One after the other, Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and Charismatic in 1999 strutted into New York after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. All three lost the Belmont, but their attempts at becoming racing's 12th Triple Crown winner infused the race with drama. This year, the third jewel of the Triple Crown has little luster. For the first time in 30 years, the race will not feature either the Derby or Preakness winner.
Red Bullet, winner of the Preakness, will skip the Belmont because his owner and trainer decided to save the colt for summer and fall racing. Fusaichi Pegasus, winner of the Kentucky Derby, will miss the race because of a minor hoof injury incurred last weekend in his stall.
In their stead, 11 3-year-olds have gathered at this grand old track on Long Island. At yesterday's post position draw, the Kentucky Derby runner-up Aptitude was anointed the 8-5 morning-line favorite after drawing the No. 5 post.
Impeachment, third in the Preakness and fifth in the Derby, was named the 9-2 second choice after drawing post 8. The late-running son of Deputy Minister is the only one of 19 Derby starters competing in each Triple Crown race.
Of the 11 Belmont entrants, one won his last race: Postponed. He captured the Peter Pan Stakes two weeks ago at Belmont under a daring ride by Edgar Prado, the former Maryland jockey. Prado will be aboard again Saturday for his first ride in the Belmont.
Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance, owners of Taylor's Purchase Farm in Sparks, campaign Postponed. They also own last year's Belmont winner, Lemon Drop Kid.
At 6-1 in the early line, Postponed drew Post 2. Only two other horses attracted odds lower than 10-1: Unshaded and Wheelaway, both at 5-1. They are sons of Unbridled, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1990 but finished fourth as the favorite in the Belmont.
Although a winner only once in six tries, Aptitude is the Belmont favorite by default. After racing 14th early, he finished second, 1 1/2 lengths behind Fusaichi Pegasus, in the Kentucky Derby with a powerful late burst.
His trainer Bobby Frankel, a native New Yorker based in southern California, said he believes Aptitude's style and breeding suit the Belmont's sweeping turns and 1 1/2 -mile distance.
"All along I've thought his best chance of winning one of the Triple Crown races was the Belmont," Frankel said. "He just looks like he wants to go this far. He never looks like he gets weak in his races.'
He also seldom wins. Despite late surges that tantalize gamblers, Aptitude has finished second or third in three straight races: the Gotham Stakes, Wood Memorial Stakes and Kentucky Derby.
The only horses to beat him in those races were Red Bullet in the Gotham and Wood Memorial and Fusaichi Pegasus in the Wood Memorial and Kentucky Derby. Frankel said he believes that bodes well for his colt, since neither Red Bullet nor Fusaichi Pegasus will contest the Belmont.
Aptitude is bred for the Belmont's demanding distance. He is a son of 1992 Belmont winner and Horse of the Year A.P. Indy. His dam, Dokki, is a half-sister to 1979 Belmont winner Coastal and 1983 Belmont runner-up Slew o'Gold.
Frankel skipped the Preakness with Aptitude because he said he believes the five weeks off since the Kentucky Derby will benefit his colt. However, no horse from the Derby has won the Belmont after taking that five-week break.
Frankel also realizes that the Belmont, the so-called "test of the champion," can enhance a colt's potential career at stud.'The Belmont's great for pedigree," Frankel said. 'The money's not too bad either."
The Belmont's $1 million purse rose to $1.1 million when James B. Tafel paid $100,000 to supplement his Unshaded into the race. The owner had not nominated his late-developing gelding to the Triple Crown series.
Tafel and his trainer Carl Nafzger did not realize until the Lexington Stakes that Unshaded might be Grade I quality. In the Grade II Lexington April 22 at Keeneland, Unshaded exploded past horses to win the 1 1/16-mile race by three lengths.
After Unshaded returned with a second-place finish in the Peter Pan at Belmont, Nafzger transported the horse back to Churchill Downs.
"It takes a real experienced, focused colt to run in the Belmont," Nafzger said at the time. "I don't know if he's quite that mature yet."
But after a five-furlong breeze in 1 minute Monday at Churchill, Tafel and Nazfger suddenly decided that Unshaded was, in the trainer's words, "ready to hook the good horses."
It perhaps helped that one day earlier Fusaichi Pegasus, proclaimed the greatest 3-year-old in years after his Kentucky Derby victory, cut his right front hoof after being startled in his stall at Belmont.
That relegated Fusaichi Pegasus to the Belmont sidelines with Red Bullet. That left the Belmont with no star power but with 11 willing participants seeking promotion to their sports' highest rank.
Field for 132nd Belmont Stakes
PPHorse Trainer Jockey Record Earnings Last race Odds
1 Appearing Now..Juan Ortiz..Mike Luzzi..6:3-1-1..$114,500..2nd, Belmont allow..30-1
2 Postponed..Scotty Schulhofer..Edgar Prado..8:3-2-0..$204,300..1st, Peter Pan..6-1
3 Commendable..D. Wayne Lukas..Pat Day..7:1-0-0..$88,470..17th, Ky.Derby..20-1
4 Unshaded..Carl Nafzger..Shane Sellers..6:3-1-1..$304,648..2nd, Peter Pan..5-1
5 Aptitude..Bobby Frankel..Alex Solis..6:1-3-1..$327,700..2nd, Ky..Derby..8-5
6 Globalize..Jerry Hollendorfer..Mike Smith..10:5-2-1..$621,130..3rd, Peter Pan..20-1
7 Curule..Saeed bin Suroor..Jerry Bailey..5:1-0-2..$39,122..7th, Ky..Derby..15-1
8 Impeachment..Todd Pletcher..Craig Perret..8:1-1-3..$280,450..3rd, Preakness..9-2
9 Wheelaway..John Kimmel..Richard Migliore..6:2-1-1..$189,7605th, Ky. Derby..5-1
10 Hugh Hefner..Marty Jones..Jorge Chavez..7:2 2 0..$167,855..6th, Preakness..50-1
11 Tahkodha Hills..Ralph Ziadie..Eibar Coa..12:4 4 1..$404,805..4th, Peter Pan..30-1
What: 132nd Belmont Stakes
Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.
When: Saturday, post time 5:27 p.m.
TV: Ch. 2, 4:30 p.m.
Distance: 1 1/2 miles
Purse: $1.1 million