ELMONT, N.Y. -- After the Preakness, Elliott Walden said his horse, the beaten favorite Victory Gallop, lost fair and square.
Then Victory Gallop, stabled last year in Maryland, broke out in a rash. And Walden, the articulate Kentucky trainer, broke his ankle playing basketball.
You'd think that might be enough to discourage anybody.
But Walden, holed up in a tack room at Belmont Park, bubbled with enthusiasm yesterday as he discussed Victory Gallop's chances of turning the tables on Real Quiet -- to whom he also lost the Kentucky Derby -- and spoiling his chances for a Triple Crown.
"This might be pie-in-the-sky," said Walden, his cast-wrapped ankle elevated on a table. "But I feel as if we still almost won the Derby. In that sense, I look at it as if we ought to be split, 1-1.
"Saturday will tell the tale. If I'm wrong and Real Quiet does win, then he's a deserving Triple Crown winner. But if Victory Gallop wins, it will justify my feeling that he should have won the Derby."
Like Bob Baffert, trainer of Real Quiet, Walden said he believes the same two horses who dominated the Kentucky Derby and Preakness will rule the Belmont.
Like Affirmed and Alydar 20 years ago, but with far less flair, Real Quiet and Victory Gallop ran one-two in the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
If they run that way tomorrow in the Belmont, Real Quiet will become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed. And Victory Gallop will join Alydar as the only horses to finish second in all three Triple Crown races.
"When they put them all together in the Derby," Walden said, "Real Quiet and Victory Gallop were the two that came out on top.
"Then the Preakness solidified the fact that they're at the top of their class."
Walden said the only fresh horse he fears is Grand Slam, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt who overcame a severe tendon injury last fall in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Baffert said none of the new shooters are good enough to topple the top pair.
"I think you'll see the same two horses fight it out again," Baffert said. "Those are the only two who want to run that far."
However, they must overcome fatigue and the grind of the Triple Crown.
Both trainers said their horses were knocked out after the Preakness. Baffert gave Real Quiet a week off -- very unusual for a horse eyeing a Triple Crown -- and Walden said Victory Gallop lost appetite and a few pounds.
"That was the first race since I've had him that he didn't wake up bright and cheery the next morning," said Walden, who took over the training of Victory Gallop from Maryland's Mary Eppler last fall after the Preston brothers of Texas purchased the colt privately.
Then, a few days after the Preakness, Victory Gallop came down with a skin rash, diagnosed as ringworm.
"That's usually a physical problem from a pressure situation," said H. James Bond, trainer of Belmont challenger Raffie's Majesty. "Never a good sign."
But Walden said that antibiotics dried up the rash and that Victory Gallop has returned to his frisky, fun-loving self. He likes to play with a ball that hangs in his stall. He craves attention.
"He galloped as strong the other day as I've ever seen him," Walden said of Victory Gallop's turn around the track Wednesday.
"I'm really happy with him this past week."
Walden, 35, the leading trainer at Churchill Downs, said his rationale for believing that Victory Gallop can win the Belmont goes like this:
In the Kentucky Derby, Victory Gallop broke from post 13 and raced extremely wide around both turns. Down the long Churchill Downs' homestretch, he mounted a Captain Bodgit-like charge, but wound up a half length behind Real Quiet.
"I was worried about how hard he'd run in the Derby," Walden said. "That's why I was so hesitant to go to Pimlico. And all along, we felt that the best shot we were going to have in any of the races was the Belmont."
But Victory Gallop bounced back quickly, Indian Charlie and Halory Hunter dropped out, and Walden decided to send Victory Gallop to Baltimore.
"We got a great trip in the Preakness," Walden said. "When we turned for home head-and-head with Real Quiet, I thought we were going to outrun him. But we didn't. He flat-out beat us."
But in the Preakness, Real Quiet had the wide, tiring trip.
"My hope is that Real Quiet ran the type of race in the Preakness that Victory Gallop ran in the Derby, and now it's Real Quiet's turn to level off a little bit," Walden said.
"I feel that we have a real legitimate chance to beat him. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a very good horse race."
What: 130th Belmont Stakes, third leg of horse racing's Triple Crown
Post time: Tomorrow, 5: 27 p.m.
Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.
Distance: 1 1/2 miles
Purse: 1st -- $600,000; 2nd -- $200,000; 3rd -- $110,000.
TV: Chs. 2, 7
PP Horse Odds
1. Hanuman Highway 30-1 2. Thomas Jo 30-1 3. Basic Trainee 99-1 4. Chilito 30-1 5. Parade Ground 20-1 6. Classic Cat 15-1 7. Limit Out 10-1 8. Real Quiet 6-5 9. Hot Wells 30-1 10. Raffie's Majesty 20-1 11. Victory Gallop 7-2 12. Yarrow Brae 20-1 13. Grand Slam 6-1
Pub Date: 6/05/98