ELMONT, N.Y. - Bob Baffert watched in dismay as his horse came up just short again in a Triple Crown race. After watching Bodemeister lose duels to I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the veteran trainer watched with even more disappointment as Union Rags chased down Paynter, Baffert’s other Triple Crown entry. Paynter lost by a neck in Saturday’s 144th running of the Belmont Stakes.
“Is there a Triple Crown for seconds,’’ said Baffert. “I need a Triple Crown for seconds. I really thought [Paynter] was going to win today. He was doing so well. I knew we had the horse to do it and that horse [Union Rags] snuck up on him. He’s still a young horse, still learning how to run. It’s over. When you get beat, you get beat.’’
Barn story lives
It was an underlying story all week, the business of a “security barn’’ that would house all Belmont Stakes entrants. No one really liked it, especially since it looked like a last-second decision meant to keep a closer eye on I’ll Have Another and trainer Doug O’Neill.
No one liked the change in routine of moving a horse out of the relative privacy of his own barn to one with 11 other horses.
It became even more of a factor when I’ll Have Another, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, was scratched Friday.
“I don’t know if it played a role in this or not,’’ said Dullahan trainer Dale Romans, whose horse became the favorite with the departure of I’ll Have Another. “But we’re always going to wonder. We will always wonder.’’
Romans has been a vocal critic of the move.
“The barn is ridiculous,’’ he said. “There’s too many horses in there doing the same thing at the same times. There’s too many people in there. There’s three or four people for every horse and then everybody’s trying to walk in the afternoons and just graze. It’s just ridiculous.
“They could have found an easier way to accommodate the horse and I don’t think anybody who made up the rules was thinking about the horse.’’
Romans also brought up a more troubling issue than simply the inconvenience of horses.
“I think it causes a poor perception,’’ Romans said. “And it makes people think even worse of the game when this is really a very clean sport. It’s run properly. There’s enough checks and balances put into place to make sure it’s an even playing field and this whole thing isn’t really necessary.’’
Michael Matz, trainer of the winner Union Rags, sees a bigger problem.
“They yell about Lasix and things like that,’’ Matz said. “Why can’t we have the same rules for all the Triple Crown races?’’
Whether there will be future “security barns’’ is uncertain.
Ratings a concern
I’ll Have Another’s scratch had officials at NBC, which televised the race, obviously anxious. Having a Triple Crown threat boosts ratings. A year ago, without the prospect of a Triple Crown winner, the telecast drew 6.8 million viewers. With Big Brown, the last Triple Crown threat in 2008, the Belmont drew 11.1 million viewers. When Smarty Jones made his Triple Crown run in 2004, 21.9 million viewers tuned in . . . The Belmont had not been kind to favorites in recent years. The last four winners - Ruler on Ice, Drosselmeyer, Summer Bird, and Da’Tara - were long shots. Union Rags was the second choice at 5-2.