Belmont Stakes not the same without a Triple Crown at stake

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NEW YORK (AP) A year ago, the joint was jumpin’.

Belmont Park, where Triple Crown hopes have been dashed so many times over nearly four decades, was the center of the sports universe. American Pharoah had done it. Kentucky Derby. Preakness. And now, he had come through with a sensational victory in the Belmont Stakes to claim the first Triple Crown in 37 years. A packed house of 90,000 jubilant fans stood and roared.

“Wow! Wow, is all I can tell you,” were among the first words from winning jockey Victor Espinoza as the cheering grew louder and louder, rocking the rafters of the historic racetrack.

The wow moment of a repeat Triple Crown vanished in the Preakness, when Exaggerator defeated Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Now it’s time for the year-after-Pharoah Belmont next Saturday, with no Triple try, no Nyquist and certainly no sellout.

Just likely favorite Exaggerator against a field that could total 10 3-year-olds when post positions are drawn on Wednesday.

“That’s the only bad thing, and I’m a big fan, too, about beating the Derby winner in the Preakness,” Exaggerator’s trainer, Keith Desormeaux, said during a conference call this week. “You lose a lot of the mainstream media and maybe the casual fans that might turn on the TV to watch a potential Triple Crown event. I’d think we lost a few fans.”

Then again, every year can’t be Triple time because as trainer Dale Romans says, “then it wouldn’t be special and it wouldn’t get all the hype to go along with it.”

Romans, still on the mend from a car accident hours after the Derby last month, will send out Preakness runner-up Cherry Wine and Derby also-ran Brody’s Cause in a bid for his first Belmont win.

“We’ve got to have these years where we don’t have the Triple Crown on the line,” he said, “where we still have a great race and we have a great card.”

And who knows? Exaggerator, a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, may have plenty of victories left in the tank.

After winning the Santa Anita Derby by a smashing 6 1/4 lengths over a sloppy track, he rallied from 15 lengths back to finish second in the Derby. Two weeks later, he ended a personal 0-4 record against undefeated Nyquist with a 3 1/2-length win in the Preakness, also in the slop. He’s won five of 11, with three second-place finishes and earnings of nearly $3 million.

Among Exaggerator’s rivals in the Belmont, Cherry Wine and Derby also-rans including Suddenbreakingnews, Brody’s Cause, Creator and Lani, are closers as well. That could make for a dramatic finish over the longest distance horses are likely to ever run.

“Nobody’s going to tower over the field because the mile-and-a-half is the question,” Romans said, “It’s something no one’s done yet. He should do it with his pedigree, but I don’t think he towers over the field.”

There’s also Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, Keith’s older brother, who has ridden in some of the most memorable Belmonts in the 148-year history of the race. In 1998, he was aboard Real Quiet and was beaten by a nose by Victory Gallop to spoil a Triple try; and in 2008, he surprisingly pulled up Big Brown around the final turn to end another Triple attempt.

No matter how many fans show up on Saturday, though, the “Test of the Champion” usually comes through with a race to remember. For his part, Keith Desormeaux is enjoying the most rewarding time in his 28 years as a trainer with the best horse he’s ever had.

“I am so close to the situation, but it sure seems like Exaggerator has jazzed up some people,” the 43-year-old trainer said. “Maybe they like the name. Or they like his running style, or they like the distance of his wins. Maybe they like this brother-brother thing.

“Hopefully we can get some fans that are not every day fans to come in and watch us compete. And hopefully we could provide them with a good show.”

For the past two years, the New York Racing Association stages a three-day racing festival from Thursday-Saturday, with on-track entertainment, food truck courts and plenty of first-class racing. The Belmont undercard, for example, includes five additional Grade 1s – the Metropolitan Mile, the Acorn, the Manhattan, the Ogden Phipps and the Just a Game. After the races, the band Daughtry will perform.

“We knew we weren’t going to have a Triple Crown every year,” said NYRA President Chris Kay. “That’s why we put in so many Grade 1 races on the card, so this is the place to be whether there’s a Triple Crown or not.”

Romans is impressed.

“NYRA has a done a special job of putting the card together,” he said. “This whole three days is like a mini-Breeders’ Cup, and the race fan is going to have a lot to look forward to.”

Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap

Jockey dies after injury at northeastern Oklahoma racetrack

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CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) Officials say a jockey who was injured during a race at a northeastern Oklahoma track has died.

The Cherokee Nation says jockey Mario Chavez was injured Saturday at Will Rogers Downs after his horse crashed into the inside rail, throwing him to the ground. Gunnar Enlow, whose family owns the farm where the 42-year-old Chavez worked, says Chavez was pronounced dead at the hospital on Sunday.

Chavez bred and raced horses for 26 years in northeastern Oklahoma. He won the Tulsa State Fair stakes in July.

The Cherokee Nation owns and operates the racetrack in Claremore, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Tulsa.

Dettori wins record fifth Arc as Enable caps brilliant season

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CHANTILLY, France — Frankie Dettori won an unprecedented fifth Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday as Enable capped a memorable season.

Enable, the 10-11 favorite, led for most of Europe’s richest horse race to claim her fifth consecutive victory after wins in the Epsom Oaks, the Irish Oaks, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks.

The John Gosden-trained filly won by 2 1/2 lengths over Cloth Of Stars, ridden by jockey Mickael Barzalona and trained by Andre Fabre.

The Michael Stoute-trained Ulysses, ridden by Jim Crowley, was another length and a quarter back in third.

“I said to John last week she is the best she has ever been. To keep this filly at 100 percent all year is fantastic,” Dettori said. “I had position `A’, I knew I had no weight and she stays, so I kicked and she gave me four lengths and the race was over.

“She’s amazing and is an absolute freak. I love her. John is a genius.”

It was Dettori and Gosden’s second Arc win in three years, after the popular Italian won on Golden Horn.

Dettori’s victory comes 22 years after his first triumph in the 1 +-mile race.

The 3-year-old Enable made a fast start from stall two and Dettori always had her well positioned behind Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Idaho and Order Of St George, before pulling away inside the final two furlongs

“She showed an impressive turn of foot and acceleration to kill the field. She has amazing ability,” Gosden said. “Frankie got her in a great position. He’s pretty good for an old jock!”

The race will return to its usual home at Longchamp in 2018 after a two-year absence due to renovations, and Gosden hopes Enable will be there.

“She has only raced for 10 months of her life. She had one little run last November, but really she’s only had one season of racing,” Gosden said. “There would be every reason to keep her in training next year as a 4-year-old, particularly with the new Longchamp opening.

“That would be exciting – to try to win the Arc on two different tracks.”