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After waiting 25 years for a Triple Crown winner, horse racing fans were spoiled in the 1970s by the time Affirmed became the eleventh horse to do it when he captured the Triple Crown with a heart-stopping victory over Alydar in the 1978 Belmont Stakes. After all, Secretariat did it spectacularly in 1973, the first since Citation back in 1948 and Seattle Slew completed the sweep in style, managing to stay undefeated through the 1977 “Test of the Champion.”
Little did they know, 37 years would come and go without another accomplishing the feat, until American Pharoah was finally the one in 2015 for Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert, who’ll try to do it again with the undefeated Justify on Saturday, June 9.
Overall, 20 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before coming to the Big Apple to get their proverbial clocks cleaned, 13 of them since Affirmed alone. One of them, I'll Have Another back in 2012, didn't even make it to the starting gate as he was scratched the day before the event with a nagging tendon injury.
Here's a look at the dirty dozen, if you will, that failed in their quest to become a Triple Crown champion in the past 40 years.
SPECTACULAR BID – 1979
Would there really be three in a row? It had never happened before, but Spectacular Bid was 1-5 in the Belmont despite a jockey in Ronnie Franklin that some would describe as mediocre while others would say that was insulting mediocrity and the fact that he stepped on a safety pin the day before the race. Whether it was the awful ride Franklin gave him or the pin that got him beat is still up for debate, as Coastal won the event as the 4-1 second choice. What isn’t is that “the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle,” according to his trainer Buddy Delp, couldn’t get the job done, leaving many to wonder if he couldn’t, who can?
PLEASANT COLONY – 1981
Perhaps the most boisterous trainer of his time, John Campo sure could back it up. He’d trained countless stakes winners and several Eclipse champions by the time Pleasant Colony rolled to a pair of heart-stopping scores in the Derby and Preakness in ’81. Then Belmont week came, and Campo didn’t say a word. He knew he was done. “He’d lost weight and was coming apart in front of my eyes,” Campo would tell me in an interview a few years before he passed away. He was right. Jockey Jorge Velasquez didn’t ride a normal scheduled and meditated most of the week before finishing third to Summing.
ALYSHEBA - 1987
Trained by Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg, the fact that Alysheba even made it to the Belmont in one piece overshadows the fact that he was beaten over 14 lengths by Derby and Preakness runner-up Bet Twice. In the Derby, his jockey Chris McCarron literally came out of the saddle in mid-stretch before recovering to win by ¾ of a length then got up in the final strides of the Preakness to win by a ½ length. And while he didn’t have the best trip in the Belmont, it’s hard to imagine he was going to make up that big of a margin.
SUNDAY SILENCE - 1989
It’s hard to mention his name without saying Easy Goer’s right afterwards and vice versa. It’s closest the sport had to a rivalry since Affirmed and Alydar and it still holds true today. Sunday Silence loved a wet track, Easy Goer didn’t and that was likely the difference in the Derby that was run in the mud. Their Preakness duel is widely considered one of the greatest races of all time, with Sunday Silence prevailing by a nose after a furious half-mile battle that seemed to last an eternity and surviving an inquiry that could have gone either way. Then they came to Belmont and Easy Goer exacted his revenge, thrashing his rival by eight lengths in a tour de force performance that proved who the better horse was.
SILVER CHARM – 1997
“One tough customer” is a good way to describe the gritty gray that first put trainer Bob Baffert in position to win the Crown. A hard-fought Derby score by a head over Captain Bodgit followed by an equally grueling victory over Free House by the same margin in the Preakness set the stage for the most highly anticipated Belmont in close to a decade. Silver Charm was in front turning for home and appeared to be home free but a resurging Touch Gold, who got off to a dismal start in the Preakness before flying up the inside to finish fourth, re-rallied under Chris McCarron, who gave one of the greatest rides in the history of the turf, to cut Silver Charm down by ¾ of a length.
REAL QUIET – 1998
“Bullet” Bob wasted little time in positioning himself to make history again after Real Quiet, known as “The Fish” for his narrow build, held off Victory Gallop in the Derby before drawing away from him in the Preakness, was 4-5 to win the Belmont. On the far turn, he looked like “chicken dinner” as the saying goes, as jockey Kent Desormeaux blasted off to a four length. But Victory Gallop came flying through the stretch under Gary Stevens, who just missed aboard Silver Charm the previous year, and nailed Real Quiet on the money by a nose despite being impeded in the stretch by his rival. The stewards would say after the photo was posted that Real Quiet would have been disqualified had he held on. It would have been interesting to see how that would have gone over with the 80,000 plus fans that made the grandstand shake that day.
CHARISMATIC – 1999
In November of ‘98 or February of ‘99, you could have claimed him from Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas for $62,500. By June 5, he had earned $2 million dollars, had won the Lexington, Derby and Preakness and was facing, coincidentally, eleven others in his date with destiny. Unfortunately, the rumors that he wasn’t the soundest horse in the world were true and he coughed up the lead in deep stretch and wound up third after getting a questionable ride by the late, great Chris Antley, who it turned out was battling some old demons upon his return to New York, his old stomping grounds, in the days leading up to the race. Still, who can forget Antley, in tears, holding up Charismatic’s leg just yards after the finish in what would be the final race of the colts’ career.
