Up to this point the 58,090 spectators on hand for Saturday's 112th running of the Belmont Stakes had acted like normal racing fans, their cheering swelling, becoming a great roar as the three leaders swept through the final turn and into the top of the muddy stretch. But with less than a hundred yards to go, a preternatural hush fell over Belmont Park, as everyone suddenly realized which horse was going to win. It wouldn't be Genuine Risk, the Kentucky Derby-winning filly who was the sentimental favorite—and the 5-1 third betting choice. Nor would it be Rockhill Native, who despite a lack of success in Triple Crown races at least had a familiar name. No, the winner would be Temperence Hill, a colt so unsung that even those lucky few who bet on him were presumably left speechless. No wonder. They stood to collect a $108.80 payoff for each $2 wager, the second highest price in the history of the race.
Temperence Hill hadn't competed in—much less won—either the Derby or the Preakness. In fact, he had finished a woeful fifth against a decidedly non-Triple Crown field two weeks before. But there are good reasons why Temperence Hill won the Belmont and will continue to win big races. For one thing, breeding. His sire is Stop the Music, who earned $448,922 before being sent to stand at Greentree Stud in 1976. Temperence Hill is no fluke, the Belmont odds notwithstanding.
On Feb. 26 of this year, Temperence Hill won for the first time in his life, at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. The date is important because 11 days previous, nominations closed for the Kentucky Derby, and Temperence Hill wasn't one of the 293 horses nominated to run at Churchill Downs. "He was a lousy maiden," says his 38-year-old trainer, Joe Cantey, "but a horse that we thought had real ability. He was stubborn, always wanting to do things his own way, and he still is. In each of his 2-year-old starts, I thought he'd run better than he did. He finished fourth, sixth and seventh, so there was no way I could nominate him for the Derby, Preakness or Belmont. But in that race at Oaklawn, I got the feeling that he might be something special."
After that Temperence Hill went on to win the $178,600 Arkansas Derby and to finish second to Colonel Moran in the $57,000 Withers at Belmont. Then on May 26 Cantey sent him to Keystone Race Track near Philadelphia to run in the Pennsylvania Derby. Temperence Hill, the favorite that day, came in fifth. "I couldn't understand why he ran so bad," Cantey says. "He just didn't want to run."
Cantey entered Temperence Hill in a turf race at Belmont on May 31 "to find out where I could go with the horse." Temperence Hill ran well against older horses and finished third after a very rough trip. "In a way it proved that the race at Keystone was a fluke," says Cantey. "The race on the grass was encouraging enough to make me give him a chance in the Belmont. I know he likes going the distance." On Saturday, Temperence Hill didn't seem to mind the slop, either. Cantey had him fitted with mud calks for better traction, and that may have been an important decision. He was the only Belmont horse to wear them.
To get Temperence Hill into the race Loblolly Stable owner John Ed Anthony, a 40-year-old lumberman from Fordyce, Ark., had to come up with a $20,000 supplemental entry fee. It was, of course, worth every penny—especially for a guy who's trying to put his hometown on the map. "Most people know Fordyce only because Bear Bryant was born near there," says Anthony. "But I love Arkansas and all the things about Fordyce. The name Loblolly comes from the predominant pine tree in that area. I name all my horses for things or places in or around Fordyce. I had a horse called Cox's Ridge [a very good horse—trained by Cantey—who won 11 stakes and nearly $700,000] that was named after a ridge near Fordyce. Temperence Hill is named for a spot not far from Fordyce where a church is located. To get there, you have to pass Cox's Ridge. I know that Temperence Hill is spelled wrong, that it should be Temperance Hill. I wasn't sure how to spell temperance, and so when I was sending in the name, I hollered to my secretary and asked her how to spell it. She said 'with an e.' " The confusion is still evident. The official Belmont program misspelled—or didn't, if you go by Webster's instead of the foal certificate—the colt's name.
Anthony, who paid $80,000 for Temperence Hill as a yearling, says, "I started to get good feelings about the Belmont at the quarter pole. He never should have been 53-1. He's far better than those odds."
This year's Belmont was supposed to be a rematch between Codex and Genuine Risk after their controversial bump, brush or graze in the stretch in the Preakness three weeks before. Like most rematches of this nature, it never caught fire. Codex, who had run poorly in his only previous appearance on an off-track, stalked the early leaders and fizzled to a seventh-place finish, beaten by nearly 10 lengths by Temperence Hill and nearly eight by Genuine Risk. Codex had gone off as the 8-5 favorite, and Rumbo, another California colt, who was the second favorite (9-5), finished fifth.
The most memorable thing about this year's Triple Crown isn't that the winners were three different horses for the first time in five years, but the remarkable valor of Genuine Risk. Not only was she the only 3-year-old to run in all three races, but she also ran her heart out in every one.
Her loss in the Belmont—like her defeat in the Preakness—was perhaps more a matter of ill fortune than a lack of talent or guts. In the stretch Saturday, Risk's jockey, Jacinto Vasquez, sensed that, though he was in front, he wouldn't win. He and Risk had endured 1? miles of traffic snarls, and when he asked her to dig in for one final run, she did not respond. "It just wasn't there," Vasquez would say. "When you draw the rail at Belmont Park, you can get in trouble. Risk got the rail and she got trouble." Nonetheless, she held on well into the last furlong before Temperence Hill, with Eddie Maple going to the whip more than 25 times, pulled past her, and won in a poky 2:29[4/5].