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Hansel hangs on in Belmont thriller

Before the Belmont Stakes, the main question about Hansel was whether he could run well without the drug Lasix. But as he turned into the stretch Saturday, the key question was this: How much heart did he have? The colt had battled hard in the early stages of the 1{-mile classic and had disposed of the other speed horses. But now Strike the Gold was accelerating powerfully on the turn, swooping past the field, and he had taken dead aim at the tiring leader.

But Hansel wouldn't yield. With more than $1-million at stake, he held on to win by a head _ the closest finish in the Belmont since the classic Alydar-Affirmed of 1978.

Nobody would have imagined that this seemingly uninspiring group of horses would produce drama that merited comparison with one of the most exciting horse races of all time. Strike the Gold had won the Kentucky Derby while Hansel ran dismally; Hansel had won the Preakness while Strike the Gold ran poorly. The leading members of this generation of 3-year-olds seemed to be both inconsistent and devoid of brilliance.

Saturday they refuted these notions. On the most important day of their racing careers, both ran the very best race of which they were capable.

Strike the Gold's trainer, Nick Zito, had said before the race that he would instruct jockey Chris Antley: "Drop back to last and then make a run." And Antley did just that with the 2-1 favorite, while the early stages of the Belmont developed as favorably as he could have hoped.

A 99-1 shot, Another Review, was being hustled to the lead, while Corporate Report and Hansel chased him. Instead of the soft early pace that the speedy contenders had hoped for, Another Review was pulling them through a quarter mile in 23 seconds and a half-mile in 46/. Early fractions like those frequently doom the leaders in a race as long as the Belmont.

Corporate Report disposed of the long-shot leader and, almost as soon as he did, jockey Jerry Bailey moved Hansel abreast of him. "It might have been a little premature," Bailey conceded, "but I thought it was the thing to do. He was in gear."

As the two colts dueled head-and-head approaching the final turn, other rivals started taking shots at them. Green Alligator rushed strongly along the rail _ and then faded. Mane Minister loomed boldly behind them _ but couldn't sustain his bid.

Hansel finally shook loose of Corporate Report on the turn, but as he did, the eyes of the 51,766 people at Belmont Park were riveted on the bright pink silks of Strike the Gold. Trainer announcer Tom Durkin called, "He's passing horses one by one with every stride!" and, indeed, this was the same kind of move the colt had made at Churchill Downs.

But this wasn't the same Hansel whom Strike the Gold had blown past in the Derby. Strike the Gold was gaining steadily in the stretch, but the leader was giving up ground grudgingly. One-sixteenth of a mile from the wire, Strike the Gold had cut Hansel's lead to less than a length, and he was digging in with determination. But Hansel wouldn't let him past _ until after the wire. "He was trying as hard as a horse can possible try," Bailey said. "I really think it was his heart that got him home."

The time of the race, 2:28, was not exceptional, but the two colts clearly confirmed their superiority to the remaining members of this 3-year-old crop. They were three lengths ahead of Mane Minister, who earned the distinction of becoming the first horse to finish third in all three Triple Crown races _ with Corporate Report another 2{ lengths back in fourth place.

Completing the order of finish were Scan, Quintana, Lost Mountain, Smooth Performance, Subordinated Debt, Green Alligator and Another Review, who was eased.

The narrow margin between the top two horses translated to a whopping difference in money. Allbritton earned the winner's share of $417,480 plus the $1-million bonus the Chrysler Corp. pays to the horse who performs best in the Triple Crown series. The owners of Strike the Gold received $153,076 for second place.

For Hansel's trainer, Frank Brothers, the vindication of his judgment was surely more important than the money. When Hansel had tired so badly and finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby, Brothers said he probably wouldn't run in the Preakness _ then decided belatedly to ship the colt from Chicago, his home base, to Baltimore.

After the Preakness, he mulled over the Belmont for nearly two weeks, trying to decide whether to take the chance of running without the anti-bleeding medication Lasix.

Most bettors had been skeptical of Hansel because of the Lasix question, and this is the reason he paid a surprisingly high $10.20 to win against horses he had already whipped so convincingly.

But Brothers never wavered in his conviction that the colt didn't need medication. "I always felt good about my horse," he said.

But even he couldn't know just how gutty Hansel is until he was put to the test Saturday.

THE PAYOFFS

Hansel 10.20 6.40 5.00

Strike The Gold 5.00 4.00

Mane Minister 4.00

BELMONT STAKES CHART

Horse PP \ { 1M 1\M Str Fin Jockey To $1

Hansel 5 3-hd 3-1{ 1-hd 1-1{ 1-2{ 1-hd Bailey 4.10

Strike The Gold 11 10-1 11 7-hd 5-6 2-1 2-3 Antley 2.20

Mane Minister 3 5-1 5-{ 4-1 4-1{ 4-1{ 3-2{ Solis 17.90

Corporate Report 6 2-2 1-hd 2-1 2-1 3- { 4-2\ Day 8.20

Scan 2 4-2{ 4-2{ 3-3 3-{ 5-8 5-10} McCarron 10.30

Quintana 7 9-1{ 10-5 8-1 7-1 6-1{ 6-3{ Cordero 26.00

Lost Mountain 4 8-4 9-hd 9-{ 8-6 7-{ 7-} Perret 19.10

Smooth

Performance 10 7-1 7-2 5-2{ 6-hd 8-12 8-22{ Kinane 7.00

Subordinated

Debt 9 6-2 6-1{ 6-1 10 9-hd 9- } Krone 21.70

Green Alligator 8 11 8-1 10-16 9-hd 10 10 Nakatani 4.10

Another Review 1 1-{ 2-1{ 11 Eased Eased Eased Migliore 99.20

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