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BELMONT STAKES

Touch Gold Now Rolling in Clover

Winner: Owner's pre-race find might have changed his horse's luck.

June 08, 1997|BOB MIESZERSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ELMONT, N.Y. — A discovery made in the paddock Saturday not long before the final leg of the Triple Crown had Frank Stronach feeling good about the possible outcome of the 129th Belmont Stakes.

The prominent Canadian owner-breeder, who raced the Eclipse champion Glorious Song several years ago, found a four-leaf clover.

"When I [saw] that, I knew we had a very good chance," said Stronach, who owns Touch Gold in partnership with Robert McNair's Stonerside Stable.

Certainly, good luck was due Touch Gold. Victimized by one of the worst trips in Preakness history, the Deputy Minister colt had everything go his way Saturday.

Avoiding the nasty stumble at the break that had caused a cracked hoof in the Preakness and the traffic trouble that came later in the race, Touch Gold made no mistakes.

Only the manner in which he won for the fourth time in eight starts was a bit unorthodox.

On the early lead through the expected dawdling fractions, the 5-2 second choice, who raced coupled with sixth-place finisher Wild Rush, dropped back to fourth after a half-mile, but he and jockey Chris McCarron were only biding their time.

Approaching the top of Belmont Park's long stretch, colt and rider angled to the outside--unquestionably, the best part of the track Saturday and for most of the previous week--and, staying far enough away from Silver Charm so that the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner could not spot them, got up to win by three-quarters of a length in 2:28 4/5 for the 1 1/2 miles.

In addition to ending Silver Charm's opportunity to become the sport's 12th Triple Crown champion, Touch Gold justified the opinion of those who felt he would have won the Preakness with a clean journey.

His Belmont victory left Affirmed 19 years ago as still the last to have swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

For trainer David Hofmans, the role of spoiler wasn't anything new. A little more than eight months ago, his Alphabet Soup knocked off heavily-favored Cigar in the two-time Horse of the Year's final race in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Woodbine.

"I think Silver Charm is a good horse who has a chance to be a great horse," Hofmans said. "He was not disgraced at all. A lot of great horses, like Alysheba and Spectacular Bid, have lost going for the Triple Crown. He just ran into a better horse today, and this horse was better in the Preakness.

"I wasn't so sure right after the Preakness that this horse was better, but I am now. [Touch Gold] proved today he's a better horse than Silver Charm, and Silver Charm's a damned good horse."

Long one of the country's top trainers, Hofmans had little concern about the injury to the left front foot that Touch Gold suffered in the Preakness. He also knew what he was doing when he worked the bay only once between the Preakness and Belmont.

Hofmans believes the best of Touch Gold is yet to come. "This horse won at a mile and a half today and he's won at six furlongs, so he's a very versatile, strong horse," he said. "As you can tell, I'm very impressed with him. He's a very good horse and you'll hear a lot more about him down the road.

"He's still a baby and has a lot more growing up to do. He's learning and still developing. He's kind of like a gangly teenager who's developing into a man now."

This was a far more enjoyable ending to the Belmont for McCarron than the one 10 years earlier. In 1987, he was the jockey going for a Triple Crown on Alysheba, but he wound up a distant fourth behind runaway winner Bet Twice.

"Joy is what I'm feeling most right now," said McCarron. "But, as I galloped past the wire, I felt mixed emotions. I just burst the bubble, but I'm thrilled to death to win.

"I looked at the crowd and I saw a whole lot of unhappy faces. It started to sink in, but I'm certainly grateful that I was on the horse that upset the apple cart.

"I know the feeling [of losing the Triple Crown). It's crushing. I was never more confident than I was on Alysheba [going into the Belmont]. I thought he was a mortal lock. I didn't think there was any way he could get beat, but he did and I haven't gotten over it yet."

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