“I wish it were tonight,” Desormeaux said following Wednesday’s post draw at Belmont Park. “I’m anxious to find out my destiny.”
Those dreams were about what you might expect: How the race will be run, how the rider might react in various situations, knowing what time was the right time to make a winning move.
Of course, there’s more to Desormeaux’s subconscious than that. He’s been in this precise spot once before. “I’d like to put closure on the Real Quiet situation,” he said.
When asked about the 1998 Belmont Stakes, Desormeaux said he asked Real Quiet for his life at the top of the stretch and that he got it, opening what appeared an insurmountable lead before losing it in the last jump, on the bob of Victory Gallop’s head.
“I was gut wrenched,” was how Desormeaux described his feelings. “I felt nauseous, heart broken.” Then later added “I learned a valuable lesson that day.”
And so he’s been dreaming about a second chance ever since. Instead of shooting to the front, opening a lead in a hurry, this will be about “getting a horse slowly into stride.”
It is ironic that this same kind of reflective homework by a rival had as much to do with Real Quiet’s defeat as it did with Victory Gallop’s triumph.
When Gary Stevens took the mount on Victory Gallop for that year’s Preakness, he was told by the colt’s connections to lay closer to the early pace than Victory Gallop did when finishing second in the Kentucky Derby. And Stevens rode to those orders.
“We were in front of Real Quiet [in the Preakness] then Kent just moved up and blew right passed me,” Stevens remembered. “But I saw that Real Quiet lost his focus once he made the lead.
“I told them you’ve got to let me take [Victory Gallop] back in the Belmont. It’s the only way we can beat him.”
Desormeaux saw that outcome a little differently. He was roundly criticized--unjustly in our view--for moving prematurely at headstretch, ironically at the exact point that Desormeaux got winning Derby and Preakness moves from Big Brown.
“The difference between Real Quiet and this horse is that Real Quiet wore blinkers. He never saw Victory Gallop coming. That absolutely was the difference. Three jumps after the wire, we were a length in front again.”
Whether it was the blinkers, or whether it was one of the most perfectly timed late rallies in Belmont Stakes history, Gary Stevens had Victory Gallop in front at the only spot that strategy could work--the moment the photo-finish camera clicked. And Desormeaux’s been thinking about that moment ever since.
“I’ve been daydreaming,” he said. “I imagine how this race will be run, how I would react to the situation.” So what does he think would be a perfect scenario?
“Me in front, after a half in fifty-two.”
Desormeaux was kidding, of course. No one can picture a scenario like that even with a dearth of early speed in this Belmont, Big Brown’s rail draw, and with his major rival, undefeated Japanese star Casino Drive, nicely positioned in slip five to shadow the favorite‘s every move.
And shouldn’t he be concerned that rivals will target him by applying needless early pressure, trying to trap him in close quarters on the rail--not always the liveliest portion of the Belmont strip?
“You want to be inside on this track, save as much ground as you can before making your move. It’s laid out differently than any other track in America.”
As for the bulls-eye on his back, he outwardly appears unconcerned that he’ll be unfairly targeted. “I just can’t imagine that any of my peers would act that way.
“It was a different room a few years ago,” he added, an oblique reference to the premature-move tactics of two riders in the Smarty Jones Belmont of 2004 won by Birdstone.
As the racing gods would dictate, Edgar Prado has the mount on Casino Drive. Prado had the mount on Birdstone and Sarava, who foiled War Emblem’s Triple Crown bid in 2002 as the longest price winner in Belmont Stakes history.
Parenthetically, recall that Prado came under heavy criticism from Rick Dutrow for his premature Preakness move, one that appeared to many as being more about the defeat of Big Brown than the victory of Riley Tucker.
A decade has passed and now Desormeaux says the difference between the man who rode Real Quiet and the one who will ride Big Brown on Saturday is the education and maturity he gained in between. It’s a notion that rang true when he talked about what winning the Triple Crown would mean personally:
“This is a very big deal, and it’s a bigger deal at home. I’m riding for my family. My family has made me a better person and a better rider. This would mean the world to me, to make history, to never be forgotten.”