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In the swirls of pandemonium that swept him into the winner's circle after Saturday's Belmont Stakes, Bob Levy was momentarily free-falling in space—not fully aware of what had just taken place and what it really meant to him.
Minutes earlier, the 56-year-old Levy had witnessed the sight of his life as a thoroughbred owner. A principal co-owner of Bet Twice, Levy had watched his horse blow past the leaders at the far turn and gallop off with a flourish to win the 119th Belmont by a stunning 14 lengths. Far behind the winner, in a three-horse finish that needed a photo to separate them, Cryptoclearance finished second by a nose over Gulch. A neck back in fourth came a struggling Alysheba, the colt who had whipped Bet Twice in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes to arrive at Belmont Park with a chance of becoming America's 12th Triple Crown winner.
In the cheery din after the Belmont, all Levy knew was that Bet Twice had won, Alysheba had lost, and he and his co-owners had walked off with the third leg of the crown and the winning purse of $329,160. At the conclusion of the winner's circle ceremony, a New York racing official collared Levy and said, "Now you have to come over here to accept the check."
As the longtime majority owner of Atlantic City racetrack, Levy knew that checks for winning purses are not presented in postrace ceremonies. "What check?" he asked.
"You won the $1 million dollar bonus," the official said.
"Oh, my God!" said Levy.
With that exclamation, the racetrack executive spoke for just about everyone at the improbable climax of this sunny Saturday afternoon on Long Island. Alysheba had come to the Belmont with the chance to win $3.5 million in bonus money—$2.5 million for winning all three races and another $1 million for compiling the most points in the new Triple Crown Challenge (five points were awarded for a win, three for second, one for third). Alysheba already had 10 points; Bet Twice had six. To win the $1 million bonus, Bet Twice would have to win the Belmont and Alysheba would have to finish worse than third. And how likely was that?
For the first mile Bet Twice, ridden by Craig Perret, tracked Avies Copy and Gone West through a tediously slow early pace—three-quarters in 1:13[4/5], waltz time—while behind him Chris McCarron, apparently misjudging the pace, took Alysheba back. Nearing the far turn, Perret asked his colt to run. Just before the race, Bet Twice's trainer, Jimmy Croll, and Levy had given the rider only one brief instruction. "When you go to the front, don't ease by them," Levy said. "Blow by them! And open up as much as you can. If he gets beat, he gets beat."
Bet Twice pounced on the leaders in quick bounds, like a big cat chasing zebras, and at once he had them by the throat. Gone West tried to run with him, but Perret opened daylight quickly—two, three, four lengths. Turning for home he was in front by five, sailing.
"He's the kind of colt who tells you a lot through your hands," said Perret. "I know what he's gonna give me and when he's gonna give it. I just asked him a little, and he accelerated, and when he opened up, it gave me a chance coming off the turn to give him a breather."