Triple Crown: Sunday Silence, War Emblem, Silver Charm

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on May 10, 2012

33 Years of Heartbreak: The 12 Most Excruciating Near-Misses in the U.S. Thoroughbred Triple Crown Since 1978 – Part Four of Six

7. Sunday Silence (1989)

Unlike the previous two selections, Sunday Silence was not ignored by any means. Picked by the experts from the outset as one of the favorites in the Derby, the California-bred horse was nonetheless overshadowed by the media’s favorite and East Coast darling Easy Goer, the U.S. Champion Two-Year-Old. Easy Goer was the 4-5 favorite, with Sunday Silence as the 3-1 second choice. From the outset, the focus was on Easy and Sunday, with no other horse in the 15-horse field given much of a chance. The Derby race went nearly as planned, as the two rivals weaved their way through the pack, but to the surprise of many, Sunday Silence was the horse that took command and won by 2 ½ lengths over the favorite.

Citing the muddy track and clogged field, bettors once again pegged Easy Goer as the favorite in the Preakness at Pimlico, figuring Sunday Silence’s victory in the Derby was a fluke. Belief in the colt from California was shaky, as both Sunday Silence and Easy Goer had been forced to take difficult zig-zag paths through the field to find clear racing ground, resulting in the slowest Derby in over 30 years. Most experts didn’t believe that lightning could strike twice, so once again Sunday Silence found himself as the second favorite. At the Preakness, the two rivals once again took command over the rest of the field, running neck and neck for the entire home stretch. In what was called the “Race of the Half Century”, Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer by a nose in a photo finish.

Finally believing in Sunday’s heart, bettors installed him as the morning-line favorite at Belmont. However, Easy Goer exacted his revenge, as has happened so many times in the final jewel of the Triple Crown. The Derby and Preakness favorite finally beat Sunday Silence, and convincingly, winning the Belmont by 8 lengths in a breathtaking performance, finishing the race in the second fastest time ever recorded, behind only the immortal Secretariat. The two fantastic rivals would meet once more in their careers at the Breeder’s Cup Classic that November, labeled the “Race of the Decade” by the thoroughbred media. Easy Goer, once again, was picked as the favorite and, once again, was upset by Sunday Silence, who charged along the final turn and held off a furious late rally by the favorite. Therefore, Sunday Silence won three of the four meetings between the two, losing only when the Triple Crown was on the line at the Belmont Stakes. Sunday Silence was ranked as #31 of the Top 100 U.S. Horses of the 20th Century by Blood-Horse Magazine, while Easy Goer was ranked #34.

6. War Emblem (2002)

If Belmont Stakes attendance was the sole factor in ranking this list, War Emblem would be #2. Trained by legendary horseman Bob Baffert, War Emblem went off as a 21-1 shot at the 2002 Kentucky Derby. His chances weren’t helped any by his non-relationship with jockey Victor Espinoza, who famously had never even seen his horse until the morning of the Derby race. Horse and jockey meshed quickly, however, as War Emblem took the lead on the backstretch and parried every attempt to pass him on the homestretch, winning the Derby in eye-opening fashion. At Pimlico, War Emblem was the 13-5 favorite and settled into a stalking second-place position for much of the race. At the top of the final turn, War Emblem took the lead, only to be stalked himself by local-bred Baltimore horse Magic Wiesner. War Emblem was not to be denied, though, and held off charges by Magic Wiesner and Proud Citizen to win the Preakness by half a length.

The 2002 Belmont crowd was the largest in history (at the time) as over 103,000 people hoped to witness history. However, the Triple Crown curse reared its ugly head once again. A 5-4 favorite to win, War Emblem stumbled badly immediately out of the gate and fell back into last place. Showing tremendous heart, the champion horse ate up ground and flew past horses along the way, briefly taking the lead in the final turn. However, stumbling out of the gate had thrown off War Emblem’s normal gallop and the energy needed to get back into his rhythm had taken too much out of him. His Triple Crown hopes were dashed as he faded in the homestretch, finishing in eighth place behind the biggest longshot winner in Belmont Stakes history, Sarava at 70-1.

5. Silver Charm (1997)

The first horse trained by Bob Baffert to win the Kentucky Derby, Silver Charm won one of the most thrilling Kentucky Derbies in recent years, beating the favorite and surging Captain Bodgit by a neck. The Preakness bettors were unconvinced by Silver Charm’s Derby win, not only denying him the favorite spot, but putting him as third choice behind Captain Bodgit and third-place Derby finisher Free House. In Baltimore, Free House threw down the gauntlet as he wheeled around the final turn in the lead. Silver Charm desperately gained ground by the inches, while Captain Bodgit blazed up from the outside in a late rally. The race ended in a photo finish, with photographic evidence showing that Silver Charm had indeed won by a nose over Free House. Touch Gold, who hadn’t run in the Derby, tripped and nearly fell at the gate, but ate up ground to finish fourth.

At the Belmont, Silver Charm was installed as the even money favorite to win (technically just less than even money, with a 20-19 line), but many experts were predicting Free House to wear down Silver Charm with his speed and pass the wearied Derby and Preakness winner. At the top of the final turn, it was indeed Silver Charm and Free House battling for the lead and the two archrivals came into the homestretch neck-and-neck. However, the slightly fresher Touch Gold swung into position on the far outside. With a furlong to go, Silver Charm stubbornly held onto a slim lead, but Touch Gold muscled past both leaders in the final seconds to win. Silver Charm finished second by half a length, while Free House finished third. Silver Charm was placed at #63 in Blood-Horse Magazine’s Top 100 U.S. Horses of the 20th Century list.

Part One

Article Contributed by Gabriel Ruzin.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of HorseRacing.com.

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