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Sarava winner of the 2002 Belmont Stakes

War Emblem goes to his knees at the start

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The Belmont Stakes

Date: 06/08/02

A record crowd of 103,222 came to Belmont Park on a sunny, cool Saturday hoping to witness history being made, as War Emblem attempted to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner. However, they witnessed history of a different kind as Sarava upset the field as the longest shot on the tote board and as the highest-paying horse to win in the history of the Belmont at a whopping $142.50 for a $2 win ticket.

When the gate opened, War Emblem stumbled badly and dropped to his knees, nearly falling, causing him to fall back in the field right away and denying him the early lead and front-running trip he has been known for. Instead, 19-1 shot Wiseman's Ferry led the procession through the first 3/4 mile, setting easy fractions of 24.11 and 48.09 and 1:12.38 before giving way to War Emblem who had been rushed up to the front by this point. But having to come from as far back as fifth place tired him out and he quickly dropped out of contention at the top of the stretch, relinquishing the lead to Medaglia d'Oro who ran the mile in 1:37.01. Medaglia d'Oro held the lead for 1/4 mile after which Sarava, who had been stalking the pace the whole way, made his move and got up to the front. Sarava and Medaglia d'Oro duelled through the final furlong, but the big longshot fought best and held his 1/2 length lead all the way to the wire, with a final time of 2:29.71 for the 1 1/2 mile trip over a fast track. Sunday Break, who was unhurried early, gradually progressed through the field but could not sustain his bid in the stretch and finished third 9 1/2 lengths behind Medaglia d'Oro.

It was ironic that after trainer Ken McPeek went into the Triple Crown with early favorite Repent, who dropped out from injury, and Harlan's Holiday, who was the eaten Derby favorite and then lost to another trainer, he would be the one to break up a Triple Crown in the Belmont. He said after the win, "I believe that when something bad happens to you, something equally as good happens to you. I'll take it any way I can get it. And I got it."

The Belmont Stakes

Purse: $1,000,000     Distance: 1 1/2 miles

Pgm  Horse              Jockey            Win   Place  Show
12   Sarava             Prado          142.50   50.00 22.40
 8   Medaglia d'Oro     Desormeaux              16.00 10.60
 5   Sunday Break       Stevens                        7.10

Sarava just holds off Medaglia d'Oro at the finish.
Winning Time: 2:29.71 $2 Exacta 12-8 2,454.00 $2 Trifecta 12-8-5 25,209.00 $2 Superfecta 12-8-5-11 145,334.00

The field breaks from the gate for the Belmont Stakes. Unforunately this view doesn't show War Emblem's bobble.

First time past with Wiseman's Ferry on the lead.

Right at the finish line with Sarava and Medaglia d'Oro fighting it out. Photo courtesy of Eugene Viti

The Belmont champ returns after the race. Jockey Edgar Prado said, "We went into the race thinking positive. We knew that he could turn it around. He turned it around today. The horse was very sharp. He was very calm. We were in a good position all the way around. When I called on him he responded well. It is like a dream come true."

Sarava takes his walk down Victory Lane to the winner's circle.

Sarava with his blanket of carnations being led by trainer Ken McPeek through the crush in the winner's circle.

The happy connections accept the trophy from New York Governor George Pataki. Gary Drake, founder of Sarava's ownership group New Phoenix Stable, said, "It was a surprise, but it wasnít a surprise because the horse was touting himself to us. The horse paid $75 the day he broke his maiden at Churchill Downs, so heís used to people not paying attention to him."

Beaten favorite War Emblem in the paddock. Jockey Victor Espinoza said, "The problem was at the start. He stumbled at the start. He almost fell down. All the way around, I was having plenty of room to get around. I lost everything at the start." Trainer Bob Baffert said, "Next time I win the Derby, Iím going home. I feel very lucky to have found this horse before the Derby. I feel very lucky to be here. But I feel empty. I feel like I let the fans down. The hardest loss I had, compared to this, was when I got beat a nose in the Derby (in 1996) because I never thought I would get there again. The fans here did not get a chance to see the real War Emblem. It just goes to show you how lucky we were in the first two. I know he is a great horse and he showed that. We just had bad racing luck today."

Sarava in the paddock while he was still being dismissed as a 70-1 longshot.

Second place finisher Medaglia d'Oro leaving the paddock for the track. Trainer Bobby Frankel said, "It was a great race. We got beat, plain and simple. But second in the Belmont is a great race. I told Kent [jockey Desormeaux] before the race to just be comfortable out there on him. He just galloped along. He put in a great stretch run, but was second best."

Third place finisher Sunday Break. Jockey Gary Stevens said, "Heís still immature; just a baby. In the turn, he was slipping a little bit with me and coming out of the turn he lost his momentum. I had a perfect trip. I donít know whether I was going to beat the top two, but came home good and gave a great performance. I had the horses I was worried about in front of me. I could tell about three and a half furlongs out that War Emblem was done."

The Belmont jockeys stop on the way to the paddock to pose for a class photo with the life size horse statue being auctioned off for the disabled jockey's fund.

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