Tarnished Triple Crown?
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Will the 13th Triple Crown go down in history as a tarnished trophy? It’s hard not to wonder in light of the performance by Justify’s stablemate, Restoring Hope. The question is being nursed by one of the owners of Vino Rosso, Mike Repole, who marked the way Restoring Hope was rushed to the head of the pack and then cut in to pin Bravazo on the rail and block him through much of the race.
The controversy surfaced in a scoop by the New York Post. No one seems to be disputing that Justify is a historic steed. Yet many, including us, had a weather eye out for Bravazo, who, in the Preakness, was accelerating on Justify at the end and would have nosed him had he had a few more yards. In the Belmont, he was right up with Justify almost from the moment they burst from the gate.
Then an amazing thing happened. Jockey Florent Geroux, atop Justify’s stablemate, having raced his horse to near the front of the pack, cut in on Bravazo as if he had no other business. “He looked,” Mr. Repole is quoted in the Daily Racing Form as saying, “like a bodyguard making sure nobody got close to Justify.” He stayed with him through the far turn and nigh to the top of the stretch.
Watching the race from the inner sanctum of the Sun, we exclaimed about this in astonishment (we didn’t have a nickel on any of the nags). YouTube, above, captures the drama. Yet by the stretch, Bravazo seems to be beaten even without the blocking, if that’s what it was. It’s hard to read the mind of a horse (we’ve tried), but Bravazo appeared to have room in front and on the rail yet couldn’t close.
A resilient horse with a shrewd rider can certainly get out of a tight spot. Never was this more dramatically proven than at the Kentucky Derby in 2009, when Mine that Bird, having lurked at last (and 50:1 odds) for much of the race, decided he might as well win it. He wove his way in and out of the pack, and then practically slithered between the leader and the rail to thunder into first place.
You can see this start to happen at 1:35 in the above video (with a gob-smacking overhead camera replay starting at 2:40). There wasn’t room for a cigarette paper between Mine That Bird and the rail. When the announcer discovered that Bird was in front, he practically swallowed his microphone, shouting about a “Spectacular, spec-TAC-u-lar upset” and an “impossible result.”
After the Triple Crown this year, the New York Post reports that Mr. Repole “hopes Belmont Park stewards will question” Mr. Geroux about the jockey’s “handling” of Restoring Hope. The Daily Racing Form, though, quotes the steward of the New York Gaming Commission, Steve Lewandowski, as saying that there is no such plan. So we may have to wait to see how the trophy glitters.