Immediately after Real Quiet's photo-finish loss to Victory Gallop in the Belmont Stakes last Saturday, jockey Kent Desormeaux blamed himself for the defeat.
Only inches separated owner Mike Pegram and trainer Bob Baffert's colt not only from the Triple Crown, but $5.6 million--$600,000 for winning Saturday and a $5-million bonus for winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Others--both in print and around the racetrack-- also were quick to pin the loss on Desormeaux, saying he should have waited a little longer before asking Real Quiet to make history.
Nonsense. Desormeaux cruised past a tiring pace-setter, Chilito, and Grand Slam at the top of the long Belmont Park stretch. They opened up easily and almost anybody who watched would be lying if they said they didn't believe they were about to see the first Triple Crown sweep since 1978.
The same horse-rider combination had opened up in the stretch in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and those two races had happy endings for them, Pegram and Baffert.
In New York, Real Quiet had a four-length lead with a furlong to run and couldn't stay through a 26 2/5-second final quarter mile, fouling Victory Gallop in the final yards as well.
Those facts aside, the bottom line is, it took a perfect ride by the world's finest jockey to deny thoroughbred racing its 12th Triple Crown winner.
Twice at critical stages when Victory Gallop was rallying, Gary Stevens was able to split horses and there's no doubt those maneuvers were what made the difference in the closest Belmont since the Affirmed-Alydar classic 20 years ago.
Desormeaux did not lose the Belmont. It was won by Victory Gallop's determination in a 24 4/5 last quarter and Stevens' brilliant ride.
Other thoughts on the 130th Belmont Stakes:
The race was exciting, but it didn't match Affirmed-Alydar. Those two, nine races deep into their rivalry, raced virtually as a team for the final mile on June 10, 1978 and the final time (2:26 4/5) for the 1 1/2 miles was more than two seconds faster. . . .
Belmont Park stewards were quick to say afterward they probably would have disqualified Real Quiet had he won, but that was easy to say, knowing Victory Gallop had won. With a Triple Crown and $5.6 million on the line, who knows whether they actually would have made what would have been the proper decision. . . .
Before the race, there was a lot of criticism of Real Quiet in the Eastern press, the consensus being that he wouldn't be a worthy Triple Crown champion if he won the Belmont. He wouldn't have been in the class of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Citation and Count Fleet--the five best Triple Crown winners--but it's doubtful there would have been that kind of derision had Real Quiet been based in New York rather than California. . . .
Can't wait to see if Basic Trainee shows up to get annihilated again by Real Quiet and Victory Gallop whenever they meet again. The poor colt was beaten by a combined 155 1/2 lengths in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. . . .
Hot Wells was scratched from the Belmont because his owner, Michael Lasky, isn't licensed in New York. The question then is why the horse's entry was accepted in the first place. And why wasn't it until the morning of the race that Hot Wells, who had finished fourth in the Preakness, was scratched?
Hollywood Park is guaranteeing the gross pool for the Pick Six on Sunday will be $1 million or more, meaning the track will put up any money needed to reach that figure.
With the interest the gimmick appears to be receiving around the country, Hollywood Park probably will have to fork over little, if any, cash to reach $1 million.
The Pick Six is more popular in California than anywhere else and fans bet more when chasing a carryover. A $1-million pool would be the equivalent of about a three-day carry-over.
In Kentucky, Arkansas and Illinois, tracks have made scheduling changes to allow bettors to play the Pick Six on Sunday.
Ordinarily, Churchill Downs, when it is conducting live racing, imports the Hollywood Park signal only on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but Sunday will be included this week. Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., meanwhile, usually brings in the races from Hollywood every day except Sunday.
After Chicago's Sportsman's Park reached an agreement with Maywood Park and the state's thoroughbred and harness horsemen's organizations, clearance was granted by the Illinois Horse Racing Board to show the Hollywood Park races on Sunday.
Entries for Sunday are scheduled to be taken this morning, a day earlier than normal, to give prospective players longer to study the races. The main event in the Pick Six sequence that day is the $400,000 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile.
Hawksley Hill, who has won three of four starts this year for trainer Neil Drysdale, is the likely favorite for the Grade II race on turf. He won two stakes at Santa Anita and, most recently, the San Francisco Mile on May 23 at Golden Gate Fields.