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Tough beat for Syndergaard (the horse) in Champagne

Practical Joke (1), ridden by Joel Rosario, noses

Practical Joke (1), ridden by Joel Rosario, noses ahead of Syndergaard, ridden by John R. Velazquez, to win the Champagne Stakes horse race on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Photo Credit: AP / Susie Raisher

All things considered, Noah Syndergaard would have preferred to be at Wrigley Field on Saturday for Game 2 of the National League Division Series. Instead, he was at rainy Belmont Park, watching an undefeated 2-year-old New York-bred colt named Syndergaard run in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes.

The outcome was just as excruciating for the four-legged Syndergaard as Wednesday’s wild-card game was for the Mets. After battling all the way on the lead, he lost by a nose. Playing the role of the Giants’ Conor Gillaspie was a colt named, of all things, Practical Joke, who got up in the final jump to torment the 9-5 favorite and cancel any Champagne celebration.

When the result of the photo finish was posted on the video board, there were loud boos. “Worst beat ever!” a man screamed.

“Tough beat,’’ jockey John Velazquez said. “Not much to say, other than he got beat. He had to fight all the way around, and that was it. He dug in.”

Syndergaard made headlines in spring training by riding a horse, and this wasn’t his first visit to a racetrack. “I went to Lone Star Park a couple of times,” the Texan told Newsday in the paddock, where he created much more of a stir than any thoroughbred. Fans chanted “Noah! Noah!” and “Let’s go Mets!”

Breeders’ Cup executive Jim Gluckson showed Syndergaard a “Win and You’re In” saddle towel, explaining that a Champagne victory would earn an automatic bid to next month’s Juvenile at Santa Anita. “I hope he gets one of those,” Syndergaard said.

Two of the horse’s owners, Jericho residents Eric Fein and Jerry Walia, are “huge Mets fans,” hence their chestnut colt’s name. Fein said they had been in contact with Syndergaard’s representatives during the year.

“Now that the Mets are out of the playoffs, Noah was available,” Fein told Newsday. “He was very excited to come out here today.”

Robert Gsellman accompanied Syndergaard to Belmont, where the righthanders dug into the buffet. “They were upstairs pigging out,” Fein said. “So we brought two-fifths of the rotation the Mets ended the year with.”

Nassau County resident Mike Repole also is a lifelong Mets fan, so his silks are blue and orange. Before his colt Thirst for Victory finished fifth in the Champagne, Repole shepherded Noah and Gsellman to the paddock, where Syndergaard posed for photos with fans, track workers and the horse’s connections.

“He really enjoyed the experience and asked a lot of questions,” Repole wrote in an email to Newsday. “He was disappointed his namesake lost by a nose.”

After the race, Syndergaard tweeted: “Sometimes it’s just not your week. Thanks for hosting me, Mr. Fein and Mr. Pletcher.’’

After Syndergaard won his debut for trainer Todd Pletcher on Aug. 8 at Saratoga, Noah tweeted: “My next venture will be Unicorn Racing.”

Too bad the son of Majesticperfection isn’t a unicorn. With a horn on his forehead, his record still would be perfect.

On Thursday, Syndergaard gave his take on the wild-card loss in which he got a no-decision after throwing seven shutout innings: “Baseball has a way of ripping your heart out, stabbing it, putting it back in your chest, then healing itself . . . ”

So does horse racing.


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