For a 14th straight year, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) is conducting fan voting for 2012’s “Moment of the Year” at www.ntra.com and once again there’s no shortage of nominees.
There are 12 possibilities, ranging in chronological order from Rosie Napravnik becoming the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks (G1) to Shackleford closing out his career with a victory in the Clark Handicap (G1). There are some excellent choices and if the vote was for the Split Second of the Year it would certainly be that instant when Alpha and Golden Ticket hit the wire together for the first dead heat in the Travers (G1) since 1874.
But we’re talking about a moment or an experience and if there was one that will outlast all of the others in racing lore it would have to be No. 4: “On the eve of a highly anticipated Triple Crown bid, I’ll Have Another is scratched from the Belmont Stakes (G1).”
Better yet, a more accurate answer would be the lead-in and running of the 2012 Belmont Stakes.
In more than 40 years of following horse racing, I’ve seen Triple Crown sweeps and Triple Crown near-misses. Undefeated horses and those that miss out on perfection in the final strides of their final race. Wins by a nose and wins by 31 lengths.
Never, though, has there been anything to match the cascade of emotions rolled into this year’s Belmont Stakes.
When night fell on Belmont Park on Thursday, June 7, two days before the Belmont Stakes, everything was in place for an epic moment. I’ll Have Another needed a successful mile and a half jaunt around beautiful Belmont to become the 12th Triple Crown champion and anticipation was at a fever pitch for the first sweep in 34 years.
I'LL HAVE ANOTHER WORKS TOWARDS HISTORY WITH A KENTUCKY DERBY WIN
The following day, Belmont Stakes eve, is normally as quiet as a church mouse but that particular day a murmur in the morning turned into an uproar at noon. Whispers that something was amiss with I’ll Have Another sparked a media frenzy that culminated with a wild scene in Belmont’s stable area where it was hastily announced that the Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner was being retired with a tendon injury.
For the first time in recent modern racing history, a Triple Crown bid was not stopped by fatigue or a fresh rival. A misjudged ride or a muddy track. It was thwarted by an injury that prevented a hopeful from walking into the starting gate.
In an instant all of the drama came out of the Belmont Stakes like the suspense from a movie when a spoiler alert is ignored. Yet the Belmont Stakes proved to be anything but anti-climactic.
The race was a dazzler, with the pacesetting Paynter leading at the quarter pole. In the stretch, he turned aside a bid from the outside by Atigun, but then John Velazquez drove Union Rags through a narrow hole on the rail to win in dramatic fashion by a neck.
UNION RAGS COMES UP THE RAIL TO NAB PAYNTER IN BELMONT STAKES
For the connections of the runner-up it marked a Triple Crown sweep in the heartbreak department. With Paynter encountering the same fate as Bodemeister in the Derby and Preakness, owner Zayat Stables, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith had finished second in all three legs of the series.
Yet for a race that was rocked with such a bitter dose of disappointment on its eve, there at least some redemption. As it turned out, there was an uplifting sensation in seeing that it was won by trainer Michael Matz, whose last Triple Crown victory had come with the ill-fated Barbaro in the 2006 Kentucky Derby.
Union Rags’ owner, Phyllis Wyeth, was also a highly deserving winner. At the age of 71, she has spent nearly 50 years dealing with the crippling effects of a car accident that now has her restricted to a wheelchair. Yet she has never allowed her handicap to dominate her life and her indomitable will has made her an inspiration to all who know her.
Together Matz and Wyeth provided a happy ending, something that seemed impossible a day earlier. It was quite a moment. A moment of the year – and a lot more than that.
What are your thoughts? Check out the list at www.ntra.com and let’s hear which one is your moment of the year.