Trainer Jack Van Berg won't be appearing on "Good Morning America" Monday. He won't be banking $500,000, either.
Van Berg's share of a potential $5-million payoff disappeared Saturday, right along with the Triple Crown championship, when Alysheba ran a dismal fourth in the Belmont Stakes, a nine-horse race when it started but a one-horse blowout at the end.
That one horse was Bet Twice, runner-up to Alysheba in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness--and on the verge of becoming only the second horse, after Alysheba's sire, Alydar, to finish second in all three Triple Crown races.
Bet Twice was anything but another Alydar Saturday. Before 64,772, the largest Belmont crowd since Affirmed beat Alydar in 1978, Bet Twice didn't need any encouragement from jockey Craig Perret's whip in romping to a 14-length win.
After Bet Twice crossed the line, there was a lull before the next three horses hit the wire in a photo finish.
Cryptoclearance, fourth in the Derby and third in the Preakness, took second, a nose better than Gulch, who had a neck on Alysheba. The rest of the field was spread out even farther, with Shawklit Won fifth, 9 1/2 lengths behind Alysheba, and Gone West, Avies Copy, Manassa Jack and Leo Castelli bringing up the rear. Gone West's failure prevented trainer Woody Stephens from winning his sixth straight Belmont.
Alysheba, getting a ride from Chris McCarron that was questioned by Van Berg and criticized by the jockey himself, not only missed the $5-million day, but he also lost a $1-million bonus by a margin of less than a half-length.
Bet Twice, getting 3 points for each of his Derby and Preakness finishes, gained 5 in winning Saturday to outscore Alysheba, 11-10, and collect the $1 million. Alysheba collected 5 points in each of the first two races but came up empty Saturday. Had Alysheba finished second, he still would have won the $1 million, 12-11; by running third he would have at least split the bonus with Bet Twice.
And if he had won all three races, he would have collected a guaranteed total of $5 million.
Instead of becoming the 12th Triple Crown champion--and the first since Affirmed--Alysheba will be remembered as the 11th 3-year-old to win the Derby and the Preakness and then fail in the Belmont.
"A lot of 'em have gotten knocked off, that's the reason it's a hard thing to do," Van Berg said as he waited in the track's horse tunnel to watch a rerun of the Belmont on a television monitor.
"But you can't cry because you lost. You've got to take it like a sport. That's why they run races every day and people bet on them.
"I'm not going to jump off this building, I'll tell you that. I've got another birthday on Sunday (his 51st) and it'll just be one less than I've got left."
Moments earlier, Van Berg said McCarron had told him that he used "poor judgment" in the early part of the race, when first Gone West and then Avies Copy had set snailish fractions.
"Going down the backstretch, I didn't have much hope, because the pace was so slow," Van Berg said. "It was not my horse's race to be back that far with such slow fractions.
"We were just lollygagging back there, while the others were going on. My horse galloped faster the other morning than they were running the first part today."
In the jockeys' room, McCarron patiently reviewed the race for several waves of reporters, once briefly interrupting his mea culpas to join his wife, Judy, and their children and many relatives in an anteroom.
"My horse didn't give me the response he had in the past, and I blame myself," said McCarron, who won the Belmont last year with Danzig Connection. "I discouraged him from running early, because I didn't want to be on the inside.
"It was just a matter of judgment, and there's more room to make an error in a mile-and-a-half race then there is going six furlongs."
The race was already lost by the time Alysheba hit the top of the stretch. Bet Twice, third early, moved on the outside to pass Gone West at about the same time that colt Stephens' colt was displacing Avies Copy on the lead. When the field straightened out for home, Bet Twice had increased his lead to seven lengths and Perret was looking around, surprised to see that the rest of the field had shifted into reverse.
Alysheba had trouble turning for home, but McCarron said the best he was hoping for was second by then.
Between Avies Copy on the rail and Cryptoclearance on the outside, Alysheba felt McCarron's left-handed whip and tried to accelerate. But Gone West, tired and backing up, was squarely in front of them.
"I shouldn't have hit him when I did," McCarron said. "It was frustration, or maybe out of desperation. Gone West stopped right in front of us, and my horse was running just fast enough to be in a position to get trapped.
"We got bumped, and I had to steady him. It was enough to cost us second money."
Alysheba, who finished first three straight times after bleeding and undergoing minor throat surgery at Santa Anita in March, was running without an anti-bleeding medication for the first time since his winning streak. New York rules prohibit horses from running on any medication.
