The following day, the forces of fate began to creep their way into Barn 1, where Sarava was stabled. Early in the day, word came that Puzzlement, trained by "The Giant Killer," Allen Jerkens, had suffered a bruised foot and was out of the Belmont. McPeek, a longtime admirer of Jerkens, was sorry about his misfortune and said, "Someday, I'd like to be 'The Giant Killer'. " Little did he know, someone was listening.

That same morning, McPeek was visited by an "animal communicator," who was looking to have a "conversation" with one of the Belmont starters. McPeek "gave it a shot" and got more than he bargained for.

"She really did connect with him," McPeek said, "and told us things no one outside the barn would know, such as his quarter crack being on the inside part of the foot, and other minor ailments he had had. That all gave her some legitimacy."

Jorgensen said they were amazed at the obscure details she knew about the horse, right down to his being given mints every evening by the nightwatchman.

Sarava also "said" he loved Belmont Park and would show the world how good a horse he was on Saturday.

By now, McPeek's confidence was growing. He told New York Racing Association chairman Barry Schwartz, "You know, I really think I can win the Belmont with this horse."

Everyone's attention was focused on War Emblem and Baffert, as large crowds gathered outside War Emblem's barn the two days before the race. Baffert was convinced the colt was going to give him the Triple Crown that was denied him in 1997 (Silver Charm) and 1998 (Real Quiet).

War Emblem's photo was plastered all over the New York newspapers, and as interest in the race increased, it became apparent that the previous Belmont attendance record of 85,818 was in danger of being not only broken, but shattered. Thoroughbred racing was again king, as it had been decades ago.

Baffert's only concern was the presence of speed horse Wiseman's Ferry, who was impressive winning the Lone Star Derby (gr. III) on the front end, and the possibility that D. Wayne Lukas was going to make things difficult for him with Proud Citizen. Bobby Frankel, trainer of Medaglia d'Oro, was becoming more confident by the day, especially after his colt turned in a brilliant work a week before the race. "Surprise, surprise, surprise," Frankel said the morning before the race after being told by exercise rider Jose Cuevas that the colt felt "super."

Belmont Day dawned sunny and cool following a couple of days of humid weather accompanied by heavy rains. Baffert sent out War Emblem for a light jog, and paid the price for getting a bit too hands-on. Walking back to the barn, Baffert showed off the bloody spot on his thumb where the colt had nipped him. "He got me when I grabbed him," Baffert said. "He always catches whoever grabs him first."

As he watched War Emblem walk back to the barn, Baffert was amazed how bright the colt was. "Look at that SOB's eye," he said. "I've never had a horse go through three races and be that sharp."

Sarava just walked the shed, and it was obvious that was not enough, as he was full of himself, rearing several times.

War Emblem was made the 6-5 favorite, with Perfect Drift at 5-1 and both Proud Citizen and Preakness runner-up Magic Weisner at 7-1. Only Artax Too was a longer price than Sarava in the 11-horse field.

It was announced during the afternoon that War Emblem's owner Prince Ahmed Salman of Saudi Arabia would be not be in attendance. Although "family business obligations" was the reason given, there were more than a few skeptics who believed his absence was due to security concerns connected to last year's terrorist attacks and possible anti-Arab sentiment.

But the huge crowd cheered wildly for the prince's horse and Baffert as they made their way around the walking ring. When track announcer Tom Durkin bellowed, "It is now post time," the place exploded.

It took only a couple of seconds for War Emblem to shatter the dreams of everyone who was hoping to witness history. That's how long it took for the colt to stumble coming out of the gate, costing him several lengths and taking him out of his game plan. Up in his box, Baffert knew it was over. "He's done. He's got no shot," he said.

As Wiseman's Ferry went to the lead from the inside, War Emblem was in the unaccustomed position of being surrounded by horses back in the pack. Wiseman's Ferry continued to lead through even, but moderate, fractions of :24.11 and :48.09. Medaglia d'Oro was lurking right behind, along with Proud Citizen, with Victor Espinoza dropping War Emblem to the inside. Neither Espinoza nor War Emblem looked comfortable. Gone was that smooth, rhythmic stride everyone had seen in the Derby and Preakness. Espinoza finally lowered himself in the saddle and War Emblem went after the leaders. Sarava, meanwhile, was in perfect position in sixth, about a half-dozen lengths back. Prado had a lot of horse under him, and just eased him along without asking him.

Around the far turn after three-quarters in 1:12.38, War Emblem went for it. He moved inside Wiseman's Ferry and Medaglia d'Oro to grab a short lead. But the explosion of the Preakness never happened. Medaglia d'Oro, with a lot of run left in him, took on War Emblem and began to ease away from him. Then Proud Citizen passed him. The Triple Crown quest was pretty much dead and buried. Prado asked Sarava to pick it up and he quickly put himself in the hunt.

At the quarter pole, Medaglia d'Oro still held a short lead over Proud Citizen. Prado saw a small opening between the two and elected to go for it, rather than swing to the outside, where Sunday Break was moving into contention under Gary Stevens. Sarava never flinched. He charged up through the hole and looked the bigger Medaglia d'Oro right in the eye.

Suddenly, the two of them were gone. Prado threw a cross on his colt and waved the whip at him. Sarava stuck his head in front, then increased it to a half-length at the eighth pole. Medaglia d'Oro, who had been under pressure throughout, gamely fought back. The battling pair opened a huge lead on the rest of the horses. Prado went to a methodical right-handed whip, and Sarava refused to let Medaglia d'Oro come back. At the finish, he was a half-length in front, with Medaglia d'Oro 9 1/2 lengths ahead of Sunday Break in third. War Emblem faded to eighth, beaten almost 20 lengths. The final time was 2:29.71. Sarava paid $142.50 to win, the highest price in Belmont Stakes history.

Watching near the rail were Jorgensen and Jenner. "Is that my horse?" a dazed Jorgensen screamed. "That can't be my horse." She and Jenner hugged and kissed. She rushed onto the track, put her hands up to her face, and began crying. When Sarava returned, she took hold of him and led him around, encircled by photographers and TV cameramen. "Will someone point me in the direction of the winner's circle?" she asked.

Continued...

Most Popular Stories