ELMONT, N.Y. | As jockey Mike Smith blamed himself for a mistake that led to Paynter’s second-place finish in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, he was keenly aware of just how close he came. For him, trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat, it was the third straight second during this Triple Crown season.
Asked how it felt to be so close, Smith said: “I want to kill myself right now.”
Smith has won in this spot before, but it was more pain after just barely losing to I’ll Have Another aboard Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness.
“I’m proud of both horses; their efforts were magnificent,” he said. “I’m just not too proud of myself right now.”
Another near-miss was painful all around the Paynter camp. The 4-to-1 third choice in the wagering led for much of the race, just as Bodemeister did in his pat two races.
It wasn’t to be, as Union Rags sneaked by along the rail to deliver another dose of heartache.
“Is there a Triple Crown for seconds? I need a Triple Crown for seconds,” Baffert said. “I really thought he was going to win today. He was doing so well. I just feel bad for Mr. Zayat. The poor guy, he’s been tortured on this Triple Crown. Turning for home, I knew we had the horse to do it and that horse snuck up on him there. He’s still a young horse, still learning how to run. It’s over. When you get beat, you get beat.”
Getting beat is all too familiar for those folks.
“Heartbreaking defeat. A heartbreaking defeat. He ran his guts out,” Zayat said. “What do they call that race, the ‘Test of the Champion?’ To go a mile and a half the way he did, in only his fourth race, I am very lucky to have him.”
Trainer Dale Romans, who has experience working with Zayat, was upset about his own horse, Dullahan, losing, but had sympathy for Paytner’s owner.
“If anybody deserves a Triple Crown win, a Classic win, it’s Ahmed Zayat,” Romans said. “Three seconds in the Derby and then all three Triple Crown races with two different horses. He’s got a great program and he’s doing a lot of things right. He deserves a win.”