Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Making History at the Belmont

The Belmont Stakes has been the scene of great drama over the years.

That stands to reason, doesn't it, since the Belmont is the third jewel in the Triple Crown. If a horse comes into the Belmont having already won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, a win in the Belmont will secure a Triple Crown. Eleven horses have done that since World War I.

Twenty–two others came into the Belmont with wins in those two races but failed to pull off the hat trick. Most failed to win the Belmont; a few, for one reason or another, were not entered.

But it still can be a dramatic race even if a Triple Crown is not on the line — which it will not be this year.

That being the case, a certain amount of attention can be expected to be given in Saturday's race to Rosie Napravnik, who is the first female jockey to ride in all three Triple Crown races in the same year. Napravnik will be riding Unlimited Budget, a filly and currently an 8–to–1 shot starting in the 13th position.

Napravnik would certainly make news if she wins — once she rides in the Belmont, she will make history as the first female to ride in all three Triple Crown races in the same year — but she won't make history as the first woman to win a Triple Crown race. That distinction was achieved by Julie Krone, who won the Belmont Stakes aboard Colonial Affair 20 years ago today.

"I've been in one Derby, and this is my third Belmont," Krone said before the race. "But I've never thought of the fact that I haven't won a Triple Crown race. I'm not like that. I always look at the sunshine of things."

The '93 Belmont was an example of why I love to watch horse racing. There really is no such thing as a sure thing.

Colonial Affair was practically an afterthought through much of the race, holding back in the pack behind half a dozen other horses who set the early pace. As the horses made their way along the backstretch, Colonial Affair seemed to be settled in sixth place.

Not much movement could be detected in the order of the horses as they made the turn and started down the homestretch. But then, Colonial Affair seemed to appear from nowhere on the outside and sprinted past the leader to a two–length victory.

Oh, to have been a gambler with the knowledge of how that race would play out! A $2 wager on the 13–to–1 shot paid $29.80, $14.80 and $9.40.

"I don't think the question needs to be genderized," Krone said when asked how it felt to be the first woman to win a Triple Crown race. "It would feel great to anyone. But whether you're a girl or a boy or a Martian, you still have to go out and prove yourself again every day."

I would say she proved herself.

Krone retired in 1999 with 3,545 career wins, the most ever for a woman. In 2000, she became the first female jockey inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame. She came out of retirement for a year and finished her career with more than 3,700 victories.

Unlimited Budget doesn't face the long odds that Colonial Affair did, but observers believe the winners of the first two races, Orb and Oxbow, are the favorites to win on Saturday.

No comments: