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It's Tough to Put a Price on This Win

Belmont: Co-owner tried to sell friends a piece of Sarava but found no takers.


ELMONT, N.Y. — The career of the winner of the 134th Belmont Stakes began in England, at tracks such as Sandown, Lingfield and Doncaster.

That was when Sarava was a 2-year-old. Susan and Paul Roy, a couple from Surrey, England, had bought the Kentucky-bred at auction for $250,000 before he raced. After three starts in England--races in which he was beaten by a combined 29 1/2 lengths--the Roys sent him to a Kentucky-based trainer, Ken McPeek, and brought in Gary Drake of Louisville as a 50-50 partner.

"I have a few friends that may be jumping off a bridge about now," Drake said after Sarava's improbable win in Saturday's Belmont. "I had offered them a piece of this horse, but they weren't interested."

Sarava's Belmont was worth $600,000, for a horse that had earned only $96,851 going into the race. He has now run nine races at eight tracks, winning three and finishing second three times.

McPeek, whose top two horses for the Triple Crown had been Harlan's Holiday and Repent, hadn't thought of Sarava as a Belmont horse as recently as three weeks ago. But Drake urged him to run the colt in the $79,000 Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness day, and after that the Belmont became more of a possibility.

Meantime, Harlan's Holiday was a bust in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and Repent was injured in the Illinois Derby.

McPeek had started Pineaff in the 1999 Belmont, and suffered through a ninth-place disappointment.

"I didn't bring the horse to New York until late," McPeek said. "He ran embarrassingly bad, but I came away with a nugget: The next time I was going to run a horse in the Belmont, I'd give him plenty of time to acclimate to the track."

Sarava was flown to New York last weekend, a few days before War Emblem and some other Belmont horses.

Sarava paid $142.50, a Belmont record, for a $2 win bet. The day he broke his maiden, at Churchill Downs in November of last year, he paid $75.

"Of course, I was pinching myself when he won today," McPeek said. "This is a horse that was 20 stalls down from my two good ones at Churchill Downs. But I've always liked this horse. He had a great hip when I first saw him, and he's got a long stride and a great turn of foot."

For several months, McPeek and his blacksmiths--Bruce Scott and Bob Brummett--battled a cracked hoof on the inside of Sarava's front foot. When Drake was e-mailed grisly photos of the hoof, he said: "Oh, my God."

"[Brummett] had worked on Cigar's feet, and he said that Sarava's foot was worse than any of his," McPeek said. "He's got the worst foot of any horse I've ever trained. They carved away one-third of the foot at one point, and he still runs with a [protective] patch."

When Sarava surged to the front in the Belmont, Drake wasn't sure he was watching his horse. But then he turned to his trainer in the box seats and a screaming McPeek said: "We're gonna win it!"


Pleasant County, a 4-year-old filly, suffered a fatal skull injury in a two-horse spill in the fourth race at Belmont. The other horse in the accident, Imadeed, was vanned off the track with fractures of both sesamoid bones in her right front leg.

John Velazquez, who rode Imadeed, reinjured a knee that he hurt in a Friday spill. Not scheduled to ride in the Belmont, Velazquez took off the rest of his mounts.

Eibar Coa, who rode Pleasant County, was not injured.


In other stakes at Belmont, Beat Hollow, ridden by Alex Solis for trainer Bobby Frankel and one of only two favorites to win on the 12-race card, beat Forbidden Apple by two lengths in the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap; Explicit, also favored, won the $250,000 True North Handicap; Gygistar was the winner of the $200,000 Riva Ridge Stakes; and Babae beat Tates Creek by a neck in the $200,000 Just A Game Handicap.

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