Even a fever couldn’t deny trainer D. Wayne Lukas a record fifth straight victory in a Triple Crown race.
With favored Timber Country knocked out of Saturday’s Belmont Stakes by illness, Lukas’ string was tied to Thunder Gulch and once again the tough little colt delivered.
“Nothing brings you back to reality more than a horse,” Lukas said after Timber Country came down with 104-degree fever Friday - four degrees higher than normal - and had to be medicated. “It’s a major disappointment.”
Then along came Thunder Gulch to lift the trainer’s spirits despite his dawdling time in the race. Thunder Gulch ran the slowest Belmont since 1970 - 2 minutes, 32 seconds for the 1 miles - and became the 11th horse to complete a Derby-Belmont double, the last being Swale in 1984.
“We felt we could win this,” Lukas said. “But when I got down to one horse with Timber Country out, it all rested on Thunder Gulch’s shoulders.”
The Kentucky Derby had rested on the smallish chestnut’s shoulders too, when the more heralded Timber Country finished third and the popular filly Serena’s Song ran out of the money. Thunder Gulch delivered.
Timber Country rebounded to win the Preakness with Thunder Gulch third. Timber Country would have been favored to win the Belmont. That role was passed to Thunder Gulch by the public who made him 3-2, and he turned it into a starring role.
“He’s small but adaptable and he stays (a distance),” Lukas had said before the race. “You’d better not count him out.”
Ridden by Gary Stevens, Thunder Gulch reached the wire two lengths ahead of Star Standard, who was trying to give jockey Julie Krone her second Belmont victory. Trainer Nick Zito has finished second in four of the last five Belmonts.
“I’m a little overwhelmed and very, very happy,” said the 59-year-old Lukas. “Everything fell into place.”
Lukas said he felt Thunder Gulch would have to run a similar race to the one he ran in the Derby and “we had to be third or fourth on the outside.”
Thunder Gulch was never worse than third and was outside as Star Standard led the field through slow fractions of 24.2 seconds for the first quarter, 50.1 for the half, 1:15.1 for three-quarters and 1:40 for the mile. Star Standard reach the 1-mile mark in 2:05.2, just a head in front of Thunder Gulch, who was poised for his winning drive.
“He was just waiting for some competition and when he turned for home he got it,” said Krone, who became the only woman jockey to win a Triple Crown race with Colonial Affair in the 1993 Belmont.
Star Standard had shown signs on the turn that he wouldn’t be able to get the job done. He bumped Thunder Gulch going into the turn and again at the three-eighths pole.
Stevens said it appeared Krone’s left arm gave out before both bumping incidents.
“She had to give herself a little breather and let go with her left arm,” Stevens said.
“At that point I was confident he’d get the job done,” Stevens said.
“With those fractions and the kick he has, he definitely can get the mile and a half,” Stevens said of Thunder Gulch. “It more or less turned into a sprint race at the three-eighths pole.”
“Gary wasn’t too concerned about those fractions but I was,” said Lukas.
Thunder Gulch took the lead just past the eighth pole and Stevens said, “I pushed the button pretty hard at the 16th pole and that’s when he pulled away from Star Standard.”
Thunder Gulch paid $5, $3.70 and $2.90 in contributing his second victory to Lukas’ record winning streak. The first two wins in the string were accomplished by Tabasco Cat in the Preakness and Belmont last year.
Lukas’ second Belmont win snapped a tie with Lucien Laurin, who had won four straight Triple Crown races: the 1972 Belmont with Riva Ridge and the 1973 Triple Crown with Secretariat.
Not only did Thunder Gulch, called by Lukas a bulldog, win two of the three Triple Crown races, but he was the only horse to run in all three. A field of 19 3-year-olds had launched the competition in the Derby.
Star Standard, who finished 3 lengths in front of Citadeed, paid $5.80 and $4.30. Citadeed, ridden by Eddie Maple, returned $4.40 after finishing 1 lengths ahead of Knockadoon.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Belmont Stakes payoff Horse Win Place Show Thunder Gulch $5.00 $3.70 $2.90 Star Star Standard $5.80 $4.30 Citadeed $4.40
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