When a Triple Crown candidate arrives at Belmont Park, he moves into a zoo. Hundreds of reporters, photographers and other onlookers crowd the barn every day. "No matter what anyone says, the daily media crush at the barn is a tremendous adrenaline rush for the horse," says Tagg. The trainer must give a brain-dulling press conference every day, and all his training decisions are minutely scrutinized.
To avoid that, Servis was expected to keep Smarty Jones at Philadelphia Park until the middle of Belmont week. His barn alongside the Pennsylvania Turnpike was off-limits to the public and the media. "Things are as normal as they can possibly be," he said in the week following the Preakness. " Jack Van Berg [who trained Alysheba to Derby and Preakness victories in 1987] called me and said, 'John, don't let anybody train your horse for you.' " Van Berg did, however, pass along the schedule he followed with Alysheba.
"I told him all I did was gallop him between the Derby and Preakness," says Van Berg, "and then we did one long, slow breeze before the Belmont, because you don't want to put speed into him. They put speed into Funny Cide last year [five furlongs in a blistering 57 4/5 seconds during Belmont week], and they couldn't rate him in the race." Sends has used the same approach as Van Berg, galloping Smarty Jones before the Preakness and, for the Belmont, sending him on just one seven-furlong breeze, in a relatively slow 1:29 1/5 seconds last Friday at Philadelphia Park.
3. WRONG RUNNING STYLE
In 2002 War Emblem looked to be the best of a mediocre 3-year-old crop. He had won the Derby and the Preakness on the front end and was a distinct threat to do so in the Belmont, where he went off as the 6-5 favorite. However, he stumbled badly out of the gate, didn't make the early lead and finished a soundly beaten eighth. "He was a good horse, but a one-dimensional horse," says Baffert. "When he didn't break, we were finished." In the Belmont a come-from-behind horse needs pace in front of him, and a speed horse needs to make an easy lead.
Smarty Jones is the tactical dream horse. "He's got speed, and I mean brilliant speed, and he's got stamina that nobody thought he would have with his breeding," says Servis. Smarty is what riders call a "pushbutton horse." He can provide a burst at any time and then resume cruising until he makes his run to the finish. It enables him to avoid tactical traps and largely to dictate the way a race is run. " Smarty Jones takes other horses out of their games," says Lukas, "but they can't take him out of his game."
4. JOCKEY'S ERROR
Hall of Fame rider Chris McCarron won more than 7,000 races in his career, including the Derby and Preakness on Alysheba. "But riding in the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line is a unique experience," says McCarron, "and anybody who tells you there's not a lot more pressure involved is either lying or has never been in that position. I'm ashamed—but not reluctant—to say that it was the most nervous I've ever been." In the Belmont, McCarron and Alysheba endured a nightmare trip before finishing fourth, more than 14 lengths behind Bet Twice. "Pilot error" is how Van Berg describes it. "I told Chris he'd be in front the whole way. He broke two steps in front, then dropped back and got in trouble all the way around."
Says McCarron, "I performed poorly in the race. Whether it was a matter of succumbing to the pressure, I don't know."
The Triple Crown pressure, the $5 million bonus on the line—"The money warps their heads," says Lukas—and the 1�-mile distance all make the race an exacting test for a jockey. In 1979 the inexperience of Ronnie Franklin may have contributed to Spectacular Bid's stunning loss, at 1-5 odds. ( Trainer Bud Delp has long maintained that when Bid stepped on a pin on the morning of the race, he was compromised. "That might be true," says McCarron, "but Ronnie let him run a lot sooner than he should have.") Similarly, Baffert holds Kent Desormeaux responsible for moving too early on Real Quiet (he lost by a nose to Victory Gallop), and Lukas remains critical of the late Chris Antley for keeping Charismatic too close to a fast pace in 1999.