ELMONT, N.Y. -- The joke around the Belmont Park backstretch the past week was that trainer D. Wayne Lukas hadn't won a Triple Crown race in five weeks.
Hold the chuckles.
After watching his unprecedented streak of six straight wins in Triple Crown races crumble in the Preakness, Lukas watched a possible new streak be born as Editor's Note rallied furiously from 12th place yesterday to win the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park.
Editor's Note's thrilling one-length victory over the courageous Skip Away again demonstrated Lukas' dominance of these classics for 3-year-olds. Lukas-trained horses have won seven of the past eight Triple Crown races.
His Grindstone won the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago, extending Lukas' string to six. But then Louis Quatorze, trained by Nick Zito, ended the streak in Baltimore two weeks later by winning the Preakness.
"We never did give up on this horse," Lukas said of Editor's Note, who had not won any of his last nine starts leading to the Belmont. "We had to defend him a little bit. But I've been saying for some time that there was a race somewhere with his number on it, and it just might be the Belmont."
In a race with no obvious favorite -- incredibly, eight of the 14 starters went off at odds less than 10-1 -- the 5-1 Editor's Note paid $13.60 to win. The exacta with 8-1 Skip Away paid $107.50, and the Trifecta with 7-1 My Flag paid $914.
The tepid 3-1 favorite, Cavonnier, who lost the Kentucky Derby by a nose and finished fourth in the Preakness, suffered a tendon injury and left the track in an ambulance. The injury wasn't believed to be life-threatening, but it may end the racing career of the California gelding.
Also, the English colt, South Salem, a 37-1 long shot ridden by Julie Krone, pulled up in the homestretch but, veterinarians said, did not suffer any discernible injuries.
My Flag was the 20th filly to compete in the 128th running of the Belmont; only two have won. She spent the first half of the race far back with Editor's Note, which is her style, and then finished gamely for third.
The winning time over the 1 1/2 -mile course was 2 minutes, 28 4/5 seconds, nearly five seconds off Secretariat's stakes, track and world record of 2: 24 in 1973.
The victory was Lukas' third straight in the Belmont. His Thunder Gulch won last year, and Tabasco Cat the year before.
Asked whether Woody Stephens' streak of five straight, established from 1982 to 1986, was in jeopardy, Lukas replied: "Three is not five. Woody can sleep well tonight."
Lukas credited jockey Rene Douglas with having a calming influence on the colt. Douglas was a late fill-in for regular jockey Gary Stevens, sidelined with a shoulder injury and employed yesterday as a race analyst for ABC-TV.
"Horses get excited when jockeys get excited," Lukas said. "I don't think this guy [Douglas] ever gets excited."
Douglas said that he didn't want to let Editor's Note fall as far behind as he had in earlier races. So when the early pace-setters -- Appealing Skier, South Salem, Natural Selection and Louis Quatorze -- began wilting from their sizzling early fractions, Editor's Note was poised to pounce.
He appeared to be running twice as fast as his competition entering the far turn. And then, around Belmont's wide and sweeping bend, he rolled past all but Skip Away.
Owned by Carolyn Hine, a native of Baltimore, and trained by her husband Sonny, Skip Away gained the lead entering the homestretch. He and Editor's Note battled side-by-side before a cheering crowd of 40,797 until Editor's Note pulled ahead by a length at the wire.
William T. Young's Overbrook Farm in Lexington, Ky., owned Editor's Note as well as Grindstone, who was retired because of a knee injury five days after winning the Kentucky Derby. He and Lukas have become one of the foremost owner-trainer teams in racing.
"Words are hard to come by," said Young, 78. "This has been a tremendous thrill. It's coming a little late in life. I hope not too late."
Lukas wrapped an arm around Young's shoulders and said, "Don't go anywhere on us, Bill."
They laughed, but this pair is serious about horses. Six of their 2-year-olds have raced this year, and five have won.
"We've been talking about next year's Derby already," Lukas said.
Belmont top 3
Editor's Note .. ..13.60 .. ..6.50 .. ..4.30
Skip Away .. ... .. .. .. .. .8.20 .. ..6.20
My Flag ... .. .. .. . .. .. .. .. .. ..5.50
Pub Date: 6/09/96