This was 20 minutes before the upset, and in Belmont's grassy saddling area, Pleasant Colony was already causing some astonishment. The dark brown of his coat was not merely glistening; it was wet enough to make it appear as if somebody had hosed him down, which they don't do before a race. "Washy," the racetrack folks call it.
It's a condition that often needs interpretation, maybe like a dream. It coud mean nothing at all, or it could be significant. But for certain this wasn't the Pleasant Colony, the unperturbed one, who had won the Derby and the Preakness with no sweat. Was there anything wrong today? "Well," ventured a smarty race writer, "he's never been a few minutes away from winning the Triple Crown."
It was when they reached the starting gate, Pleasant Colony and the other 10 steeds in the Belmont Stakes, that the 4-to-5 favorite went into a noticeable equine pout. Seven times they led him up to to assigned stall 11 and seven times he ducked and balked and would have no part of it.
Perhaps one reason Pleasant Colony refused to cooperate was the presence of a CBS cameraman perched two stalls away with an ominous-looking camera muzzle pointed at him. The balkier the favorite, the better shots CBS was getting for the glory of network television. It was not until the camerman was ordered to move slightly out of range that P.C. designed to join the field in the gate. But did he leave his race there, or in the paddock, or had it been a restive night for him?
He didn't run a good race at all. Heading into the long home stretch he had a clear shot at the winner, the 7-to-1 Summing. Pleasant Colony was running third, a trifling four lengths back, perfect position, yet couldn't bring it off.
It is remembered that, in the Derby, Jorge Velasquez resorted simply to a hand ride in the last 16th to get him home. Today, he was flailing Pleasant Colony, left hand and right hand, and couldn't get him better than third money. He couldn't get him home ahead of Highland Blade, a colt he had licked twice, an now his defeat puts him in the list of Derby-Preakness winners who have faltered in the Belmont. Now there are 10.
Pleasant Colony's surprising defeat was matched after the race by the surprising humility of his trainer, Johnny Campo. In his loud prerace arrogance, Campo had stopped just short of blasphemy in condemning his colt's 10 rivals to a futile chase today.
After the race, Campo said, "The best horse won. . . You can't be sorry. . . That's the name of the game. . . My horse was trying to run but he wasn't gaining ground. . . It happened."
Summing's victory was one to prod a memory that of all the horses who took the track for the post parade, nose to tail and tail to nose, there was only one among them who had ever dealt a defeat to Pleasant Colony. Nine months ago, over this same track, P.C. had finished a laboring 16 lengths behind today's winner. Quickly, it must be noted, that this had been P.C.'s very first race, and he wised up quickly enough to win his second by nine lengths. But Summing was no stranger to the winner's circle in a race against today's big favorite.
Pleasant Colony was running 11th after a half mile, as is his custom, but, near the six-furlong mark, Summing made a sweep that carried him into the lead from sixth. George Martens was getting a relaxed ride and was still high in the saddle, with no apparent need to set down his mount for serious racing to come, as yet.
Nothing seemed to be coming at them, even at one of the slowest paces in the Belmont Stakes' recent history. They had walked through three furlongs in 48:2 and the six furlongs in 1:14. It was dawdling, claiming-horse time, but at the mile mark Pleasant Colony had not closed to within less than six lengths.
Obviously, this was going to be a slow Belmont, a mere 2:29 job. Earlier in the day, fillies with no claim to Belmont Stakes eminence had run the same distance on the turf in 2:29 and a fraction. With the slow pace favoring the slow runners, who might have plenty left, it was apparent that Pleasant Colony and Valesquez had best get a move on.
They did race up to sixth place nearing the mile and now, coming around the last bend, Valesquez and his stretch-running mount were third, perfectly positioned to take it all. Wasn't this how they had won the Derby and the Preakness?
But today they were to learn they were a beaten pair. Highland Blade, who had moved up in the same rush with P.C. at the mile mark, was now edging in front of him as they straightened out for the final dash.
There they were: Summing on the rail, Highland Blade on the outside and Pleasant Colony in the middle. First he would catch Highland Blade and then get to Summing. That was a delusion. In the finishing strides, it was Highland Blade that Summing had to beat off, winning by a neck. A length and a half back was the third place finisher -- the latest casualty of Triple Crown history.