ELMONT, N.Y. -- By less than the length of one horse, Bob Baffert has lost two Triple Crowns.
But yesterday at Belmont Park, 15 hours after Real Quiet's loss by a nose in one of the Belmont Stakes' great stretch duels, Baffert joked, talked about a reunion with his family and looked forward to Saturday's race of another big horse in his barn, Silver Charm.
"We just got beat, and that's it," Baffert said. "We're getting closer, though."
Last year, Baffert's Silver Charm, after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, lost the Belmont by three-quarters of a length to Touch Gold. Saturday, Baffert's Real Quiet, after winning the Derby and Preakness, lost the Belmont by a nose to Victory Gallop.
"It's a letdown because you've come this far," Baffert said. "Now if this would have been the Derby, I'd be very disappointed. To me, that's the race. This was about history and the fans."
Real Quiet could have become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner before 80,162 fans, the second largest crowd ever at Belmont Park. And a victory by Real Quiet this year or Silver Charm last year would have earned a $5 million bonus from Visa, sponsor of the series, for the horses' owners.
The trainer's cut of that would have been at least the traditional 10 percent, plus perhaps breeding rights to the horse at stud. In other words, the two narrow losses cost Baffert more than $1 million.
"Both horses run hard every race," Baffert said of Real Quiet and Silver Charm. "For a trainer, that is gratification right there. It's hard to get a horse to do that every time.
"In the Belmont, they both ran what I felt were winning races. So I kind of felt like we won those races."
He just didn't get the money, right?
"Exactly," he said, breaking into a smile.
After a night's sleep, which he said was good, Baffert hadn't changed his mind about jockey Kent Desormeaux's ride of Real Quiet. Desormeaux began to move on the horse with five-eighths of a mile still to run in the 1 1/2 -mile race. The obvious question was, did he move too soon?
Baffert repeated what he had said after the race: Desormeaux didn't, but even if he did, so what? It's over.
What he wouldn't have liked, Baffert said, was if Desormeaux's antics down the stretch had caused Real Quiet's disqualification. Desormeaux tugged on the right rein so that Real Quiet would turn his head, see Victory Gallop coming and dig in for the final strides.
But Desormeaux pulled too hard, and Real Quiet veered out and bumped Victory Gallop twice. The stewards said later that they probably would have disqualified Real Quiet had he won -- igniting fireworks over disqualifying a potential Triple Crown winner and costing the horse's owner the $5 million bonus.
Elliott Walden, trainer of Victory Gallop, said he, too, would have hated to see a disqualification decide the $1 million Belmont, even though his horse would have been the beneficiary.
As it turned out, Victory Gallop needed no help in turning the tables on Real Quiet after finishing second in the Derby and Preakness.
"With a little luck, we could have been going for a Triple Crown," Walden said. "I think these two horses are very close in ability. Hopefully, they'll meet somewhere down the road, and we can keep this rivalry going."
Victory Gallop's next start may be Aug. 9 in the $1 million Buick Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park against perhaps Coronado's Quest, who easily won the Riva Ridge Stakes on Saturday, and Indian Charlie, the Baffert-trainee who finished third in the Kentucky Derby.
Baffert said Real Quiet might even run in the Haskell. Last year, he gave Silver Charm six months off after the Belmont. Real Quiet, Baffert said, is a "pretty tough dude. I could probably run him back in two weeks."
But now, Baffert is focusing on Silver Charm's race Saturday in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Even though he said he has already put the Belmont behind him, he'll have a hard time, as will anyone who saw it, forgetting the thrilling finish.
"They go a mile and a half, and it's got to be decided by a photo," Baffert said. "Unbelievable."
Pub Date: 6/08/98