If there's a skunk in the weeds when Sunday Silence tries to become the 12th Triple Crown champion at Belmont Park next Saturday, his name is more likely to be Imbibe or Fire Maker, horses who stayed on the sidelines while the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness were being run.
Imbibe and Fire Maker are 3-year-olds who go into the 121st Belmont as relative strangers to fans who have only been paying attention to Sunday Silence's victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. But for New York horseplayers with a sense of Belmont history, Imbibe and Fire Maker have familiar backgrounds that have led to upsets when Triple Crown sweeps have been possible before.
Imbibe and Fire Maker skipped the first two Triple Crown races, as did six other horses before whipping a Belmont opponent who had already won the Derby and the Preakness. In addition, five Derby-Preakness winners were beaten in the Belmont by horses who also had run in the first two Triple Crown races.
These are the six who waited for the Belmont:
--Bounding Home, who beat Pensive by a half-length in 1944.
--Cavan, who won in 1958 by six lengths over Tim Tam.
--Stage Door Johnny, running one of the fastest races in Belmont history, was the winner by 1 1/4 lengths over Forward Pass in 1968.
--Pass Catcher, at 34-1, was the 1971 winner as Canonero II struggled home fourth.
--Coastal finished first in 1979, with Spectacular Bid running third.
--And Summing was the Belmont winner in 1981, beating the third-place Pleasant Colony by 1 1/2 lengths.
Stage Door Johnny saved the Triple Crown the awkwardness of having a champion with an asterisk. Forward Pass won the Preakness on the track, but got his Derby victory on a disqualification that was still in dispute when the '68 Belmont was run.
Dancer's Image had beaten Forward Pass by 1 1/2 lengths in the Derby, but phenylbutazone--today's popular painkiller than was prohibited in Kentucky then--was found in Dancer's Image's system during a postrace urinalysis. The issue bounced around courts for years before Dancer's Image's disqualification was upheld.
The five other Triple Crown spoilers:
--Sherluck, who paid a record $132.10 when he beat Carry Back in 1961.
--Quadrangle, at the expense of Northern Dancer in 1964.
--Amberoid, who upset Kauai King in 1966.
--Arts and Letters, over Majestic Prince in 1969.
--And Bet Twice, who thwarted Alysheba in 1987.
Sherluck, as did Hawkster this year, finished fifth in both the Derby and the Preakness; Quadrangle was fifth and fourth in the first two races; Amberoid was seventh and third; and Arts and Letters and Bet Twice finished second twice.
Four of the Triple Crown's party poopers--Cavan, Quadrangle, Stage Door Johnny and Coastal--had something else in common. They all had a race over the track going into the Belmont, with Cavan and Coastal having won the Peter Pan, the same stake that Imbibe won with a stretch move here a week ago.
Fire Maker had two outings at Belmont last month, winning the Withers in his first start in six months, then running fourth after a slow beginning in the Peter Pan.
On paper, Imbibe and Fire Maker do not appear to have much chance against Sunday Silence, who but for a neck and a head would be undefeated, as was 1977 Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew going into the Belmont. The next best 3-year-old this year has been Easy Goer, who was second, beaten by 2 1/2 lengths, in the Derby before he was nosed out by Sunday Silence in the Preakness.
Of the 10 prospective Belmont starters, only three--Sunday Silence, Easy Goer and Hawkster--appeared in the first two Triple Crown races. Hawkster was fifth in both the 1 1/4-mile Derby and the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, and now trainer Ron McAnally is saying that the 1 1/2-mile Belmont should be his colt's favorite distance.
However, a horse who closes ground in the shorter Triple Crown races doesn't always work his way to the winner's circle simply because of the Belmont's longer distance.
Amberoid sort of won his Belmont that way, making him an exception. After stumbling at the start in the Derby, Amberoid was a late-running third in the Preakness. His Belmont needs to be footnoted, however, because it was one of five run at Belmont Park's sister track, Aqueduct, during the 1960s.
The Belmont at Belmont Park is another matter, because the track's circumference--the longest in the United States--is the same as the distance of the race. It's one time around for the 1 1/2 miles. The sweeping turns are unlike those at any other American track; Bill Shoemaker, who won the Belmont five times, says that the Triple Crown finale is especially tricky to ride in because jockeys so seldom are asked to ride for 1 1/2 miles.
Chris McCarron, for example, won the 1986 Belmont with Danzig Connection, and the next year he had mapped out his plans for Alysheba weeks ahead of time as they took aim at the Triple Crown. But Bet Twice, runner-up in both the Derby and the Preakness, galloped off to a leisurely early lead. When Alysheba was asked to run, he encountered traffic problems on the far turn and never had a chance, finishing fourth, 14 lengths behind Bet Twice.
The only Derby-Preakness winner finish worse than that in the Belmont was little Carry Back, who ran seventh, beating only two horses, and finishing 14 3/4 lengths behind Sherluck.
