ELMONT, N.Y., JUNE 6 -- Bet Twice ran away with the $548,600 Belmont Stakes by 14 lengths today, as Alysheba's bid for the Triple Crown ended in ignominy.
Bet Twice was never challenged after jockey Craig Perret took command in mid-race, but he didn't win so easily because he improved upon his second-place efforts in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. His time of 2:28 1/5 for 1 1/2 miles was about as good a performance as he displayed in Baltimore.
Bet Twice was able to dominate mostly because Alysheba ran poorly. Some purists may say Alysheba was defeated by the forces of history, that a colt with his moderate credentials didn't deserve to join the ranks of the immortals who have won the Triple Crown. More likely, Alysheba proved that he couldn't run effectively without the aid of the diuretic Lasix, which he used for all his victories as a 3-year-old but which is prohibited here.
Alysheba was hurt further by some bad luck on the turn, and it cost him dearly. On the basis of the point system governing the Triple Crown races, he could lose the $1 million bonus for the best overall performance only if he finished out of the money and Bet Twice won. That's what happened -- in excruciating fashion.
Alysheba lost in a three-horse photo finish for second place by a nose and a neck. Cryptoclearance finished second and Gulch got up in the final stride to be third. On a point system of five for a win, three for second and one for third, Bet Twice ended up with 11 points, one more than Alysheba.
After Alysheba came Shawklit Won, Gone West, Avies Copy, Manassa Jack and Leo Castelli.
Alysheba also became the 11th 3-year-old to win the first two races of the Triple Crown and meet defeat in the Belmont.
The 119th Belmont drew a crowd of 64,772 -- the largest here since Affirmed beat Alydar -- largely because of Alysheba's bid for the $5 million Triple Crown bonus and trainer Woody Stephens' bid for a sixth straight Belmont victory with Gone West.
If the outcome was somewhat surprising, the early stages of the race developed as expected. There was no bona fide speed horse in the field, and so Gone West went to the front, trying to set slow fractions. Stephens knew that was his colt's best chance to handle the 1 1/2-mile distance.
Jockey Eddie Maple's strategy worked briefly, as Gone West had the lead after a quarter mile in 24 2/5 seconds. But when long shot Avies Copy rushed past him, his plans were foiled. Meanwhile, Perret had Bet Twice sitting in perfect position behind two horses he knew were likely to collapse.
"When those two horses took off, I was comfortable sitting behind them," Perret said. "We had decided that when I went to the leaders I was really going to let him roll and open up as much as we could. That was our only change in tactics."
At the midway point of the race, Perret made that move. Gone West had drawn abreast of Avies Copy, but Bet Twice exploded past them and immediately put a big gap between himself and the rest of the field. "He just blew by us," Maple said.
Alysheba tried to chase him, in vain. "He just didn't fire when I asked him," jockey Chris McCarron said. But the son of Alydar still could have been second -- and should have.
On the turn, Alysheba had Cryptoclearance and the tiring Gone West in front of him, and got trapped between the two of them instead of driving past them. "That happened because he didn't respond when I asked him," McCarron said. The jockey had to steady his mount, losing a costly couple of lengths.
There was no suspense in the stretch about who was going to win. "I wasn't worried," Perret said. "He was kicking away from them easily."
The battle for second provided the drama. Alysheba regained momentum and drew close to Cryptoclearance, looking momentarily as if he had clinched an in-the-money finish, but Gulch came flying down the middle of the track to knock him out of a $1 million payoff.
Bet Twice thus earned $1,329,160 -- the bonus plus the normal winner's share of the purse. He paid $18, $5 and $3.80 to his backers. Cryptoclearance returned $4.80 and $3.80 and Gulch paid $4.40 to show. The exacta was worth $77.80.
Jack Van Berg, Alysheba's trainer, graciously came to the press box after his horse's poor showing and immediately was asked how he felt.
"I'm feeling about $100,000 short," he said, referring to the 10 percent of the Triple Crown bonus that he would have collected. He said he wasn't terribly disappointed by his colt's showing.
"He didn't have a bad day -- he got beat two noses for second. The pace was slow and he probably should have been closer early. Chris told me after the race, 'Jack, I used poor judgment today.' "
But McCarron's judgment doesn't account for Alysheba's generally lifeless performance. Lasix seems to be the most likely explanation for it. Alysheba had suffered from respiratory problems earlier this year, and didn't develop into a top 3-year-old until he underwent a throat operation, and was treated with the medication in his subsequent races. Van Berg insisted all week that deprivation of the drug wouldn't hurt Alysheba, and he said after the race that he didn't think it mattered.
However, there is no other logical way to explain the results of this Triple Crown series, and they reflect the ambiguity created by the different medication rules in different states.
If this were the premedication era, Bet Twice might be hailed today as a Triple Crown winner.
One of the top 2-year-olds of last season, he had lost status briefly after a dull performance in the Florida Derby. But trainer Jimmy Croll never lost confidence and managed him effectively through all of the classic races; Bet Twice gave the same solid, workmanlike performance in each.
He has to be considered now as the top 3-year-old colt in America -- at least in places where Alysheba can't use medication.