Belmont day was to have been one of those rare occasions when great turf history would be unfolded: the winning of the classic Belmont Stakes at a mile and a half—and with it the Triple Crown—by Calumet Farm's Tim Tam, that seemingly invincible colt whose honesty and skill at his work recalled only the finest of our true champions. But Belmont Day instead turned into a day of delightedly surprised Irish faces when Cavan romped home a six-length winner—and a day of doleful tragedy when Tim Tam, after turning for home head and head with Cavan and ready at the top of the stretch to make his run for the wire one of the most unforgettable of the season, suddenly fractured a bone in his right foreleg and eliminated himself from any chance of bringing off Calumet's third Triple Crown sweep.
In the electrifying swiftness of any horse race it is difficult for even the trained eye of the expert to focus accurately on the wide panorama of distant action. And so it is doubtful that more than a very few in the packed stands (those few who daily live and work with these exquisitely delicate animals) could have diagnosed the trouble with Tim Tam as Cavan drew out with style and class to win the Belmont; probably not many more appreciated the tremendous courage that welled up inside Tim Tam, drawn from intangible reserves built up by generations of the purest racing blood, and urged this young colt to run nearly all of the last quarter of a mile in a distress so obviously painful that he could have been excused for pulling himself up rather than running his heart out in a losing cause.
This 90th Belmont Stakes will be forever remembered as having been won by a promising fine-looking newcomer and yet lost by a colt who seemed destined from birth for greatness. Notwithstanding Cavan's excellent race, the day belonged to Tim Tam, and before it was over Belmont Day had brought silent sadness to thousands. The sight of any horse breaking down is sickening enough, but it hurts a little more when it's the champion going out, hobbling painfully (as Tim Tam did) through a gate far from the crowd, and then being subjected to the stares of sympathetic well-wishers and the non-sentimental touch of the professional healers.
No man felt this tragedy quite the way it descended upon Calumet Trainer Jimmy Jones, who is as sound and realistic a philosopher as he is a sound and realistic horseman. A few days before the race a friend had suggested to Jimmy that Tim Tam may have been lucky in winning a few of his races. The comment reminded the Calumet trainer of a remark he had picked up from successful Track Owner Gene Mori. "Somebody asked me if I hadn't, been pretty lucky lately," was the way Mori told it. "And I replied to them that, yes, it did seem funny, but that the harder I worked the luckier I seemed to get."
Nothing ever applied more aptly to Jimmy Jones, who had worked to the bone to bring Tim Tam his championship. As the colt grazed on the grass outside Barn 41 after the leg had been bandaged, Jimmy chatted quietly to a few friends. "I can't stand this happening to any horse, no matter how good he may be, but when it had to happen to Tim Tam it just takes everything out of you." He looked over at his injured horse and, lowering his head, added, "It would make a man cry if he had a cry in him." Later, when Dr. William Wright examined the X-rays, they proved beyond doubt that Tim Tam had sustained a fracture of the sesamoid bone in his ankle—an injury that would sideline him for at least six months and most likely forever—Jones was rightfully a man who did have a cry in him.
During the days just before the race, the nearly unanimous feeling around Belmont Park was that if Tim Tam couldn't win the big one, the only colt in the field of eight who possibly could was the Irish-bred Cavan, a sturdy, handsome chestnut who had popped out of near obscurity the previous week by running away with the mile-and-an-eighth Peter Pan Handicap.
Jimmy Jones himself had a high respect for Cavan, and in preparing his racing strategy with Jockey Ismael Valenzuela it was Cavan he had foremost in his mind when he said, "I told the boy not to move too soon, because if we got to the front too soon Tim Tam likes to loaf a bit, and then Milo would only have to whip him up all the way home to keep that Cavan from getting to him."
In the other camp, meanwhile, the air was full of Irish optimism. Cavan's Boston owner, Joseph E. O'Connell, had awakened each morning last week with the firm conviction, so he happily announced to his pretty wife, that Cavan was going to win. His trainer, Tom Barry, by some coincidence, had the same sort of feeling and good logic to justify it. "This horse has the sort of breeding to go any distance you can name," said Barry. "What's more, he's been lightly raced up to now and is just coming into his own." Barry and Jockey Pete Anderson also had a few surprises in store for Calumet or any other rivals who may have thought that Cavan would run from way out of it (in the Peter Pan, Cavan trailed by 14 lengths and won by four). "My orders to Pete," said the smiling Irishman later, "were to try and stay two lengths ahead of Tim Tam and forget what everybody else was doing. Every time Tim Tam made a move on us, Pete was to let Cavan out another notch. By my count, Tim Tam did try to get by us three times—and three times he missed it."
The third time, of course, was the crucial—and tragic—time. The pair of them had been trailing moderately well off the pace set by Page Seven and then by Chance It Tony, but as they went into the far turn both Cavan and Tim Tam let out on the throttle. As they came out of this turn and to the top of the stretch Cavan had skillfully swung through on the inside to take a length-and-a-half lead, but there was Tim Tam ranging up on the outside poised and ready for the duel which was already sending the crowd of 44,000 into a rolling roar that increased in both volume and intensity with each hoof-beat.
Suddenly now the picture changed. Valenzuela, going to his whip, noticed his horse swerving dangerously to the inside. Another crack with the whip and Tim Tam started bearing out. "Up to then he had been going fine," said Milo. "Going great," added Jones. "We were just about head and head with Cavan, and when Milo got into his horse I thought we were all set to roll on by him."
Tim Tam did not, however, roll by. Somewhere up there in the dusty reaches of the far stretch the colt must have taken a bad step. The pain of a fractured bone notwithstanding, he hobbled his way bravely on and, although he never could make up ground on Cavan, he was so much the best of the others that he beat the third horse, Flamingo, by nearly six lengths.
We should be reluctant to detract from Cavan's splendid victory (although his time of 2:30 1/5 was only fair), but it may be too early to hail the Belmont winner as the new leader of his generation. The question will be argued—but never answered—as to what a Tim Tam-Cavan stretch duel would have produced, and, unfortunately for Cavan, good as he may be, his win in this 90th Belmont will always be regarded as a tragedy-marked upset rather than as the best-horse-won type of victory. But Cavan, in this year of generally mediocre 3-year-olds, has a world of opportunity ahead of him. His distance bloodlines (he is by Mossbor-ough out of Willow Ann, by Solario) will stand him in excellent stead when the races lengthen out in the fall, and if this crew of jolly Irishmen elects to face older horses in the rich weight-for-age tests, Cavan can expect to find all the competition any ambitious 3-year-old could ask for. Some that he might have to meet could be Gallant Man, Round Table and Bold Ruler. Just the thought of these races would make a Tim Tam fan weep right now—if there was "a cry in him."
THE BREAK THAT LOST THE BELMONT STAKES
Minutes after the race, Veterinarian Charles Allen aligns equipment to take telling X-ray (below) of injured Tim Tam's right foreleg. Thin black line shows a fracture in the sesamoid bone, one of two bones in horse's ankle. Injury may be caused by putting too much weight on bone while running in off-balance position. A similar injury caused retirement of 1950 Belmont winner, Middleground, after he had won two Triple Crown races. Since sesamoids are not self-knitting, colt is unlikely to race again, but injury will not affect his value as a sire of potential champions.