The 93rd runningof the Belmont Stakes at the antiquated but always-beautiful old Long Islandplant was geared for a victory by Carry Back—the choice of the people, theexperts and even a former President of the U.S.
The day wascloudy at the start, drizzly as it wore on. But the weather did not bother thecustomers. More than 50,000 showed up to see if Carry Back would pull one ofhis electrifying runs from way back, the kind that had brought him hometriumphantly in the Flamingo, the Florida Derby, the Kentucky Derby and thePreakness. Co-owner, Trainer and Breeder Jack Price, more nervous than he'dbeen since the pre-Triple Crown days at Hialeah, admitted, in anout-of-character statement: "I want to win the Belmont more than any otherrace in the world." Katherine Price, who does not lose her poise even underthe most trying conditions, added, "I think Carry Back is deserving enoughto win. I just hope we are deserving enough, too."
When the Priceswere introduced to former President Eisenhower, who was attending a race trackfor the first time in 15 years, Ike wished them luck and meant it. "My goodfriend Bob Kleberg has a horse in this race," he told them, "but I'dsort of like to see a Triple Crown winner." The huge crowd, too,contributed to the drama, whooping and hollering for the Eisenhowers andcheering, praying for and betting the Prices' horse. Carry Back went to thepost at odds of 2 to 5—a mathematical circumstance that brought superstitiousKatherine Price to further thought. "I usually jinx the other horses bybetting against Carry Back," she said, and then explained she had brought$80 to the track to bet $10 each on her eight rivals. Later Jack Price sadlynoted that she hadn't had time to bet—which, he joked, "cost her $600 andprobably cost me the race!" Neither of them felt well about it.
As for CarryBack, he evidently felt well enough going into the race, not so well near theend of it—and was decidedly lame 24 hours later. At the finish he was soundlytrounced, beaten by more than 14 lengths and seventh to a dark bay 65-to-1 shotnamed Sherluck. Carry Back had beaten Sherluck by six lengths in the Derby andby nine in the Preakness. The Belmont result made sense only to those who said,"Every horse in the world has to throw in a bad one once in a while, andtoday was Carry Back's bad one."
June 11, 1961
Not to take anycredit away from Sherluck, who won Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes in excellenttime, this was both a heartbreaker and a tear-jerker of a race. As the crowdstormed the mutuel windows to put their money on Carry Back, there was anunmistakable mood that drove them. They all seemed to be saying, "We mayalso bet other horses, because the odds are too good to turn down, but we'reall hoping that Carry Back wins. He's obviously the best horse."
It was just thatsort of day—gloomy, but electric with hope and anticipation. When Jockey JohnSellers came out to climb aboard Carry Back the Belmont crowd—which normallyregards sentiment as foreign to horse racing—actually cheered him and hismount. The other eight horses drew hardly any notice.
When the fieldbroke from the gate, the expected happened at first. Globe-master, renowned forspeed, shot to the front, while Sherluck took off after him like a little boywho didn't want to be left behind by his best friend. Then came Hitting Away,another speedster, and Bal Musette, the unseasoned colt owned by Ike's friendBob Kleberg. Carry Back, as usual, was way back, with Ambiopoise, Flutterby andDr. Miller—all, like himself, late runners. No real excitement yet.
But JockeySellers apparently felt immediately that things weren't going as smoothly asthey should. "There were nine of us jocks in this race," he notedlater, "and it seems that eight of them were watching me. I'm not sayingthat the boys had it in for me. What they did to me was just race-riding. Theydid what they had to do."
What did they do?Well, at the start Sellers, who always takes back on Carry Back anyway, droppedin on the rail to save ground. For the next three-quarters of a mile it seemedthat Bob Ussery on Ambiopoise and Manuel Ycaza on Guadalcanal made absolutelysure that Sellers stayed inside and, furthermore, that he stayed back wherethey wanted him to. "It was rough, to put it mildly," said Sellers."There was a lot of jostlin' going on, and all I can say is that when Iasked for racing room, I did a lot of asking but didn't get much."
High time tomove
Up thebackstretch Globemaster, a gutty colt to say the least, led the way withSherluck right with him. Those who had seen Sherluck fail before expected himto fade shortly. They also expected Globemaster to give way to the corps ofstretch-runners behind him, and as the field neared the far turn every damp andhumid field glass in the place was zeroed in on Carry Back, who was ploddingalong in last place. This was the moment when Sellers would send him into highgear, into one of those outside loop runs which always result in anotherHairbreadth Harry finish.
Nobody was upsetyet, because Carry Back was only seven lengths off the pace, far closer than hehad been in Louisville or Baltimore. He still had half a mile in which tooverhaul rivals presumably far more tired than he. Globemaster was still infront—but he could be discounted because everyone knew he couldn't go adistance. Sherluck was second but he'd stop too, so they said. Hitting Away hadhad it, so had Bal Musette, and now everyone was yelling for Carry Back. He hadfinally emerged from his inside position and Sellers took him wide, as always.Dr. Miller went wide too, carrying the favorite out a little, and suddenlySellers and Carry Back raced around the turn in the now familiar pattern oftheir great stretch runs. A spontaneous scream went up as Carry Back seemed onhis way at last. "I thought at this point," said Price later, "we'dwin by five."
But just assuddenly as he started his serious move, Carry Back stopped it. "I don'tknow what it was," said Sellers, "but after all that jostling in theearly part of it, maybe he just got tired of the whole thing and gave up—forthe first time this year."
The pace-settingGlobemaster was just hanging on, and Sherluck, who was expected to stop cold,never did. He drew away to a two-and-a-quarter-length victory over Globemaster,with Guadalcanal third and Ambiopoise fourth. The winning time of 2:29 1/5 wasalmost three seconds off Gallant Man's track and American record.
Nothing at allshould be taken away from Sherluck's triumph. He has shown real ability in somestarts this year. His Belmont victory was engineered by Panamanian JockeyBraulio Baeza. In the winner's circle, the deadpan Baeza celebrated like abullfighter, spraying carnations to the crowd.
Sherluck, ownedby Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Sher of Miami and trained by the veteran Harold Young,was bought for $10,500 at the Saratoga sales, and has now won $162,986, thanksto the $104,900 purse at Belmont on Saturday. "We knew he could run back tohis Keene-land form," said Owner Sher after the race. "It was just aquestion of when."
In the minds ofhorsemen who have watched him for the last five months, it was also a questionof when the courageous Carry Back would choose to "throw in a bad one."Except for a small bruise on his left front ankle, he seemed fine after theBelmont. The next day, however, the ankle filled and was hot, and although thefirst X rays showed no fractures, the injury gave Carry Back a valid enoughexcuse for his lingering stretch run. "I think," said Price, "hemay have struck himself in the rough first turn, but that it didn't bother himuntil he tried extending himself turning into the homestretch."
Katherine Price,graceful in defeat as she is when accepting a trophy, went right to CarryBack's stall and gave him some sugar. "I said you acted human allalong," she said to her hero. "Today you just proved it to us. Ifanybody asks me I'll say it was the Triple Crown weighing so heavily over yourhead." She looked through the grillwork at the little dark-brown colt, andJack Price came and looked too. "Well," he said, "we just lost ourchance for the Triple Crown, but it can't be helped. If Carry Back finally rana bad race he was entitled to it."
The tragedy of itfor his millions of fans is that Carry Back's bad race came just one race toosoon.