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The 94th renewal of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico was a most exciting occasion. The undefeated Majestic Prince won by a head over Arts and Letters making it nine in a row for the brilliant chestnut son of Raise a Native.
Majestic Prince and Arts and Letters were all alone at the last turn. The Prince with his high-kicking knee action came wheeling down the stretch constantly urged on by the left-handed whipping of Bill Hartack.
Arts and Letters surged after the tiring giant. The Rokeby Stable colt steadily gained and in mid-stretch seemed to be easily overtaking The Prince, but Arts and Letters did not get to the wire in time. The rest of the field was stretched out from four to twenty lengths behind.
Immediately after the race Braulio Baeza, the inscrutable Panamanian, claimed foul against the winner alleging interference at the first turn. After 23 minutes of consultation with the jockeys and a review of the race on video tape, the stewards decided to disallow the claim of foul. Had the race been one of less prestige to the state of Maryland one felt that the stewards' reactions might have been quite different.
To the casual observer a foul was not evident. The collision of Majestic Prince with Arts and Letters as the horses broke from the gate seemed a more logical reason for claiming foul than any alleged interference on the clubhouse turn. The casual observer is unaware of the total genius of Braulio Baeza as a race rider.
Sensing a disastrous collision fractions of a second before it might have occurred, he pulled Arts and Letters from the gap between Majestic Prince and Al Hattab just as Majestic Prince bore out and closed the space between horses. He checked his horse so smoothly and so expertly that there did not seem to be any cause for concern.
Had Baeza reacted a fifth of a second more slowly, the 94th Preakness field might have been sprayed all over the track. Baeza rides cleanly, says little, and seldom claims foul. With a run-of-the-mill reinsman an accident would have been a strong possibility and the foul claim inevitably sustained. Unfortunately, Baeza was victimized by his own greatness.
The Belmont Stakes will be run on June 7th, 15 miles from New York City at Elmont, Long Island. Will Majestic Prince become the ninth winner of the Triple Crown Trophy, joining Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), and Citation (1948)? It seems unlikely, for Majestic Prince has been scratched from the race by his trainer John Longden. Longden said that he did this out of consideration for the horse. One tends to believe that it is Mr. Longden's reputation that is at stake.
The Derby is a mile-and-a-quarter, the Preakness is a mile-and-three-sixteenths, and the Belmont is a mile-and-a-half. The extra quarter-mile of ground makes a lot of difference.
Clearly Johnny Longden feels that Majestic Prince might not win the Belmont. Perhaps the horse is sore or cannot go the distance or both. We can discount Johnny's earlier statements about this horse being as good as Count Fleet. The Immortal Count won the Derby by 3 lengths, the Preakness by 8 lengths, and the Belmont by an incredible 25 lengths.
Longden asserted that the Count's short career as a race horse can be directly attributed to his single effort at a mile-and-a-half, thus justifying scratching Majestic Prince from the Belmont. Perhaps Count Fleet's fifteen races as a two-year-old contributed more to his unsoundness than his six races at three. Longden and Majestic Prince seem to be quitting a Channel swim in full stroke a mile from shore, but they are quitting winners. Anyway everybody knows that Mom, Apple Pie, and Undefeated Triple Crown Winners are just a mirage.
Calling the Shots
Without Majestic Prince, how does the Belmont shape up? There are three logical contenders. Dike ran down on his heels in the Derby. He is a one-run horse bred for distance who skipped the Preakness to heal and rest. He and/or his stablemate Jay Ray (third in the Preakness) have a shot at winning. 30 per cent chance.
Top Knight, a two-year-old champion, has been trained since the Florida Derby like a sore horse, and has run that way. In the Belmont, should he be entered, he might regain his Florida form. Running in front unhampered by challenging early speed he could hold off the late runners. This is the only way he could win. 10 per cent chance.
Arts and Letters, a late developing three-year-old, has been trained by a master. Eliot Burch has trained other Belmont Stakes winners (Sword Dancer, Quadrangle), and probably has another in the small but long-striding son of the undefeated Ribot. Bred for the classic mile-and-a-half distance, this horse will finally have a chance to show his class on the long backstretch at Belmont. There will be no tight turns to prevent this horse from reaching his best stride. He should win convincingly. 50 per cent chance.
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