Carry Back was sore when jockey Johnny Sellers brought him back after the Belmont. But such soreness can be expected when young colts are shipped to three races totaling almost four miles at three vastly different tracks over a five-week period.
Three years before Carry Back, Tim Tam went lame after courageously chasing Cavan through the Belmont stretch. The Belmont was Tim Tam's 13th race as a 3-year-old and he never ran again.
Sadder still was Majestic Prince, who after winning the Preakness was unbeaten in nine races. But the hard-knocking rivalry with Arts and Letters in the first two Triple Crown races had taken its toll. Majestic Prince and jockey Bill Hartack won the Derby by a neck after a grueling stretch drive, and they were a head better at Pimlico, surviving the foul claim by Braulio Baeza aboard Arts and Letters.
Majestic Prince lost 40 pounds during the Derby-Preakness grind, though, and his legs had been punished.
Johnny Longden, training Majestic Prince after a Hall of Fame riding career, knew all about the rigors of the Triple Crown. In 1943, Longden had ridden Count Fleet, the sixth horse to sweep the Triple Crown, but the 25-length victory in the Belmont was the colt's last race because of a tendon injury.
So Longden didn't want to run Majestic Prince in the Belmont, despite the chance for Triple Crown glory as a trainer. But owner Frank McMahon insisted. That Majestic Prince could run second was a tribute to his grit, but he broke down that day and his career ended with his only defeat.
Spectacular Bid's injury in the Belmont was not as evident. Skeptics still doubt that he went into the race with a sore foot after stepping on an open safety pin in his stall the morning of the race. However, trainer Bud Delp, at Keeneland this spring with Dispersal, an unsuccessful 3-year-old, steadfastly reiterated the story.
With his ill-timed ride, jockey Ron Franklin probably would have gotten Spectacular Bid beaten in the Belmont anyway. A teen-ager, Franklin had given Spectacular Bid some tentative rides earlier--and been publicly criticized by Delp--but the trainer stuck with the jockey through the Triple Crown.
Franklin prematurely moved Spectacular Bid to the front before the Belmont field had run five furlongs. At the quarter pole, Spectacular Bid still looked like a cinch winner, but then he flattened out, and Coastal, hugging the rail with jockey Ruben Hernandez, moved ahead with an eighth of a mile left.
Coastal won by 3 1/4 lengths over Golden Act, who had a neck on Spectacular Bid at the wire. Spectacular Bid, who won 26 of 30 starts in his spectacular career, lost only one more time in his final 18 months on the track.
Two years after Coastal's upset, Summing and jockey George Martens stopped Pleasant Colony's Triple Crown bid after prepping for the Belmont with a victory at the old Keystone track near Philadelphia.
Summing, paying $17.80 in the Belmont, was allowed to sprint to an easy early lead, saved ground on the rail and held a 4 1/2-length lead on Pleasant Colony going into the stretch. Highland Blade showed the closing kick that Pleasant Colony lacked, but was a neck short at the finish.
Of the 24 Derby-Preakness winners, 22 ran in the Belmont and 11 won the Triple Crown. Burgoo King (1932) and Bold Venture ('36) did not run in the Belmont.
-- If New Yorkers should send off the Shug McGaughey-trained entry of Easy Goer and Awe Inspiring as the favorite in this Belmont, Sunday Silence will be only the third Derby-Preakness winner not to be the top choice in the last leg. Lord Boswell was a slight choice when Assault clinched the Triple Crown in 1946 and Whichone was favored in the Belmont that gave Gallant Fox the Triple Crown in 1930.
It is better not to be favored, the way the Triple Crown races have been run in the last 10 years. None of the Derby favorites has won, only two Preakness picks--Pleasant Colony and Alysheba--have won, and except for Swale in 1984 and Risen Star last year, the last Belmont favorite to win was Affirmed, en route to the last Triple Crown title, in 1978.
Affirmed won his Belmont on June 10. This year's Belmont is the first to be run on that date since. What does it mean? If Sunday Silence should win next Saturday, students of the calendar will say that it means everything.
