Haskin's Belmont Story--Part 3

Ten Most Wanted made another run at Empire Maker inside the eighth pole. Bailey went to a single right-handed whip, and Empire Maker jumped over to his left lead. He looked to be in trouble, as Ten Most Wanted was now rolling and right up to his throatlatch. Bailey switched to a left-handed whip, and Empire Maker changed smoothly back to his right lead. He gave another spurt, then dug in gamely and held a safe margin to the wire, winning by three-quarters of a length in 2:28.26.

"I knew I had the best horse," a beaming and proud Frankel said as he made his way from the racing secretary's office, where he had watched the race. "I wanted this more for the horse."

Bailey was ecstatic, as he gave a couple of short pumps of his fist after passing the wire. But he feared what was to come. As he returned, he told the outrider, "It's going to be a shame if they boo this horse." His fears were realized. The crowd, which had just given Funny Cide a thunderous ovation upon his return, spotted the villains, and out of the murk of Belmont Park came a chorus of boos. "I thought that was pretty crummy," Bailey said the next morning at the barn, as he fed carrots to Empire Maker. "I kind of half expected it. I've been booed a lot here. I can take it for myself, but I hated to see this horse get booed after the courageous race he ran."

Tagg and Santos were gracious in defeat. History, as it's done so often, had passed them by. But as assistant trainer Robin Smullen said several days earlier, "He deserves to go down in history. If he doesn't, he's already made history. It doesn't matter. I'm going to be proud of him whether he wins or loses."

All Smullen wanted now was to get back the old Funny Cide and let him have fun being a horse again. "What I'm looking forward to the most is Sunday or Monday when we can pull his shoes off and turn him out in the sand pen. He desperately wants to get back in that pen, and I just want to watch him roll, and rear, and buck, and enjoy himself. He's earned it."

It is appropriate that Frankel's first classic victory comes in New York, where his dominance of the sport since 2001 has been mind-boggling, even more so considering he doesn't ship into Belmont Park until May each year. In just a little over two years, Frankel has won an astounding 32 graded stakes in New York, 18 of which were grade I.

Juddmonte Farms' owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, watched the race from England on his own television network and was "very excited," according to Juddmonte manager Dr. John Chandler after the disappointing loss in the Kentucky Derby.

After the winner's circle and other post-race festivities, Frankel headed back to the barn. Darkness had fallen on a now-empty Belmont Park, giving the trainer a better opportunity to reflect. One word stuck in his mind, and he kept repeating it: "Redemption. They taught me a new word today," he said. "I have no regrets about the Derby. You can't look back. You're so wrong most of the time in this business, it makes you feel good when you're right once in a while."

As he entered the dimly lit barn and saw several heads peering out of their stalls, Frankel said, "I wonder if they know what's going on."

There was one horse he definitely was going to tell. Frankel found Empire Maker shifting between his feed tub and hayrack. He walked up to the webbing and said to the horse, "You did something important today, boy. Bigger and better things now, right?"

The 2003 Triple Crown was over, touching people's hearts from Saudi Arabia to Sackets Harbor, and lifting Thoroughbred racing to a plateau it hasn't seen since the glory days of Secretariat, and Seabiscuit before that. Perhaps Frankel, a Jewish kid from Brooklyn training for a Saudi Arabian prince, summed up this year's incredible Triple Crown journey best, when he said, "It's a wonderful country."