ELMONT, N.Y., JUNE 6 -- With about a quarter-mile remaining in today's Belmont Stakes, Chris McCarron tightened his grip on Alysheba's reins, and a million dollars slipped away.

It happened around the final turn. As Bet Twice extended his lead with every stride, Alysheba rallied into third place, with Cryptoclearance on his outside flank.

While McCarron looked for room to maneuver, the struggling Gone West slowed in front of him, causing McCarron to pull back on Alysheba and veer to the right, brushing Cryptoclearance.

Momentum escaped him for a heartbeat; by the time Alysheba regained stride, Cryptoclearance had surged two lengths ahead of him, and Bet Twice was a distant blur.

Even then, McCarron was not thinking about the million-dollar bonus novel to the Triple Crown series this year (five points for first, three for second, one for third). With Bet Twice cruising toward a victory, Alysheba had to finish second to earn the $1 million bonus, third for a 50-50 split with Bet Twice.

But he had lost too much ground. After steadying Alysheba, McCarron angled the horse outside for the stretch run. He set out in a desperate attempt to catch Cryptoclearance, whereupon jockey Pat Day sent Gulch charging on the outside. The three bunched up, Alysheba between his rivals as they crossed the wire.

The photo finish was for second place -- between Cryptoclearance and Gulch. Alysheba was a neck away from third place, a neck from second, a neck from the riches he had seemed certain to attain.

When McCarron was informed that the bonus eluded him by several feet, his eyes widened. "Oh," he said, apparently enlightened. He said he never gave the bonus a thought during the race. (Had Alysheba won, the bonus would have come to nearly $4 million).

"I was ridin' my tail off for second money," he said, "and I just couldn't get there."

Whereas McCarron was atypically unaware of a seemingly crucial aspect of a race, Bet Twice's jockey, Craig Perret, was acutely cognizant of it.

"Before the race, the $1 million bonus was on my mind, but I figured it didn't matter because I thought Alysheba would at least be third," Perret said. "I didn't see any way around it.

"When I pulled up {after the race}, I didn't even want to ask {where Alysheba finished}. I was out there all by myself and, when they started gettin' close to me, I galloped on more. I didn't want to hear who did what. I stumbled into the surprise on my own."

Perret was as gracious after finishing second to McCarron and Alysheba in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness as he was in triumph. And whereas the ebullience left McCarron's voice today, he meticulously detailed the tactical flaws he said may have been so costly.

"He didn't have the response for me that he had in the past," McCarron said of Alysheba. "I blame myself for that because I discouraged him when I took him back {leaving the gate}; I should have just let him start in.

"I think it was my fault we got beat for second money. The pace was expected to be slow; that's why I feel I used bad judgment. I had two concerns: One was not to be too far back, the other was not be on the inside. It came to a point in the first turn when I had to make a judgment, and I made the wrong one. I don't know if it cost me the whole race -- I may not have beaten {Bet Twice} anyway, the way he finished -- but it probably cost us."

McCarron wouldn't comment on the importance of Lasix, the anti-bleeding medication Alysheba received before the Derby and Preakness, but which he had to do without today because New York racing rules forbid it.

"That's something for the vets to determine," he said.

As he sized up his first Triple Crown opportunity today, McCarron said, "I was pretty nervous most of the day. But when I got on that horse's back, I felt so good goin' up the track and felt great in the gate. I was just flowing with confidence . . ."

A pause. Then a question. Had McCarron just experienced the height of disillusionment in his 13 1/2 years in the irons?

He stared at the jockeys' room floor and pursed his lips. Without smiling, he spoke.