Racing officials at New York's Aqueduct track polished up the fancy three-sided Triple Crown trophy last week and on Saturday lugged it ceremoniously through a light drizzle to a nook by the trackside winner's circle. The most fashionable crowd seen at any U.S. track—and one of the largest, with 61,215 paid admissions—stirred nervously in its supermarket surroundings, politely noticed the Canadian flag fluttering in the infield's wet wind and sat back to wait for New York's racing boss, James Cox Brady, to dish out the silverware in tribute to Northern Dancer, Owner E. P. Taylor, Trainer Horatio Luro and that eloquent master of the word, saddle and whip, William Hartack.
But, alas, neither the horse nor the trio which had steered the fine and courageous Canadian-bred 3-year-old ever made it to the winner's circle. The Triple Crown mug remained snug in its velvet wrapper—for at least another year—and late in the gray afternoon it was all but forgotten. Paul Mellon's Virginia-bred Quadrangle, fifth in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness, smothered seven rivals to win the 96th Belmont by two lengths in the near track-record time of 2:28[2/5] for the classic distance of a mile and a half. Hartack and Northern Dancer were lucky to finish third, six lengths behind the winner, four behind Roman Brother and just half a length in front of Hill Rise, their old rival from California.
Horses running a mile and a half for the first time in their young lives tend to be uncertain propositions. E. P. Taylor thought Northern Dancer would run better in the Belmont than he had in winning the shorter classics in May. (Trainer Luro prophetically suggested, however, that the best distance for him might be no more than 1? miles.) George Pope, owner of Hill Rise, said, "We figured to give our horse a little rest after the Preakness in order to have a fresh horse for the Belmont. So what happens? We bring in a fresh horse and the first two finishers are the only horses in the race who ran brilliantly just the week before. How are you going to figure this game anyway?"
True, Roman Brother had run brilliantly the previous week in winning the Jersey Derby. Many thought that because this tiny gelding, nicknamed Mighty Mouse by Trainer Burley Parke and Owner Lou Wolfson, had performed so honestly all season (the Belmont was his 12th start of the year) he might win; if he did not he would be precious close.
As for Quadrangle, he added a whole new set of factors to the equation. He, too, had run brilliantly in winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in April. In the Derby he suffered slightly by being pinched back at the start. In the Preakness he suffered no difficulty of any kind and was soundly trounced. "I should have done more with him before that race," said Trainer Elliott Burch. "It won't happen again."
It didn't. Burch reminded himself of how, five years ago, he sharpened Sword Dancer's speed to win the Belmont by running him against older horses in the one-mile Metropolitan.
Quadrangle was sent along the same route. The only 3-year-old in the Memorial Day Metropolitan, he ran a rousing second to Olden Times even though he loafed in the stretch. "I don't think it hurt him to go a mile against top sprinters," said Burch later. "It should help him keep his speed, and at last I think he can be rated over a real distance of ground. The Metropolitan also showed me he should run without blinkers." In the Belmont, Quadrangle raced unblinkered for the first time since March.
Five days before the Belmont, Burch was still pessimistic about starting in the last of the Triple Crown races. "This is a whale of a crop of 3-year-olds," he said. "And Northern Dancer is far and away the best. I just don't know if we should tangle with him again for a while."
Twenty-four hours later, Burch had a change of mind. "Quadrangle has trained like a million dollars," he decided. "He loves Aqueduct, he's on the bit and he's ready to run." He got on the phone to Owner Mellon in Upperville, Va. and said, hesitatingly, "I'd like to run your horse if it's O.K. with you." "It's all right with me," said Mellon. After the Belmont, Mellon laughed at the recollection of the conversation and added, "It only goes to prove that you can't win races by not running in them."
On Belmont Day the upset of the racing year may not have been engineered so much by a dead-fit Quadrangle superbly trained by Burch as it was by the strategic errors of Jockeys Bill Hartack on Northern Dancer and Bill Shoemaker on Hill Rise. They were guilty of the oldest mistake in race riding: watching each other and forgetting the rest. And forgetting the painfully slow early pace.