Sunday, June 09, 2002

Attendance, handle records smashed at Belmont Stakes

AP Sports Writer

        NEW YORK — From Sarava's incredible $142.50 win payout to the number of fans and the wagering handle, it was a record-setting Saturday at the Belmont Stakes.

        A $2 bet on 70-1 shot Sarava was worth the largest price in the race's 134-year history. Sherluck paid $132.10 in 1961, when he spoiled the Triple Crown bid of Carry Back.

        For the second time in three years, a record crowd turned out only to see a colt's Triple Crown hopes spoiled.

        A crowd of 103,222 saw Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem finish eighth. The attendance bettered the old mark of 85,818 when Charismatic lost the Triple Crown in 1999.

        “It sends a very clear signal — New York is back,” Gov. George Pataki said.

        The on-track handle of $12,045,114 bettered the previous mark of $10,581,093 set at last year's Belmont. The total handle of $95,423,752 easily surpassed the 1999 total of $74,133,188.


        PROUD CITIZEN HURT: Proud Citizen finished fifth and sustained a cracked left shin. He was taken off the track in an ambulance.

        “I'm happy it wasn't more serious,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “Maybe he caught the hoof of another horse. He's comfortable and standing with his full weight on it.”

        Jockey Mike Smith said Proud Citizen galloped fine after the finish, but felt uneven when he tried jogging the colt.

        Lukas remains tied for fifth among trainers with four Belmont wins.

        “The Belmont has been great to me, but I've also had my bad luck in it,” he said.


        MAGIC'S PAYDAY: Magic Weisner, a surprising second to War Emblem in the Preakness, beat the favored black colt in the Belmont.

        Racing outside of Maryland for the first time, Magic Weisner finished fourth. War Emblem was eighth.

        “We didn't come up perfect, but we did get a check,”' said Nancy Alberts, who bred, owns, trains and exercises Magic Weisner.

        Fourth place was worth $60,000 to Alberts, who runs a small operation.

        “We didn't think we would win it, but we did think about the check,” she said.


        BAFFERT'S CONSOLATION: War Emblem didn't give trainer Bob Baffert his first Triple Crown, but the 49-year-old has plenty of consolation.

        “I've got Jill,” he said, referring to fiancee Jill Moss, who will wed Baffert on Aug. 3 in Coronado, Calif.

        “I'm not much help right now,” Moss replied.

        Baffert said he enjoyed seeing more than 100,000 fans jammed into Belmont Park.

        “They were really buzzed. I've never seen it like this before,” he said. “That was exciting.”


        BELIEVE WHAT YOU SEE: The man who runs the partnership that owns Belmont winner Sarava did a double-take when the colt took the lead near the furlong marker.

        “I looked at Ken,” Gary Drake, who runs New Phoenix Stable, said, referring to trainer Ken McPeek. “I wanted to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. I thought I had the wrong horse.”


        RIGHT HORSE: Trainer Ken McPeek remembered his 1999 trip to the Belmont Stakes with Pineaff.

        McPeek didn't bring the colt to New York until a day or so before the race. Pineaff finished ninth in the 12-horse field.

        “He ran embarrassingly bad. I was so upset,” he said.

        But he learned a lesson. He brought Sarava from Kentucky early in the week and worked the colt over Belmont's deep, sandy track.

        “I think bringing him up early is a major good time,” McPeek said, smiling.


        NO GELDINGS: The Belmont hasn't been kind to geldings.

        Two were entered Saturday: Magic Weisner finished fourth and Perfect Drift was 10th.

        Trainer Murray Johnson said something wasn't right with Perfect Drift early in the 1 1/2-mile race.

        “He's not lame and there is no apparent wear or tear,” he said. “Hopefully, it is just a small thing where we can give him a break and get back 100 percent.”

        Creme Fraiche, trained by Hall of Famer Woody Stephens, is the only gelding to win this race, taking it in 1985, part of Stephens' streak of five straight Belmont victories.

        Geldings ran in the first Belmont in 1867 and continued until 1918. They were barred from the race during the first half of the 20th century and didn't return until 1957 because breeders didn't want a possible champion who couldn't reproduce.


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