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A Sweet Ending for Lemon Drop Kid Owners

Belmont: Laddie Dance and Jeanne Vance, husband and wife, also had a share of Secretariat in 1973.

June 06, 1999|BOB MIESZERSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ELMONT, N.Y. — Twenty-six years earlier, the tears came sooner for Laddie Dance.

Along with wife Jeanne Vance, he owned a share in Secretariat, purchased when owner Penny Chenery syndicated the colt after her father's death.

Watching perhaps the greatest single performance by a thoroughbred in the 1973 Belmont Stakes was too much for Dance, a retired horse auctioneer. He broke down even before Secretariat finished off a 31-length victory. "I didn't see the finish because I was crying," he said.

He remembered being overwhelmed by what he calls "the greatest sports event I've ever witnessed."

On Saturday, his emotions didn't get the best of him until after the wire when Lemon Drop Kid's $61.50 stunner in the Belmont Stakes was reality.

A $200,000 yearling purchase in 1997 by Dance and Vance, who were married, divorced and later remarried, Lemon Drop Kid became the latest to thwart a Triple Crown sweep.

But unlike the previous two years, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner didn't finish second.

The saga of Charismatic ended sadly--taken away in a van after finishing third with a career-ending injury.

Meanwhile, Vision And Verse, who at 54-1 was nearly twice the price of the winner, finished second in a photo finish, missing by a head.

When possible spoilers were discussed in the days leading up to the 131st Belmont, names such as Best Of Luck, Patience Game and Stephen Got Even were mentioned.

But Scotty Schulhofer, the trainer of Lemon Drop Kid, was quietly confident in his colt, a son of Kingmambo.

Schulhofer, who won his only other Belmont with Colonial Affair in 1993, felt Lemon Drop Kid had legitimate excuses for his three recent defeats.

He had a troubled trip when fifth in the Blue Grass, which was won by Menifee. In the Kentucky Derby, he drew post 19 and checked in ninth. Then, in the Peter Pan Stakes 13 days earlier, he finished third when jockey Jose Santos said he didn't care for the mud.

Named by Vance in honor of a champion show horse from years back, Lemon Drop Kid had done well in the days since the Peter Pan and a quicker-than-anticipated pace helped him to only his second graded stakes win.

The other came last Sept. 20, when he wore down Yes It's True going a mile in the Futurity on this same track.

"He had trained great into this race," said Schulhofer, whose last Belmont starter, Signal Tap, finished fourth in 1994. "You couldn't have had a horse doing any better.

"He came over to the track [today] great and he was cool, calm and collected in the paddock. He was a late foal [he actually turned three on May 28] and just needed a little time to grow up. He peaked on the right day. Everything came together."

Still, even in victory, there was sadness from Schulhofer, Vance and Dance regarding Charismatic's injury.

Not until told by reporters were Lemon Drop Kid's owners even aware of what had happened to the favorite.

"Our hearts go out to the Lewises [Charismatic's owners Bob and Beverly]," Dance said. "I feel very, very badly for them. I hope it's not life-threatening. Let's hope everything will come out fine."

Schulhofer's other Belmont victory was also tainted by tragedy. Prairie Bayou, the 5-2 favorite after winning the Preakness in 1993, broke down and had to be euthanized.

"Naturally, you hate to see a horse get hurt or anything happen to them," he said. "Of course, I would feel much better if [Charismatic's injury] had not happened."

Lemon Drop Kid will get a break now, probably to surface again at Saratoga for either the Jim Dandy or Travers. In the meantime, his owners will savor his biggest win.

"It was an unbelievable feeling," Vance said. "I don't think I've ridden a horse so hard in my life as I did today.

"We've always had confidence in him, just hoping he would prove to us and to others what he can do."

Perhaps, his first Belmont victory was sweetest for Santos. Once one of the top riders in the sport, he has fallen on hard times in recent years.

He had only 77 wins in 1998 and four victories from his first 59 mounts at the current Belmont Park meet.

"The Peter Pan set him up nicely for this," Santos said. "Scotty and I have said all along that he was one of the better 3-year-olds and he proved it today.

"We had a good trip and, at the half-mile pole, I was pretty confident because I had a ton of horse underneath me.

"I worked him on Monday and he worked so well, I was confident all week. He was underestimated, but he proved he belongs with these."

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