WAR EMBLEM – 2002
A late edition to the Baffert barn after he was purchased privately after a gate-to-wire romp in the Illinois Derby, War Emblem led them from start to finish again in the Derby, his first start for Baffert before chasing a quick pace and holding off local longshot Magic Weisner in the Preakness. Unlike those before him however, War Emblem’s hopes essentially vanished as soon as the gates opened, as he stumbled badly at the start of the Belmont. He was never able to settle down under his rider Victor Espinoza and though he managed to put his head in front after rallying greenly along the inside down the backstretch, he faded terribly through the stretch while Sarava lit up the tote board to the tune of $142.50, the longest priced winner in the history of the Belmont.
FUNNY CIDE – 2003
Ahhhhh, the “Gutsy Gelding,” as legendary track announcer Tom Durkin coined. He became the first gelding to win the Derby in close to a century and the only New York Bred to ever do so. After defeating Empire Maker and the rest in the Derby by almost two lengths, Funny Cide rolled to a near tem length score in the Preakness under his rider Jose Santos. A crazy work in :57 and change five days before the Derby was the first sign that trouble was ahead and Funny Cide wound up on the lead in the Belmont over a sloppy track. He was done by the time they reached the quarter pole and Empire Maker, who many thought would be the one trying to win the Crown that season, defeated Ten Most Wanted with Funny Cide five lengths back in third.
SMARTY JONES – 2004
The first to try and complete the sweep while remaining undefeated since Seattle Slew back in 1977, Smarty Jones had won his eight previous starts, including the Derby over the slop at Churchill by almost three lengths and the Preakness by an astounding 11 ½ lengths. He kept his flesh between the Preakness and Belmont, trained brilliantly and received the most ringing endorsement you could get, as Ron Turcotte, rider of the immortal Secretariat, proclaimed Smarty Jones would win the Belmont by 25 lengths on the back page of the New York Post. But Smarty Jones wasn’t himself Belmont Day, and never got into a rhythm according to his jockey Stewart Elliott. It didn’t help that he was surrounded by both Rock Hard Ten and Eddington for most of the way until they had had enough, yet Smarty Jones was better than three lengths in front on the far turn. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Birdstone started coming…and kept coming….and kept coming until the lead evaporated and he passed Smarty Jones fifty yards from the wire to win by a length. It would prove to be the last start of Smarty Jones’ career.
BIG BROWN – 2008
Like Smarty Jones, Big Brown came into the Belmont undefeated off a pair of relatively easy wins in both the Derby and Preakness. But that’s where the similarities ended. His trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. had been suspended numerous times for medication violations, he was owned by a bunch of loud-mouth braggarts and had battled quarter crack problems his entire career. By the time the Belmont rolled around, saying he appeared to be a shell of the horse he was just five weeks earlier in Louisville was an understatement Still Dutrow spouted his mouth and the public believed, sending him to post as the 1-5 favorite. He never raised his legs. He got to within 3 lengths of the lead at one point but never actually had a chance to win the raise and was eased through the stretch as Da’Tara led them around Big Sandy the entire way as the longest price in the field at over 38-1.
CALIFORNIA CHROME – 2014
Like American Pharoah, California Chrome came into the Belmont off of a six-race win streak and was the darling of the media and fans, called “Chromies,” alike. He was modestly bred, cost the proverbial ham sandwich to breed and was owned by a couple of blue collared guys who called themselves the “Dumb Ass Partners” and had a jackass on the back of their silks. Espinoza was getting his shot at redemption after the War Emblem debacle while his trainer Art Sherman was trying to prove that almost-80 was the new 40. He broke alertly, though Espinoza opted to take him off of the pace rather than go on with it, was in great position though wide turning for home but failed to fire through the final furlong and wound up in a dead heat for fourth as the 4-5 favorite as Tonalist posted the upset at better than 9-1.
Anthony “the Big A” Stabile can be heard regularly on the Horse Racing Radio Network from 3-6:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday and 3-7:00 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday. Tune in on Sirius 219, XM 201 or streaming live at horseracingradio.net. He also is a contributor on NYRA-TV as a guest on Talking Horses. Follow him on Twitter at @TheBigAStabile
Mike DempseyMike covers the New York racing circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga) year-round as well as covering the biggest events including the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup. A professional handicapper and horseplayers for more than three decades, no handicapper in the industry works harder and been more successful in bringing horseplayers analysis that produces profits at the track! Mike has owned racehorses and knows the racetrack from the backstretch to the finish line. Mike is in his second decade of producing great results for the readers of Vegas Insider. Among his scores in the Kentucky Derby include winning with his top pick Animal Kingdom who paid $43.80 in 2011 and Super Saver at $18.00 in 2010. While favorites have dominated the Run for the Roses in recent years, Mike’s full card analysis for every race on each card is always looking for value for horseplayers looking to pad their wagering bankroll. Mike's Reports include his selections, detailed analysis, a fair odds line, and wagering recommendations for the entire card each day. Check out Mike’s daily column At the Gate where he offers up free selections and live longshots. Join Mike daily with top picks from Aqueduct or grab winners in the Weekend Best Plays Report in the horse racing Multi-Track package. Want more action? Sit at the track with him for 30 Days with his Monthly Horse Package!
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Jerry SessaJerry "Shots" Sessa has been involved in horse racing for over 30 years. He now brings his meticulous handicapping style to VegasInsider.com. When Jerry posts picks you are getting his best bets...when you win, he wins. Jerry opened the 2016 Triple Crown season by hitting his Derby Day best bet, Nyquist. He also nailed the Derby exacta for a $30.60 payout. On 4/16/16 at Keeneland, Jerry hit an $819 exacta that led to a $38k Trifecta & a $300k Super.
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