Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
One of the giant-killers is Ed Anthony, the Arkansas lumberman who owned the unforgettable Temperence Hill when he splashed through the mud in the 1980 Belmont to beat the Kentucky Derby heroine, Genuine Risk, at 53-1. Some of us who were there that day still have not recovered.
The other party pooper is trainer Ken McPeek, who wreaked even more havoc 10 years ago when he saddled Sarava to win the Belmont and wreck War Emblem’s Triple Crown hopes. Sarava hit the board at better than 70-1, and the $142 win dividend remains the biggest payoff ever in the race.
LONG-SHOT HOPE: Atigun, according to trainer Ken McPeek, is “hitting on all cylinders” as he prepares to take on Triple Crown threat I’ll Have Another in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
On Saturday, they are teaming up to send Atigun to the post and the experts have written him off as a 30-1 no-hoper — just as they did with Sarava in 2002. And just to complicate things, McPeek might send a second 30-1 long shot no-hoper, Unstoppable U, to the gate.
There’s a strong temptation to kiss off Atigun (named after a mountain pass in Alaska) because he has won only a maiden race and two optional claimers. How do you bet a horse like that against a proven commodity like I’ll Have Another, who has won the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness?
Well, that’s where it gets tricky. In his last start, a month ago at Churchill Downs, Atigun roared from off the pace to win a $100,000 optional claimer, going away. And that is almost an exact duplicate of Sarava’s prep for his Belmont.
Sarava won a little-noticed stake on the undercard at Pimlico on Preakness Day that year. No one paid any attention. Then he rolled home to win the Belmont at a record mutuel.
So here is Ken McPeek, back at the same old stand, plotting to derail yet another Triple Crown prospect with yet another bomb. At the barn yesterday, after Atigun cruised through a comfortable half-mile in 48 seconds, McPeek offered this encouragement: “If I’ll Have Another does not run his race, anything can win this Belmont.”
It wasn’t necessary for him to include Atigun.
“This horse is hitting on all cylinders,” he said. “He’s doing fantastic. He’s working well, eating well, he loves the track, he’s in peak form. He’s going to be in it.”
Recalling their earlier exploits at Belmont, McPeek laughed.
“I like to say we’ve both tasted that wine and it was good,’’ he said. “Why wouldn’t you want to come back?”
McPeek’s other possible, if unlikely, Belmont starter, Unstoppable U, also worked yesterday, getting five furlongs in 1:03. The horse is unbeaten in two starts, winning his last by more than six lengths at Belmont over a mile. But two races is very thin conditioning for the mile-and-a half Belmont.
“He was very sloppy on his leads the last time we worked him,” McPeek said. “He’s not doing what he needs to do. I think changing leads in the Belmont is crucial because it’s such a long race.
“But I’m going to wait till Wednesday [entry time] before I decide. I’m going to watch him in the next few days. He’s a really talented horse but he’s not seasoned.”
Aside from his Sarava shocker, McPeek’s biggest splashes in the business are his $57,000 purchase of Curlin, who went on to be Horse of the Year twice. And McPeek paid $45,000 for an unraced Brazilian colt, who turned out to be Einstein, who went on to win five Grade 1 races and $2.9 million in purses.
Now he’s into something even bigger. He has brought to market a horse racing app for iPhones, which provides instant information on every conceivable facet of horse racing — entries, results, horses, owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, video — no matter when, where or how.
Called Horse Races NOW, it’s an unbelievable invention that may revolutionize the game, especially with young people. It already has attracted 20,000 customers in 58 countries.
Looks like another long-shot winner to me, maybe to go alongside Atigun.