By Tony Bada Bing
Part II of the 11 would-be Triple Crown winners takes a look
at Charismatic to Big Brown…
Charismatic was decent sort, but not really considered
anything special for trainer D. Wayne Lukas or his owners, Bob and Beverly
Lewis. In fact, Charismatic was twice entered into claiming races as his
three-year including a $65,000 claiming race in February. He eventually won the
Lexington Stakes, which earned him a Derby try, which he pulled off at odds of
greater than 30-1. Still he was not favored at the Preakness going off at a
gaudy 8-1, but no matter, he won.
While Charismatic made the lead briefly in the Belmont
Stakes’ stretch, he faded to third before being pulled up by his jockey, Chris
Antley after the finish line. More than the failed Triple Crown bid, the moment
Antley pulled Charismatic up after the finish and tended to his wounded warrior
became the real story. Antley, who had left horse racing due drug use and
failures to make his jockey weight, is best remembered for the care he gave his mount following the Belmont Stakes. Antley
died tragically a year later to a combination of a drug overdose and blunt
trauma from falling.
War Emblem was a surprise at 21-1, winner of the Kentucky
Derby, pulling off the feat by going coast-to-coast on the lead. His Derby win
was enough to convince the betting public to make him the Preakness favorite
and he proved most right winning again on the front end.
Trainer Bob Baffert knew the race was over the gates opened
when War Emblem stumbled coming out the gate and now had to come from behind
for the first time in the Triple Crown series. He made a move turning for home,
but backed up badly while being beaten by 70-1 shot Savara.
Funny Cide was a fluke. A New-York bred, owned by a bunch of
friends from the Saratoga area who rented yellow school buses to go the races
and trained by a curmudgeon of man in Barkley Tagg. He was a stakes winner at
two and finished second in the Wood Memorial – his final prep race for the 2003
Kentucky Derby. He won both the Derby and Preakness with ease and came into the
Belmont Stakes as both the betting and sentimental favorite.
Funny Cide uncharacteristically took to the early on a
sloppy Belmont. The pace was too much as Funny Cide faded to third behind the
Derby favorite and now, Belmont winner, ironically named Empire Maker. In a
stakes-filled career for Hall of Fame trainer, Bobby Frankel, it ended up being
his only Classic win.
Smarty Jones, had talent and back-story (murdered trainer,
sick, elderly owner and journeymen jockey) second to none. He easily won the
Derby in the slop, before opening up and winning in style. Heading into the Belmont undefeated, Smarty Jones’
popularity grew to mythical proportions. Sensing the first Triple Crown champ
in 26 years, a record-crowd of
120,000 fans showed up hoping to witness history.
With jockey Stewart Elliot up, Smarty Jones was into his
bridle early and was sent to the lead going through the three-quarter mile mark
in 1:11 in three-fifths seconds. While Elliot tried to restrain his charge early,
he let out his reins heading into the stretch opening up by about 4 lengths.
Birdstone, the small son of Kentucky Derby winner,
Grindstone, was the only challenger left standing in the stretch. Owned by New
York socialite Mary Lou Whitney and trained by New Yorker, Nick Zito, Birdstone
spoiled the Triple Crown party by overtaking Smarty Jones in the final 200
yards to win by an easy length. Both Zito and Whitney were almost apologetic in
Big Brown was like the 13-year-old middle-schooler that
outweighed his peers and completely towered over them. The ultra-talented son
of Boundary (not really a distance influence there) was lead to the track by
Rick Dutrow, an oft-penalized trainer who never saw a spotlight he didn’t love.
Owned by Wallstreeters, IEAH Stables, Big Brown was dominant
in both the Derby – from post 20, no less – and the Preakness. In both
contests he faced less than talented competition. The Belmont Stakes was no
different. Just as he had done in preparation of the Derby and Preakness,
Dutrow was extremely confident heading into the race, despite a crack in his
In one of the stranger Belmont editions, rider Kent
Desmoreaux, pulled Big Brown up as the horses entered the stretch. In just a
few short strides, Big Brown went from mid-pack to failing to finish. Unlike
the admiration that Antley garnered in trying to save Charismatic following the
’99 Belmont, Desmoreaux was criticized by commentators, trainer, owners and
fans. His explanation that he “had no horse” didn’t seem to fly. Conspiracy
theories abounded, but Big Brown made just two more starts before heading to
retirement as the 11th Triple Crown hopeful to be swallowed up by Belmont Park.