Neither Van Berg nor McCarron indicated that this was a factor. Perret could only speculate.
"Bet Twice was 100%, but Alysheba was not," Bet Twice's jockey said. "I don't know if Lasix (a diuretic given to bleeders in other states) is to blame for Alysheba's race. It did seem to improve his racing. I don't know if he bled or whatever, but I didn't think it would stop him from winning."
Bet Twice's winning margin was the same as Conquistador Cielo's on a sloppy track in the 1982 Belmont. Bet Twice ran Saturday's 1 1/2 miles in the same time, 2:28 1/5. Secretariat's 31-length Belmont margin, achieved as he completed his Triple Crown sweep in 1973, is a record considered to be one of the safest in sports.
Besides the $1-million bonus, Bet Twice earned the $329,160 winner's share of the $548,600 purse. A surprising fifth choice in the betting, Bet Twice paid $18, $5 and $3.80. Cryptoclearance returned $4.80 and $3.80 and Gulch, who ran coupled with Leo Castelli, paid $4.40. A $2 exacta on Bet Twice and Cryptoclearance paid $77.80, and a $2 triple on the first three finishers was worth $472.
Bet Twice was one of last year's prominent 2-year-olds, winning major stakes in Illinois and Maryland. He ran fourth, just behind Alysheba, in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita in November, with Jimmy Croll, his soft-spoken trainer, attributing the performance to an unfavorable post position, next to the outside in a 13-horse field.
As a 3-year-old, Bet Twice returned to the races with a flourish, running a good second in a small stake at Hialeah, then winning the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
After that, Bet Twice ran the only bad race of his life, finishing a lackluster fifth as Cryptoclearance won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream. Racing close to the pace in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, he made the lead, only to be overhauled by Alysheba in the stretch. Alysheba was three-quarters of a length better at Churchill Downs and a half-length ahead at the wire at Pimlico.
Owned by Bob Levy, the president of Atlantic City Race Course, Levy's mother and several small shareholders, including Manager Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds, Bet Twice was bought as a yearling for $50,000. His sire, Sportin' Life, never won a major race, and the dam, Golden Dust, was an unspectacular horse sired by Dusty Canyon, a sprinter who accounted for 15 stakes winners in California. Another son of Golden Dust, Bold and Gold, won the Del Mar Futurity in 1980.
While the other Belmont starters had already been quartered at the track, Bet Twice trained in the weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont at New Jersey's Monmouth Park, where Croll maintains a public stable.
Saturday began for Bet Twice with a 5 a.m. van ride on the New Jersey Turnpike that brought him to Belmont Park at 7:15. It was Croll's decision to keep the horse at Monmouth. He once sent a stakes-winning filly to Belmont the day before the race, and she cracked an ankle, ending her year, and the trainer has been a late shipper to New York ever since.
"Monmouth Park is home for this horse," Croll said. "He was in our shedrow, where it was quiet, and he was happy there. He had a good, relaxed week."
Bet Twice's van ride to Belmont cost about $250. Not a bad investment for the $1.3-million day that followed.
Horse Racing Notes
Woody Stephens scratched Conquistarose from the Belmont Stakes because he said the colt would only run if the track came up wet. . . . Talking about the end of his Belmont streak, Stephens said: "Five in a row is more than anybody's done, and I've still got that, so I'm not disappointed. I thought that maybe Gone West might move on at the three-sixteenths pole, but it wasn't there." . . . In another major race at Belmont Park Saturday, Angel Cordero rode Fiesta Gal to a 2-length win for owner Gene Klein and trainer Wayne Lukas in the $250,400 Mother Goose. Chic Shirine, another Lukas horse, was third, with Buryyourbelief fourth. . . . Other stakes winners at Belmont Saturday were Lukas' Jazzing Around in the Riva Ridge, Groovy in the Roseben Handicap, K.C.'s Best Turn in the Colin and Graceful Darby in the Tanya. . . . Groovy, making his first start of the year, ran six furlongs in 1:08 2/5, just two-fifths of a second slower than the track record. . . . In the Riva Ridge, Polish Navy, one of last year's best 2-year-olds making his first start this year, finished in a dead heat with High Brite for second. . . . With Alysheba's defeat, there still hasn't been a Belmont Stakes winner who didn't have a race over the track since Avatar in 1975. . . . Bet Twice was Craig Perret's first mount and trainer Jimmy Croll's first starter in the Belmont.