Standing on the
Belmont Park track moments after his tiny Jazil had roared past 11 rivals to
win the Belmont Stakes, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin seemed lost. Should he go to
the horse? The winner's circle? Do an interview with ABC? Surrounded by
photographers and strangers wanting to congratulate him, McLaughlin asked no
one in particular, "Where do we go now?"
He could've been
speaking for an entire sport. Six times in the previous nine years the Belmont
drew attention beyond racing circles as horses tried (in vain) to complete the
Triple Crown. But this year the race lacked Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro,
whose shattered right hind leg remains in a cast, and Preakness victor
Bernardini, who is resting for a campaign later in the year, as well as the
winners of virtually every major 3-year-old race in 2006. The day before the
Belmont, Bob Baffert, trainer of eighth-place finisher Bob and John, dubbed the
race "the Test of the Leftovers."
And so it felt.
Ratings for the ABC broadcast were 3.8, down 38% from last year when there was
also no Triple Crown at stake. And on a windy but sunny day on Long Island, the
crowd was a little more than 61,000, roughly half the record set in 2004.
None of this
spoiled the moment for McLaughlin or Jazil's jockey, Fernando Jara (above, with
McLaughlin). The 18-year-old Panamanian put in a masterly ride in which he
threaded Jazil (last at the half-mile marker) through traffic along the far
turn before letting him loose at the top of the stretch.
45-year-old McLaughlin, who puts in a full day at the barn while battling
multiple sclerosis, the Belmont was the culmination of a dream he has had since
age 12, when, back in Lexington, Ky., he wrote a school paper predicting that
he would become a trainer. Now he has a 12-year-old son who is a fine
prognosticator: Before the Belmont, Ryan McLaughlin gave Dad the trifecta of
Jazil, Bluegrass Cat and Sunriver, which paid $436.
Asked if he would
have preferred to have faced Barbaro and Bernardini, McLaughlin smiled and
said, "No, I'm glad they were eating their dinner at post time." But
Jazil may get to meet Bernardini. Jazil's owner, Dubai Sheik Hamdan, is the
brother of Bernardini's owner, Sheik Mohammed, and both horses are being
pointed toward the Travers at Saratoga in August. America may get an intriguing
3-year-old race yet.