Standing on theBelmont Park track moments after his tiny Jazil had roared past 11 rivals towin the Belmont Stakes, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin seemed lost. Should he go tothe horse? The winner's circle? Do an interview with ABC? Surrounded byphotographers and strangers wanting to congratulate him, McLaughlin asked noone in particular, "Where do we go now?"
He could've beenspeaking for an entire sport. Six times in the previous nine years the Belmontdrew attention beyond racing circles as horses tried (in vain) to complete theTriple Crown. But this year the race lacked Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro,whose shattered right hind leg remains in a cast, and Preakness victorBernardini, who is resting for a campaign later in the year, as well as thewinners of virtually every major 3-year-old race in 2006. The day before theBelmont, Bob Baffert, trainer of eighth-place finisher Bob and John, dubbed therace "the Test of the Leftovers."
And so it felt.Ratings for the ABC broadcast were 3.8, down 38% from last year when there wasalso no Triple Crown at stake. And on a windy but sunny day on Long Island, thecrowd was a little more than 61,000, roughly half the record set in 2004.
None of thisspoiled the moment for McLaughlin or Jazil's jockey, Fernando Jara (above, withMcLaughlin). The 18-year-old Panamanian put in a masterly ride in which hethreaded Jazil (last at the half-mile marker) through traffic along the farturn before letting him loose at the top of the stretch.
For the45-year-old McLaughlin, who puts in a full day at the barn while battlingmultiple sclerosis, the Belmont was the culmination of a dream he has had sinceage 12, when, back in Lexington, Ky., he wrote a school paper predicting thathe would become a trainer. Now he has a 12-year-old son who is a fineprognosticator: Before the Belmont, Ryan McLaughlin gave Dad the trifecta ofJazil, Bluegrass Cat and Sunriver, which paid $436.
Asked if he wouldhave preferred to have faced Barbaro and Bernardini, McLaughlin smiled andsaid, "No, I'm glad they were eating their dinner at post time." ButJazil may get to meet Bernardini. Jazil's owner, Dubai Sheik Hamdan, is thebrother of Bernardini's owner, Sheik Mohammed, and both horses are beingpointed toward the Travers at Saratoga in August. America may get an intriguing3-year-old race yet.