There have been many near misses of a Triple Crown since Affirmed held off Alydar in 1978. However, there was never a closer call than 1998 when Real Quiet and Victory Gallop completed their epic trilogy of races with the most epic finish of them all. The Belmont Stakes that year featured a field of eleven runners, but there were only two in the group that really mattered. Real Quiet had won the Kentucky Derby despite being considered Bob Baffert's other horse that year behind Derby favorite, Indian Charlie. Victory Gallop chased him home in both the Derby and the Preakness. Had the results stayed the same the third time, Real Quiet would have been the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed and Victory Gallop won have become the second horse (other than Alydar) to finish second in each of the three races.
There was a whole lot on the line here, Baffert had come very close to winning the Triple Crown just the year before with Silver Charm, generally considered to be a better horse than Real Quiet. Nevertheless, he also finished second to Touch Gold in the Belmont Stakes. Gary Stevens had ridden Silver Charm and Kent Desormeaux was aboard Real Quiet in 1998. Some of the "experts" came to believe that Desormeaux moved just a little early aboard Real Quiet in the Belmont and ended up costing the horse the race, since he lost by just a nose to Victory Gallop.
It was also later believed that the stewards in New York would have disqualified Real Quiet behind Victory Gallop for interference. While that might be the case, I would be led to believe that those stewards would have to have had more guts than a squadron of Navy SEALS to disqualify a Triple Crown winner after the racing world had waited twenty years for a Triple Crown winner for what might have passed for "interference" in this case. Personally, I admit I was never a fan of Real Quiet and would always have considered him 12th on the list of twelve Triple Crown winners, but that would not have been the way to deny him a Triple Crown. I am glad he ended up getting beat, rather than having his number taken down. Everyone who invokes the purity of the Triple Crown when discussing the intervals between the races would have had to make some argument about purity if Real Quiet would have been denied by three people in the press box, rather than by his challengers on the racetrack.
You can watch the 1998 Belmont Stakes with this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIRP4UbrCg8
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!