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Thunder Gulch Wins Belmont, Puts Lukas on Top

By Vinnie Perrone
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 11, 1995

ELMONT, N.Y., JUNE 10 -- Thunder Gulch finished first today in the slowest Belmont Stakes in a quarter-century. What a time it was for trainer Wayne Lukas.

Pestered by Star Standard for much of the race, Thunder Gulch left his fiery challenger in the Belmont Park stretch and emerged with a two-length victory. A crowd of 37,171 saw history revised as the spunky little chestnut colt gave Lukas a record fifth straight win in a Triple Crown race. Lukas also became the first trainer to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes with different horses.

Lukas, typically generous in speech, found few words in the immediate aftermath. "I'm a little bit overwhelmed," he said.

On a cloudy day, Thunder Gulch again took steps to escape the shadow of Preakness winner Timber Country, his exalted stablemate. Timber Country, a heavy favorite in the $692,400 Belmont, was withdrawn on Friday because of a fever that has since passed.

"When we got down to one {horse} today, we knew we had to have it all on this little horse's shoulders," Lukas said.

And the Kentucky Derby winner bore it well as the 3-to-2 favorite. With Gary Stevens upon him, the 3-year-old son of Gulch overcame all the speed and antics Star Standard could muster in a lusty showdown.

When it was over, the infield odds board revealed Thunder Gulch as the slowest Belmont winner since 1970. On a fast track, Thunder Gulch finished 1 1/2 miles in 2 minutes 32 seconds; Tabasco Cat won the race for Lukas last year in 2:26 4/5.

For owner Michael Tabor, the only relevant number was 415,440, the number of dollars he made with Thunder Gulch's sixth career victory and fourth this year.

"It's some thrill," Tabor said.. "The dream lives on."

For Star Standard trainer Nick Zi\to, the Belmont remained a darting butterfly. In the past six runnings, Zito has saddled the second-place finisher four times.

Furious with Julie Krone's ride on Suave Prospect in an 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Zito gave the jockey explicit instructions today: Get to the lead from the far outside and try to slow the pace. Krone, the only woman to have ridden the winner of a Triple Crown race, took him literally.

She stung Star Standard, in Post 11, with a right-handed whip as soon as the gate doors sprang open for the 127th Belmont and angled to the rail and the lead from the far outside. She cut it so closely, in fact, that Stevens had to ease back on Thunder Gulch momentarily to avoid Star Standard's heels.

After a three-wide run through the clubhouse turn, Thunder Gulch advanced on Star Standard. Midway through the backstretch, amid a slow pace, the front-running Star Standard began to drift away from the rail. For the next three-eighths of a mile, Krone battled to keep Star Standard from taking an outward tack.

Deep into the far turn, more than a quarter-mile from the finish, Thunder Gulch moved directly alongside Star Standard as nine pursuers trudged well behind them. Krone tugged the reins left-handed in a bid to keep Star Standard from bearing out and impeding Thunder Gulch, with marginal success. Star Standard did nudge Thunder Gulch and carried him out at the start of the homestretch.

"He was just getting out a little bit," Krone said. "Sometimes horses do quirky things like that. He was so gritty; there was one point where I really thought he might reach over and bite at him."

Thunder Gulch slowly moved ahead of Star Standard in midstretch, and a furlong later Stevens gave a triumphant hoist of the whip left-handed.

Zito praised the winner and lauded Krone. "She really proved herself as a jockey today," he said.

Citadeed, the Peter Pan Stakes winner, finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Star Standard in third.

For all the touting Lukas had done for Timber Country, Thunder Gulch became the sensation of this year's Triple Crown races. He missed becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner by three-quarters of a length, the distance he finished behind Timber Country in the Preakness. Thunder Gulch actually was third that day, nosed out of second by Oliver's Twist.

"I'm very, very happy," Lukas said, "and very, very satisfied today."

Triggered by Tabasco Cat's victories in the 1994 Preakness and Belmont, Lukas had approached this Belmont with wins in four straight Triple Crown races, tying him with record-holder Lucien Laurin. After Thunder Gulch took Lukas to higher ground today, the trainer looked ahead to next year's Kentucky Derby.

"One of the colts that we're really, really high on is Dr. Caton," Lukas said. "So watch for him."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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