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Third-time Charmer
Gene Menez
June 19, 2006
A teenage jockey and a spunky Jazil added much-needed dazzle to the Belmont Stakes
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June 19, 2006

Third-time Charmer

A teenage jockey and a spunky Jazil added much-needed dazzle to the Belmont Stakes

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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.

For the 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.

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