WHAT HAPPENED TO OTHER CROWN HOPEFULS
So, by now we all know California Chrome will be running for the coveted Triple Crown of Thoroughbred horse racing on June 7 in the Belmont Stakes. Since 1919, only 11 horses have managed to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes in the same year and no one has accomplished this miraculous feat since 1978 (Affirmed). Make no mistake, winning three races at three different distances and three different tracks over a five week stretch is difficult to say the least. Needless to say, many have dreamed of Triple Crown glory, but only a handful have realized it. Let’s take a quick look at the ponies that pulled a Derby-Preakness double since 1978 but were besieged at the Belmont.
Spectacular Bid (1979)-As he closed out a decade that saw 3 Triple Crown winners (Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed), the Bid was the next in line. As fabulous a runner as anyone ever, he was an absolute slam-dunk for the Triple Crown until he stepped on a safety pin in the stable area and his hoof became infected. With a less than spectacular effort on Belmont day, Bid came up short. Much like Achilles, this mighty warrior was defeated by what legend has it as a wounded foot.
Pleasant Colony (1981)- Big, tall joker with a nice closing kick in both the Derby and Preakness wins. He seemed to be figuring things out as he headed to the Belmont. As a Virginia bred like Secretariat before him, this modestly bred colt looked like the next one to wear the Crown. Sent off at odds of 4 to 5, Pleasant Colony just couldn’t catch the front-running Summing down the stretch and finished a closing third.
Alysheba (1987) – This son of Alydar overcame obstacles in the stretch to win the Kentucky Derby and then gamely ran down Bet Twice again in the Preakness. His pappy had narrowly finished second to Affirmed in all three races in 1978 so it looked to be poetic justice for Alysheba to win the Triple Crown. Then the gates opened at Belmont and Bet Twice took advantage of a slow early pace and seized command as the horses headed into the far turn. This time he would not be caught by Alysheba and the drought continues.
Sunday Silence (1989) – After doing the unthinkable and defeating the highly acclaimed Easy Goer in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the Belmont Stakes was going to serve as his coronation. The triumph at Old Hilltop in the second leg of the Triple Crown featured perhaps the greatest stretch duel in horse racing history. The mile and a half was right up Easy Goer’s alley as he looked like the horse everyone thought he would be on the first Saturday in May. Sunday Silence would later beat his rival again in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but as far as the Crown was concerned…denied!
Silver Charm (1997) – Bob Baffert trained and a determined runner, Silver Charm fought to the front with huge stretch drives in both the Derby and Preakness. He held off Captain Bodgit by a head in the Kentucky and won by a diminishing nose over Free House in Maryland…but he won both. As the horses turned for home Silver Charm struck the lead and made his run at history. Deep inside the final furlong, this courageous runner was run down by a rallying Touch Gold and lost by a half-length.
Real Quiet (1998)- There was nothing quiet about his bold moves on the far turn in each of the Triple Crown races. With only 2 wins in 12 starts before his run to the roses, this colt that had been purchased for $17,000 was about to make history at Belmont. Leading deep into the stretch by 3 lengths it looked as if the drought was over. But then out of the shadows came the hard charging second place finisher in both the Derby and Preakness. Nipped by a nose at the wire, the Bob Baffert trained Real Quiet was beaten by a runner that was interestingly enough called…Victory Gallop.
Charismatic (1999)- Would the third time be the charm as yet another runner went to Belmont with a chance to win the most coveted prize in the sport. Charismatic was a little different in that he was a big longshot in the Kentucky Derby (31-1) and was not favored in the Preakness (8-1). With both Northern Dancer and Secretariat in his bloodlines, this D. Wayne Lukas colt was favored in the third leg of the Triple Crown. In the final furlong it looked as if he was the man as he was battling for the lead. Again however, the hero was run down, this time by a closing Lemon Drop Kid. Charismatic suffered a career-ending injury in the Belmont, but his life was saved by some quick-thinking from jockey Chris Antley.
War Emblem (2002)- Trainer Bob Baffert was back at Belmont again making a run at history. As the front-running upset winner of the Kentucky Derby (20-1), War Emblem survived a wicked pace in the Preakness and finished strong as the winning favorite. The Belmont was a different story however, as he never led and finished a dull 8th. The glory that day went to Sarava, the longest shot (70-1) to ever win the race known as “the test of a champion”.
Funny Cide (2003) – Funny Cide was the darling of the sporting world for a few weeks. As the first gelding to win the Kentucky Derby since 1929 (Clyde Van Dusen) and with a bunch of school bus riding average Joes as the ownership group, this New York-bred came into the Belmont off an emphatic win in the Preakness. Breaking alertly on a rainy June afternoon, the local hero surged to the lead heading into the clubhouse turn and looked to beat down the blue-bloods once again. Unfortunately, the highly touted Empire Maker lived up to his hype and took command heading for home. Funny Cide finished a distant third that day and raced through his 7-year old season with the Jockey Club Gold Cup as his biggest win in the handicap division.
Smarty Jones (2004)-Talk about a teaser, this little colt flat put on a display during his three-year old season. As the undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby and a runaway winner in the Preakness (record 11 ½ lengths), this Pennsylvania-bred was destined to do it. Taking the lead after a soft opening half mile before a record crowd (120,408), hearts raced with the valiant runner as he opened up by four lengths at the top of the stretch. But alas, dreams were dashed as Smarty ran out of gas and 36-1 longshot Birdstone swooped in and moved past him in the final 100 yards of the mile and a half marathon.
Big Brown (2008)- This freakishly fast colt did not just beat the opposition, he destroyed them. Headstrong and full of run, his dominant wins at Churchill Downs and Pimlico just looked too easy. Going off at 3-10,, the question was not if the unbeaten runner would win, but by how much. Stalking a moderate pace, Big Brown wanted to run early and refused to run late. As the front-running longshot Da’Tara (38-1) continued to pull away, jockey Kent Desormeaux eased his immensely talented Thoroughbred and he did not finish the race. Much like the “No Mas” Roberto Duran- Sugar Ray Leonard welterweight title fight, this performance remains a mystery.
I’ll Have Another (2012)- The latest run at Triple Crown glory ended a bit different from the others. Coming out of anonymity, this Doug O’Neill trained colt endeared himself to many with his courageous wins over Bodemeister in both the Derby and Preakness. When asked about the Triple Crown, horse racing fans could simply say with feeling, “It’s about time and I’ll Have Another”. Unfortunately, injury prevented him from running in the Belmont so hearts were broken the day before when he had to scratch out of the race.