With his star, Timber Country, back in the barn recovering from a virus, the trainer D. Wayne Lukas marched into the racing record books yesterday when his other colt, Thunder Gulch, won the 127th Belmont Stakes by two lengths after a tingling duel down the homestretch with Nick Zito’s Star Standard.
Lukas became the first trainer ever to win five straight triple crown races, which he did with three horses, and the first to sweep the triple crown with two horses: the absent Timber Country, who won the Preakness three weeks ago, and Thunder Gulch, who won the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago.
“I’m overwhelmed and very, very happy,” Lukas said. “Everything fell into place. When it got down to one horse with Timber Country out, it all rested on Thunder Gulch’s shoulders. And he was ready.”
He has been getting ready since last November, when he won the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct and began a string of successes that catapulted him from his rank as a second-string horse in a Lukas barn crammed with stars: second in the Hollywood Futurity, first in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, first in the Florida Derby, first in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness. And after his stablemate was scratched because of the virus and a fever, which subsided yesterday, Thunder Gulch added the $697,400 Belmont Stakes as the flag bearer of the stable.
He stalked an exceedingly slow pace set by Star Standard, ridden by Julie Krone, who crossed over from the outside post position immediately after leaving the gate. The move didn’t surprise Thunder Gulch’s jockey, Gary Stevens, who said, “I read quotes that Zito told Julie to make a left-hand turn out of the gate, and that’s what she did.”
But when they finally turned for home a mile later, Stevens struck, the two colts racing stride for stride, Krone riding Star Standard on the inside, Stevens aboard Thunder Gulch on the outside. At one point, they even bumped, with Thunder Gulch taking a shot to his left front knee.
“I thought my horse might lean over and bite him,” Krone said.
And Stevens said: “She was fighting a little personal war with her horse, and at the eighth pole came out and hit my horse in the knee. But when I called on Thunder Gulch with a sixteenth of a mile to run, he pulled away.”