By then, essentially, the horse race was over, suddenly as old as a $2 win ticket on Alysheba, and Bet Twice stretched the gap to finish with a respectable time of 2:28[1/5]. If such a scenario had seemed highly improbable only minutes earlier, it was certainly not out of the question, particularly given the imponderables that so often shape the Belmont. After all, at 1½ miles the race is the longest of the spring classics by 440 yards, and as the last race in the Triple Grind, it often signals that a horse has made one too many trips to the well. This year, however, other questions made the Belmont even more difficult to figure.
The most vexing question of all involved Lasix, a medication used to prevent respiratory bleeding. In his last four races, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories, Alysheba had run on Lasix. In New York, which does not permit the use of the medication, he was compelled to run without it.
The colt's trainer, Jack Van Berg, had soft-pedaled the significance of Alysheba running drug free, but he also hedged his bets during the week before the race. "I think maybe we're past the bleeding," Van Berg said. "I'm hoping we're past it. Hell, I don't know. Can't swear we're past it. Nobody can tell you what makes a horse bleed."
Because horses coming off the drug often suffer a decline in performance, the Lasix question commanded much attention among serious handicappers. So, too, did the presence in the race of Gone West, a colt widely viewed as, at best, a middle-distance horse who appeared to have as much of a taste for the Belmont's 12 furlongs as he had for steak tartare. In the hands of anyone else he would have stirred little interest, but Gone West happened to be trained by Woody Stephens, who had won the last five Belmont Stakes—a feat of horsemanship unsurpassed in the game's history.
"You can run but you can't hide," the Wood Man said the morning of the Belmont. "I know what it takes to get that horse [Alysheba] beat. If the pace is slow enough, he can get beat. I think Van Berg will be well entertained."
It was Stephens and Van Berg who did all the entertaining in the days leading up to the Belmont. Together, they appeared at press functions and performed a talking duet for national television. It was Hall of Famer Van Berg, the tall, 51-year-old Midwesterner, going after the 12th Triple Crown, and Hall of Famer Stephens, the wizened, 73-year-old Easterner, shooting for his sixth straight Belmont Stakes. The Jack and Woody show, featuring two down-home country wits, played to raves.
"I feel like I'm going against John Wayne and Barry Fitzgerald," said Leroy Jolley, trainer of Belmont contenders Gulch and Leo Castelli.
While the show went on in New York, trainer Jimmy Croll kicked back at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and waited, watching Bet Twice prosper at his home stable. Out of the limelight, the horse was largely ignored. "He only got beat a total of a length and a quarter in the Derby and Preakness, and everybody has totally forgotten about him," Croll said. "If it weren't for that length and a quarter, he'd be top dog."
Perret was riding the colt in the mornings and listening to the ticking of the clock. "I'm not saying this horse is going to win Saturday," the jockey said. "If Alysheba is a hundred percent, and Bet Twice is a hundred percent, Alysheba is a half-length better. But who's to say Alysheba is going to be a hundred percent? It could be the Lasix. It could be the heat. It could be anything. And if he isn't a hundred percent, we're going to be there waiting for him."
The jockey sensed that his horse was a loaded gun. The day before the Belmont, after working him three-eighths of a mile in 36 seconds, Perret called Levy in his room at the Waldorf in New York. Levy's wife answered. "Cissie," Perret said, "he did it this morning just right. He was full of himself. Look out, here we come!"