- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

ELMONT, N.Y. The Belmont Stakes proved memorable yesterday, but only for the 1 percent of winning bettors.
Sarava, at 70-1, became the biggest long shot victor in 134 runnings as War Emblem's bid for the Triple Crown evaporated with a bad step leaving the starting gate. The stunned Belmont Park record crowd of 103,222 was left to cheer the long shot's stretch duel victory after War Emblem faded badly on the final turn.
So much for ending the 24-year Triple Crown drought. War Emblem wasn't just beaten by a worthy contender his eighth-place finish was the worst ever by a Triple Crown seeker. The Kentucky Derby-Preakness Stakes winner led for only a few strides with a half-mile remaining.
"From the start, this horse was doomed,'' said War Emblem trainer Bob Baffert. "The poor horse was trying so hard. He had to struggle. He couldn't go anywhere. He had to be some kind of mechanical horse to overcome that."
War Emblem nearly fell to his knees leaving the starting gate. The costly mistake left the usual front-runner several lengths back for fourth after never winning when worse than second early. Opposing jockeys knew the colt was vulnerable and bunched together entering the backstretch to leave War Emblem with no running room.
It was the break the field of 11 competitors knew they needed, and there was no mercy for War Emblem after he had defeated six of them in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. The only question was who would benefit most.
Wiseman's Ferry was supposed to be capable of stealing the race with his early speed, but he suddenly tired after one-half mile. Preakness runner-up Magic Weisner showed nothing special, and Sunday Break was much farther back than expected.
Instead, Sarava wore down Medaglia d'Oro in the stretch for a one-half length victory, covering 1 miles in a respectable 2:39 3/5 under former Maryland jockey Edgar Prado.
"I am pinching myself? Who wouldn't at 70-1?" said Sarava trainer Ken McPeek. "But I've had enough horses in this category to feel it out. I've always been impressed with him from the beginning.''
Sarava was a failed former British runner whose only major U.S. victory was in the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on the Preakness undercard. Only 1 percent of Belmont bettors nationwide backed Sarava, who missed the Derby because of a hoof injury. Comparatively, 71-1 Artax Too finished last.
"Of course we were shocked [to win],'' said Gary Drake, Sarava's syndicate manager. "You don't lead one over there at 70-1 and not be shocked when they cross the finish line first. He's used to people discounting him and not giving him attention. I imagine they will give him attention now."
The victory represented resounding redemption for McPeek, whose Harlan's Holiday was sent to another trainer June4 after finishing eighth as the Derby favorite and fourth in the Preakness. McPeek also lost stakes runner Repent to injury in April. Still, the Kentucky horseman persevered with Sarava, who paid $75 in his U.S. debut Nov.21 before three straight seconds in allowance races leading to the Sir Barton.
"We knew Sarava fit some way, [but] I didn't know how," McPeek said. "I thought War Emblem was tailing off a little bit. Horses are like strawberries they can go bad at any time. When [War Emblem stumbled], I thought we had a chance."
Medaglia d'Oro also gained some validation following poor Derby and Preakness efforts. After fading in the first two legs, he was simply outrun in the stretch.
"He ran a strong race throughout," jockey Kent Desormeaux said, "but by the quarter-pole, he really kicked it in."
Laurel Park-based Magic Weisner showed that his Preakness finish wasn't a fluke with a respectable fourth. Jockey Richard Migliore said the colt didn't handle the track well, preventing a stronger late bid.
"We didn't come up perfect, but we did get [$60,000 for fourth], and we did beat War Emblem," trainer Nancy Alberts said. "We didn't think we would win it, but we did think about the check."
Proud Citizen suffered a cracked left shin while finishing fifth. The Derby runner-up and Preakness third-place finisher will miss at least three months.

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