Unfortunately for racing fans, Creme Fraiche’s win took some of the shine off the summer classic for 3-year-olds, the Travers at Saratoga. Stephens indicated Sunday he probably will not take Creme Fraiche to Saratoga, and Preakness champion Tank’s Prospect will not be there either.

Tank’s Prospect pulled up during the Belmont with what was diagnosed as a strained suspensory in the right front ankle and was immediately retired to stud.

Creme Fraiche won $307,740 and Stephan’s Odyssey $112,838. The entry paid $7, $6.40 and $3.40. Chief’s Crown, who paid $2.80, earned $61,548, and fourth-place Fast Account $30,774.

The remaining order of finish was Important Business, Cutlass Reality, Purple Mountain, Southern Sultan, El Basco, Eternal Prince and Tank’s Prospect.

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