McGaughey knew there were no hocus-pocus solutions, just as he knew there would be no excuses in this Belmont. Long Island was deluged with rain throughout the week, but Saturday broke sunny, windy and warm. By post time, the track was fast and the crowd was ready to honor a new Triple Crown champion. As the race unfolded, there was every reason to think Sunday Silence, with jockey Pat Valenzuela, would make it happen. Down the back-stretch, Valenzuela closely stalked the leader, Le Voyageur; directly behind them, racing off Sunday Silence's flank, Pat Day sat chilly on Easy Goer, waiting for the real race to start.
It began all at once. Into the far turn, with 880 yards to go, Valenzuela nudged Sunday Silence on, and the colt gave sudden chase, racing to the outside of Le Voyageur. Day immediately chirped to Easy Goer, but got no response; so, approaching the three-eighths pole, Day raised his whip in the air. Now he felt Easy Goer surge.
"As soon as I turned my stick up, he kicked it in and kicked hard," Day said. The rider knew at once that this was a different horse from the one he had ridden in the Derby and the Preakness. Coming to the [5/16] pole on the last turn for home, Easy Goer ranged up next to Sunday Silence and, in a trice, bounded past. Turning for home, Easy Goer opened a length as Day lashed him hard with a lefthanded whip, and the colt lengthened his lead to the wire. The crowd roared him home, saluting a performance as commanding as had been seen in New York in years—the kind of performance, indeed, that it had been expecting from Easy Goer all along.
Sunday Silence was still awarded a $1 million consolation prize for his two firsts and a second-place finish in the Triple Crown races, and the colt's trainer, Charlie Whittingham, extolled Easy Goer's performance. "Easy Goer just outran him," Whittingham said. "Maybe that was one of the great mile and a halfs of all time. He ran like a mile-and-a-half horse. Mine didn't."
McGaughey suggested that the Preakness three weeks earlier may in fact have decided the Belmont. "The Preakness was the first time in his life that Easy Goer was ever forced to run head and head with another horse," said McGaughey. "I think it helped him. It made a man out of him."
Late on Saturday night, with the horses cooled out and bedded down, McGaughey stopped in for a nightcap in a bar at the Garden City Hotel, where Whittingham was staying. The two men ended up sitting at a table together until well past midnight, swapping stories. "You lose more than you win in this game," said Whittingham, "and if you don't know how to lose, you better get out of it fast. We beat Shug twice and he never squawked once. I'm not squawking either."
Whittingham raised his glass toward McGaughey. "Here's to ya," he said. The two men drank to that.