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When Smarty Jones won the Preakness, veteran jockey Gary Stevens, who finished second riding Rock Hard Ten, said the horse “really reminded me of Secretariat the way he pulled away. I think we are seeing history.”

All that was in the way of history was the 1.5 mile stretch of track at Belmont Park. America was poised to celebrate and embrace the next Triple Crown winner. This was the one.

And then a 36-1 longshot messed it up for everyone.

When Birdstone edged out Smarty Jones to win the 2004 Belmont Stakes, America groaned.

The winning jockey, Edgar Prado, apologized. “I am very sorry I had to do this,” he told reporters after winning the Belmont Stakes.

The winning trainer, Zito, said the outcome was sad. “It’s sad because Smarty is great for racing,” he said.

The crowd booed the Whitneys, owners of Birdstone, during the post-race interview.

“We really love Smarty, and I think that Smarty Jones has done so much for racing and the racing community,” Birdstone owner Marylou Whitney said.

It was like nothing we had ever seen before. Imagine the Miami Heat apologizing for defeating the San Antonio Spurs for the NBA title last season. Imagine Russell Wilson apologizing for beating Peyton Manning in last year’s Super Bowl.

I doubt if anyone is going to apologize Saturday if they beat California Chrome. And if the horse wins and we finally have a Triple Crown champion, it will be duly noted in history.

But destiny was cheated in 2004. This should have been Smarty Jones’ place in history.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com