ELMONT, N.Y. -- Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance never gave up on their Lemon Drop Kid, even as he failed race after race to live up to expectations. Yesterday, he rewarded his Maryland owners for their patience.
Lemon Drop Kid won racing's "test of the champion," the Belmont Stakes here at Belmont Park. As racing fans focused on the Triple Crown hopeful Charismatic and the filly Silverbulletday, Lemon Drop Kid sneaked through horses down the stretch, held off the charging Vision and Verse and won by a head.
Charismatic held on for third, but pulled up abruptly after the finish line. He fractured two bones in his left front ankle and was vanned off the track back to his stall.
The colt walked into his stall unaided, but veterinarians said he would never race again. Charismatic will undergo surgery today to stabilize the ankle, the veterinarians said.
Silverbulletday, seeking to become the third filly to win the Belmont, battled with Charismatic for the lead around the first turn, down the backstretch, around Belmont's long final turn and into the homestretch. Then Silverbulletday, after eight straight victories against fillies, folded under the pressure and faded to seventh.
A record 85,818 fans jammed Belmont Park, the grand, sprawling racetrack on Long Island. Many came to see a Triple Crown, racing's most elusive prize. Only 11 horses have accomplished the feat, sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont -- and none since Affirmed in 1978.
Many came to see the filly. She had won 11 of 12 races against horses of her own gender, and fans had longed to see her finally challenge the males.
But what spectators saw here and on televisions around the country was a workmanlike effort by an overlooked horse with the coolest name in the race. Lemon Drop Kid earned $600,000 of the Belmont's $1 million for his owners, the husband-and-wife team of Dance and Vance. They own Taylor's Purchase Farm in Sparks.
That's right, Dance and Vance. Jinny Vance retained her name when she married -- actually, remarried -- Laddie Dance, a retired longtime horse auctioneer. They were divorced for 10 years, but got remarried five years ago.
"Nobody else would have us," Jinny said.
Yesterday, they were Belmont's first couple.
"Unbelievable," Vance said after their colt denied Charismatic a Triple Crown. "Everybody is a potential spoiler. If you have the best horse, you can do it."
After buying the yearling colt for $200,000 at Keeneland, they named him after a champion fine-harness horse (a show horse that pulls a buggy) Vance remembered as a girl growing up in Michigan. She didn't find out until later that Lemon Drop Kid was also a character in a Damon Runyon story.
Although he won the Grade I Futurity at Belmont last year as a 2-year-old, Lemon Drop Kid did not develop into a top 3-year-old as his owners had hoped. He finished fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes, ninth in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Peter Pan Stakes.
But each race he had an excuse: Lack of conditioning, bad trip, sloppy track, immaturity (he was a late foal, born May 28).
In the days before the race, Dance said this was "the acid test" for Lemon Drop Kid. The Belmont would tell them once and for all if the colt was as good as they thought.
Their trainer Scotty Schulhofer, who won the Belmont in 1993 with Colonial Affair, said this was put-up-or-shut-up time. The Hall of Fame trainer was running out of excuses for Lemon Drop Kid, whom he had often called potentially the best horse he'd trained.
"We finally got our racetrack," Schulhofer said. "He got a good, clean trip. Today it looked like things came together real good."
Lemon Drop Kid, virtually ignored by the bettors, going off as 29 to 1, raced in midpack as Silverbulletday and Charismatic battled for the lead. Handicappers expected the filly to fire early, but Charismatic's speed out of the gate was a shock. He had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with dramatic, late moves around the final turn.
"I've learned a lot from this horse," said Chris Antley, his jockey, "so I let him break, run a few strides, and then I gathered him up. I let his stride dictate where he was going in the race. I looked up, and he had the filly in front of him as a target."
Jerry Bailey, riding Silverbulletday, said he was surprised to see Charismatic at his side.
"I looked over and [Antley] was trying to get him back, but he couldn't," Bailey said. "His horse was kind of rank. I can't believe he ran with [Silverbulletday]."
Lemon Drop Kid raced eighth until the final turn, when his jockey Jose Santos angled him inside, then back outside. The colt accelerated and picked off horses one by one until only the finish line awaited.
Vision and Verse, flying along the rail, presented the final challenge. But Lemon Drop Kid responded to Santos' urging.
"Scotty and I have said all along that he was one of the better 3-year-olds, and he proved it today," Santos said. "He was dead game in the stretch and showed he's got a lot of heart."
Lemon Drop Kid completed the 1 1/2 miles in 2 minutes, 27 4/5 seconds. He paid a whopping $61.50 to win and headed a staggering $1,537 exacta with the 54-1 Vision and Verse, the Illinois Derby winner trainer by Bill Mott.
After the race the connections of Lemon Drop Kid expressed concern about Charismatic.
"My heart goes out to the Lewises," said Jinny Vance, referring to Beverly and Bob Lewis, the owners of Charismatic.
The Lewises also were denied a Triple Crown two years ago when their Silver Charm narrowly lost the Belmont.
And Schulhofer said of the injury to Charismatic: "I would feel much better if it hadn't happened."
1. Lemon Drop Kid $61.50 $26.00 $10.60
2. Vision and Verse $44.40 $17.00
3. Charismatic $3.60
4. Best of Luck
5. Stephen Got Even
6. Patience Game
10. Prime Directive
Time of race: 2: 27 4/5
Exacta (6-2): $1,537.00
Trifecta (6-2-4): $5,343.00
Pub Date: 6/06/99