ELMONT, N.Y., June 9 -- Trainer Ken McPeek is not much of a drinker, but after his colt Sarava won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday at odds of 70-to-1, they closed off a banquet room for him at a nearby hotel and threw a little party.
"I had four beers, which were two too many," McPeek said this morning. "We danced on the stairway and they cheered for us at the bar."
McPeek probably was not the only one with a mild post-Belmont hangover this morning. The track record crowd of 103,222 came to witness history, but War Emblem's bid for the Triple Crown ended with a stumble at the start and a fade at the finish.
Trainer Robert Frankel believed his Medaglia d'Oro had put the field away after a mile, only to watch Sarava beat him by a half-length.
Neil Drysdale skipped the Preakness Stakes with Sunday Break in favor of the Peter Pan Stakes, hoping to launch his colt to victory in the same manner he had with A.P. Indy in 1992. They finished third.
Trainer Murray Johnson felt Perfect Drift would be fresh for battle after also skipping the Preakness following a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The colt never picked up his feet and finished 10th.
Laurel Park-based Nancy Alberts hoped her little, overachieving gelding, Magic Weisner, could catch lightning in a bottle twice and replicate his big run in the Preakness. They checked in fourth.
Amid the Triple Crown subplots, McPeek started out the center of attention, was forgotten following the failures of his colt Harlan's Holiday and came out of nowhere with Sarava, who no one gave a chance.
This spring, McPeek emerged with two classics contenders, Repent and Harlan's Holiday. He took a lot of heat for replacing jockey Anthony D'Amico on both mounts with more celebrated riders. Then, Repent went down with an injury while finishing second to War Emblem in the Illinois Derby.
Harlan's Holiday, meantime, won the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, but tailed off in the Derby and Preakness. Last week, the colt's owners removed him from McPeek's care.
Sarava's win in the Sir Barton Stakes on Preakness Day impressed McPeek greatly and he believed War Emblem could not hold his form forever.
"Horses are like strawberries, is the old saying," McPeek said. "They can go bad at any time."
McPeek told jockey Edgar Prado, the former Maryland riding star, to get Sarava into good position and then just let him cruise. "I told him don't move until the quarter pole. My last instructions were, 'Go shock the world.' "
Prado barely had twitched by the quarter pole, and Sarava was dragging him to the front.
"I turned to [owner] Gary [Drake] and said, 'You've won,' " McPeek said.
Notes: Records fell everywhere in the Belmont. The attendance record shattered the mark of 85,818 set in 1999. The on-track handle of $12,045,115 topped the $10,581,093 set last year. And, not surprisingly, the $142.50 for a $2 win bet on Sarava was a record. . . .
Proud Citizen, trained by Wayne Lukas, came out of the race with a crack in his left shin. The trainer said he could miss up to 120 days of training.
"All things considered, this is the best thing we could have hoped for," Lukas said this morning. "He seems comfortable, and we'll give him the time he needs." . . .
Continuing to stamp herself as one of the greatest sprinting fillies of all time, Laurel Park-based Xtra Heat went wire-to-wire to win the $150,000 Vagrancy Handicap. Ridden by regular rider Harry Vega, the 4-year-old Xtra Heat repelled two stiff challenges from Gold Mover and held on to win by a neck, running the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1 minute 16.44 seconds.
Xtra Heat, named the 3-year-old filly champion last year, has won 21 of 27 lifetime starts for trainer John Salzman Sr. and has earned $1,823,305.