TRIPLE CROWN RACES
YEAR KENTUCKY DERBY PREAKNESS BELMONT 1875 Aristides Tom Ochiltree Calvin 1876 Vagrant Shirley Algerine 1877 Baden Baden Cloverbrook Cloverbrook 1878 Day Star Duke of Magenta Duke of Magenta 1879 Lord Murphy Harold Spendthrift 1880 Fonso Grenada Grenada 1881 Hindoo Saunterer Saunterer 1882 Apollo Vanguard Forester 1883 Leonatus Jacobus George Kinney 1884 Buchanan Knight of Ellerslie Panique 1885 Joe Cotton Tecumseh Tyrant 1886 Ben Ali The Bard Inspector B. 1887 Montrose Dubine Hanover 1888 Macbeth II Refund Sir Dixon 1889 Spokane Buddhist Eric 1890 Riley Montague Burlington 1891 Kingman No Race Foxford 1892 Azra No Race Patron 1893 Lookout No Race Comanche 1894 Chant Assignee Henry of Navarre 1895 Halma Belmar Belmar 1896 Ben Brush Margrave Hastings 1897 Typhoon II Paul Kauver Scottish Chieftain 1898 Plaudit Sly Fox Bowling Brook 1899 Manuel Half Time Jean Bereaud 1900 Lieut. Gibson Hindus Ildrum 1901 His Eminence The Parader Commando 1902 Alan-a-Dale Old England Masterman 1903 Judge Himes Flocarline Africander 1904 Elwood Bryn Mawr Delhi 1905 Agile Cairngorm Tanya 1906 Sir Huon Whimsical Burgomaster 1907 Pink Star Don Enrique Peter Pan 1908 Stone Street Royal Tourist Colin 1909 Wintergreen Effendi Joe Madden 1910 Donau Lay Master Sweep 1911 Meridan Watervale No Race 1912 Worth Colonel Holloway No Race 1913 Donerail Buskin Prince Eugene 1914 Old Rosebud Holiday Luke McLuke 1915 Regret Rhine Maiden The Finn 1916 Geroge Smith Damrosch Friar Rock 1917 Omar Khayyam Kalitan Hourless 1918 Exterminator War Cloud/ Johren Jack Hare, Jr. 1919 Sir Barton Sir Barton Sir Barton 1920 Paul Jones Man o' War Man o' War 1921 Behave Yourself Broomspun Grey Lag 1922 Morvich Pillory Pillory 1923 Zev Vigil Zev 1924 Black Gold Nellie Morse Mad Play 1925 Flying Ebony Coventry American Flag 1926 Bubbling Over Display Crusader 1927 Whiskery Bostonian Chance Shot 1928 Reigh Count Victorian Vito 1929 Clyde Van Dusen Dr. Freeland Blue Larkspur 1930 Gallant Fox Gallant Fox Gallant Fox 1931 Twenty Grand Mate Twenty Grand 1932 Burgoo King Burgoo King Faireno 1933 Brokers Tip Head Play Hurryoff 1934 Cavalcade High Quest Peace Chance 1935 Omaha Omaha Omaha 1936 Bold Venture Bold Venture Granville 1937 War Admiral War Admiral War Admiral 1938 Lawrin Dauber Pasteurized 1939 Johnstown Challedon Johnstown 1940 Gallahadion Bimelech Bimelech 1941 Whirlaway Whirlaway Whirlaway 1942 Shut Out Alsab Shut Out 1943 Count Fleet Count Fleet Count Fleet 1944 Pensive Pensive Bounding Home 1945 Hoop, Jr. Polynesian Pavot 1946 Assault Assault Assault 1947 Jet Pilot Faultless Phalanx 1948 Citation Citation Citation 1949 Ponder Capot Capot 1950 Middleground Hill Prince Middleground 1951 Count Turf Bold Counterpoint 1952 Hill Gail Blue Man One Count 1953 Dark Star Native Dancer Native Dancer 1954 Determine Hasty Road High Gun 1955 Swaps Nashua Nashua 1956 Needles Fabius Needles 1957 Iron Liege Bold Ruler Gallant Man 1958 Tim Tam Tim Tam Cavan 1959 Tomy Lee Royal Orbit Sword Dancer 1960 Venetian Way Bally Ache Celtic Ash 1961 Carry Back Carry Back Sherluck 1962 Decidedly Greek Money Jaipur 1963 Chateaugay Candy Spots Chateaugay 1964 Northern Dancer Northern Dancer Quadrangle 1965 Lucky Debonair Tom Rolfe Hail To All 1966 Kauai King Kauai King Amberoid 1967 Proud Clarion Damascus Damascus 1968 Forward Pass Forward Pass Stage Door Johnny 1969 Majestic Prince Majestic Prince Arts and Letters 1970 Dust Commander Personality High Echelon 1971 Canonero II Canonero II Pass Catcher 1972 Riva Ridge Bee Bee Bee Riva Ridge 1973 Secretariat Secretariat Secretariat 1974 Cannonade Little Current Little Current 1975 Foolish Pleasure Master Derby Avatar 1976 Bold Forbes Elocutionist Bold Forbes 1977 Seattle Slew Seattle Slew Seattle Slew 1978 Affirmed Affirmed Affirmed 1979 Spectacular Bid Spectacular Bid Coastal 1980 Genuine Risk Codex Temperance Hill 1981 Pleasant Colony Pleasant Colony Summing 1982 Gato del Sol Aloma's Ruler Conquistador Cielo 1983 Sunny's Halo Deputed Testamony Caveat 1984 Swale Gate Dancer Swale 1985 Spend a Buck Tanks Prospect Creme Fraiche 1986 Ferdinand Snow Chief Danzig Connection 1987 Alysheba Alysheba Bet Twice 1988 Winning Colors Risen Star Risen Star
NOTE: The Belmont Stakes was first run in 1867 and the Preakness in 1873. But the Triple Crown Series began with the running of the Kentucky Derby in 1875.