ELMONT, N.Y. -- This time it was in the Belmont Stakes, and early in the home stretch, that circumstances smacked of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness revisited. Again it was Bet Twice out in front, and again Alysheba would try to track him down. But this time, Alysheba couldn't cope. This time Bet Twice's lead was nonnegotiable, increasing with every stride and vaporizing Alysheba's dream of a Triple Crown.
Alysheba's fourth-place finish left his followers with much to ponder. He was beaten by three horses he had licked so convincingly in the Derby and Preakness. He was a 14-length loser at the wire. He would be remembered as the 12th colt on the threshold of Triple Crown fame to blow the Belmont.
There always would be the suspicion also that he needed his fix, that he is a laggard without his dose of Lasix, the anti-bleeding medication disallowed in New York. The evidence is pretty damning, perhaps. He has lost eight of the nine starts in which he has run without the respiratory assistance of Lasix, which is a contradiction to trainer Jack Van Berg's assertion the lack of medication was no factor Saturday.
Van Berg chose to point to a poor judgment ride by Chris McCarron as the cause of Alysheba's fourth-place debacle, beaten out for second by a nose and a neck, and thus deprived of the million-dollar bonus. McCarron agreed he rode the colt poorly.
"I held him back too much at the first turn, and the colt got disinterested," said McCarron. But his mea culpa is hollow. Mile-and-a-half Belmonts are hardly lost at the first turn, with a mile and a quarter to go. Tactically, Alysheba was never far out of it, never worse than fourth. Being barely four lengths back with a half-mile to run is not much disadvantage in a Belmont Stakes. It could be called within superb striking distance.
In the late stretch, Bet Twice was making it no contest, but McCarron did have Alysheba moving on two others in front of him, Cryptoclearance and the fading Gone West. And then, curses, he found trouble. Much of it was his own making, though, and now heightens a belief that he is something of a rogue.
It is remembered he was disqualified for rough stuff after winning the Blue Grass Stakes. In Saturday's stretch run, Alysheba turned rank, or sour, refusing to run in a straight line, his head twisted in the manner of notionate colts, and he came out to sideswipe second-place Cryptoclearance. If he had finished ahead of that one, there undoubtedly would have been a claim of foul by jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. But that wasn't the decisive factor in Alysheba's out-of-the-money fate.
The next occurrence was. It was his ill luck to run up on the heels of the tiring Gone West within the next couple of strides. That did in McCarron and Alysheba. Now McCarron was forced to take up, with Alysheba rearing in the air like a circus performer, before settling back on the track again to make a brave run for it once more.
But too late, now. His misbehavior and those precious split seconds lost were the difference between the nose and the neck that kept him out of the money. For Alysheba, another villain of the piece was Gulch, who rushed from eighth place to finish a nose behind Cryptoclearance and do Alysheba out of third place and a million-dollar split with Bet Twice.
It is true that Alysheba wasn't going to catch Bet Twice this day, and that with the best of racing luck he would be a well-beaten second. Before the halfway mark, Bet Twice put on a surge in the backstretch that carried him to the front like a cannon shot, without benefit of whip, with only the clucking of Craig Perret to tell him to let 'er rip.
From there it was a joyride for Perret on a most happy and bouncing Bet Twice, each stride telling the rest of the field to get lost. From the moment Bet Twice's head showed in front with almost five furlongs to go, the only whip Perret laid on him was a limp one, more caressing than demanding.
The Woody Stephens factor in this Belmont lasted less than a mile. His entry, Gone West, was cooked at that point after running in second place. The Stephens mystique did not prosper. For his attempt to improve on his princely status by winning a sixth straight Belmont, woeful Woody got instead an ironic sixth-place finish.