History lesson: Gettysburg was the Civil War’s pivotal battle, and the bloodiest ever fought in North America. Its climax, the glorious failure known as Pickett’s Charge, signaled the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.
Current events: As the likely front-runner in a field of 13, Gettysburg seems destined to play a major role in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. Elliott Walden, president and CEO of Kentucky’s WinStar Farm, waited until Monday to announce that the 1-for-7 colt would run.
WinStar also owns Arkansas Derby winner Creator, a deep closer who needs a quick pace to set him up. Rarely does the winner come from last in the 1½-mile Belmont, so the colt named for the Supreme Being needs intervention, and the manmade kind is more dependable than the divine. In Europe, it’s a longstanding tradition to enter a pacemaker to run interference for a stablemate. Steve Asmussen trains Creator and Gettysburg, who until recently was in Todd Pletcher’s barn.
Pickett’s Charge wasn’t planned as a suicide mission, but that’s how it turned out. Sending infantry over a mile of open ground while exposed to artillery and musket fire was the worst blunder of General Robert E. Lee’s brilliant career. Gettysburg the rabbit will be on a deliberate suicide mission, sprinting for as long as he can in the marathon. The hot pace almost certainly will burn him out, but unlike thousands of the men who wore gray, the gray colt will live to fight another day.
Seems pretty cut and dried, right? Wrong, because this Belmont has as many tangled story lines as a soap opera, and almost as many issues as “Meet the Press.” Just because there’s no Triple Crown on the line doesn’t mean there isn’t drama.
WinStar doesn’t own the 9-5 morning-line favorite, Exaggerator, but it made a stallion deal for the Preakness winner, and a Belmont victory would enhance his stud value. Exaggerator closed powerfully at Pimlico, and Gettysburg’s quick fractions could help him, too. Or it could be a plus for other closers such as Suddenbreakingnews, Cherry Wine, Brody’s Cause and Lani. Or Gettysburg could break slowly, never make the lead and be a non-factor. The only sure thing in racing: You never can tell.
Best-case scenario for WinStar: a dead heat between Exaggerator and Creator, which is far less likely than 90,000 people showing up.
Conspiracy theorists, do you think Walden is playing two poker hands at the same table? You might echo the line of comedian W.C. Fields: “Methinks there is some chicanery afoot.” Not so, because there’s nothing underhanded about running a rabbit to aid a closer. Yet rarely does such a move create so many ripples.
“When you start talking strategies and a trainer has multiple horses in a race, it can get a little confusing sometimes,” Walden told the Daily Racing Form. “The fact that Steve has Creator and Gettysburg and we’re his only owner takes out the conflict of having multiple horses in the race for different owners, and Todd [Pletcher] was 100 percent behind it.”
Now Pletcher’s horses project to be behind Gettysburg instead of dictating the fractions. Before Gettysburg left Pletcher and joined the field, the two-time Belmont winner appeared to have control of the pace with 5-1 Stradivari, who had looked like the front-runner by default, and 6-1 Destin, who races close up. The presence of Gettysburg won’t matter if they track him and leave him behind after a mile or so, but he does change the race dynamics.
Pletcher said his colts would be “in prominent stalking positions. I think they’ve both shown that on their best days they’re capable of running with the best of this crop.’’
With apologies to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “the world will little note, nor long remember” what Gettysburg does Saturday. But it will be fun to see how his performance makes the rest of the dominoes fall.