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The Belmont

A record Belmont crowd for Smarty Jones

By wire services
Published June 6, 2004

BELMONT, N.Y. - The sun didn't shine, but neither did the heavens open up the way they did a year ago, and the result was a record throng of 120,139 people at Belmont Park on Saturday, many of whom ended up disappointed that Smarty Jones came up short in the quest for the Triple Crown.

The gathering easily shattered the Belmont Park attendance record, which was set in 2002 when War Emblem's bid for the Triple Crown barely got past the starting gate.

Last year, a brutal day of rain kept the Belmont Stakes crowd to 101,864 as Funny Cide tried and failed to win the Triple Crown.

THE DROUGHT GOES ON: Smarty Jones failed to become the 12th horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, and the first to accomplish the feat since Affirmed in 1978. The 26-year Triple Crown drought is the longest since Sir Barton became the first horse to win the three prestigious races for 3-year-olds in 1919.

FAILED BID: In 1979, Spectacular Bid was poised to give thoroughbred racing its third straight Triple Crown winner, after Seattle Slew and Affirmed. He entered the Belmont as the prohibitive 3-10 favorite - the same as Smarty Jones.

Instead, he weakened in the final quarter-mile, lost his lead and finished third to Coastal.

"Yeah, you're supposed to win when you're the odds-on favorite," Bid's trainer, Bud Delp, said. "I was really rooting for (Smarty Jones) today."

At least Delp's horse had an excuse for losing. The morning of that race 25 years ago, a safety pin was found stuck a half-inch into the Bid's hoof. After the race, an infection spread and nearly killed him.

THE MISERY GOES ON: As Smarty Jones faded in the homestretch, so too did Philadelphia's hope of capturing its first pro sports crown since the 76ers won the NBA title in 1983.

And the giddy mood at the much-ballyhooed Smarty Party, a mass gathering on the city's Benjamin Franklin Parkway, faded along with the horse.

Several hundred Philadelphians braved wind and rain to watch the race on a JumboTron set up on the parkway. Spectators emerged from a tent to cheer wildly as Smarty Jones took the lead, but they were stunned into silence as he failed to win.

"I'm disgusted," Dan Berger, a law student, said. "This race was lost in typical Philadelphia style. We are almost there, and then we lose at the last minute."

UNDERCARD: Meteor Storm rallied to win the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap.

Meteor Storm, who emerged as one of the leading turf horses in California, earned his third straight stakes win and first in a Grade I race.

Fire Slam found room along the rail and slid through to win the Grade II, $200,000 Riva Ridge Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds by a head over Teton Forest.

Fire Slam wrested a clear lead from Teton Forest in midstretch only to see that rival fight back to produce a photo finish.

Pat Day rode Fire Slam to a second straight win for trainer David Carroll.

Trainer Bobby Frankell, who ran Master David in the Belmont, tuned up with a one-three finish in the Grade II, $250,000 Just A Game Breeders' Cup Handicap for fillies and mares on the turf.

Intercontinental split rivals in the stretch to post her third straight win since arriving from France. Stablemate Etoile Montante was third.

Bear Fan lowered the track record for 61/2 furlongs with a 9-length romp in the Grade II, $150,000 Vagrancy Handicap for fillies and mares.

Bear Fan took charge entering the turn and opened a decisive lead at the top of the stretch. She was timed in 1:14.46 to erase the mark of 1:14.51 set by Confide in 1997.

Speightstown flirted with the 6-furlong track record in the Grade II, $200,000 True North Breeders' Cup Stakes. He collared the pacesetting Cat Genius at the top of the stretch and beat that rival by 11/2 lengths in 1:08.04. The mark is 1:07.66 by Artax in 1999.

[Last modified June 5, 2004, 23:52:18]

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