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Original Issue


Surprising Summing finished first in the Belmont Stakes, edging a sharp Highland Blade by a neck. And Pleasant Colony, the favorite? Third, a length and a half back and out of the picture

Summing had been fitted with protective bandages, brushed and rubbed to a coppery sheen, and now his groom, Andrès Rabanal, closed the gate on his stall and flipped off the light switch. The champagne party in Barn 59 at Belmont Park, in front of Stall 61, was winding down last Saturday evening, and there was only one more detail that needed tending to. Rosemary Rivezzo, Summing's 56-year-old hotwalker, straightened the blanket of white carnations—the one that Summing had worn into the winner's circle after the Belmont Stakes, almost two hours earlier—over the webbing in front of the bay colt's stall. From the back of the stall there came a rustling as Summing did a quick circuit of his pad and stepped to the gate. He sniffed at the carnations like a man smelling a boutonniere in his lapel, then nibbled tentatively at a flower.

"Don't let him eat his carnations!" cried a voice.

"Oh, he can eat 'em if he wants," said Rivezzo. "He earned 'em, didn't he? He earned 'em, he can eat 'em."

Earned them he had—and $170,580 to boot—in the two minutes and 29 seconds it took him to dispatch 10 other 3-year-olds, including Triple Crown candidate Pleasant Colony, in the 113th running of the mile-and-a-half Belmont, the last, the longest and the strangest of the 1981 Triple Crown races. Summing up and won it in the last half-mile after Jockey George Martens wisely opened what turned out to be an insurmountable lead on the far turn. In the last 100 yards, when Highland Blade made a furious run at him. Summing fought back doggedly to beat Blade by a shrinking neck. Pleasant Colony, who had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and was the 4-5 favorite to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, finished with wet sails and wound up third, a length and a half behind Highland Blade.

"It's a tough game, pal," said John P. Campo, the outspoken trainer of Pleasant Colony, back at the barn. "Win some and lose some. You can't make any excuses for him. The best horse won. What did we get beat by? A neck and a length and a half? That's no disgrace."

To most of the 61,106 horseplayers who witnessed the race and let Summing slip off at 7-1, the Belmont was a series of surprises, a strangely paced, weirdly raced contest that began as a hesitation waltz, came alive in Summing's one burst of speed and ended with the pop and fury of whips in the final breathtaking yards. Summing's trainer, 59-year-old Luis Barrera, nearly fainted after the horses hit the line, but his swoon was as much the result of the heat and fatigue, he says, as watching his horse win. In fact, Barrera had been exhorting people all week to believe in his horse—"He's a big, big contender," Barrera said Saturday morning. "He's got a good shot to win"—while Martens, a fresh-faced 22-year-old rider who grew up around Belmont Park, was making bold prophecies, telling friends unqualifiedly that he would beat Pleasant Colony and win his first Belmont Stakes.

Just three months ago such confidence in Summing's ability to go a mile and a half would have seemed fantastic. He was a nervous, flighty colt who left the gate as if it were a burning barn, charged for the lead and resisted fiercely all efforts to restrain him. Headstrong and speed-crazy, he seemed destined to make his living as a dash man. "He was overactive," says Tommy Barrera, Luis's 34-year-old son, who assists his father and helps exercise the horses. "Whenever he got excited in the gate, he'd come out screaming—a quarter in 22, a half in 45. He'd get overanxious and start ramming the gate. At Saratoga last year he reared up and put both front feet over the top of the gate. We started schooling him, but for a long time it didn't seem to have any effect."

It didn't all last year. Summing won only two of eight races in 1980, and $36,970, mostly showing early lick and then tiring. When he finally broke his maiden on Sept. 1. at Belmont Park, incidentally, the colt who finished sixth, 16 lengths behind Summing, was Pleasant Colony.

Summing had his problems aside from impetuosity. He bucked his shins three times last year and was laid up a while with a cough. It wasn't until this past spring that Luis and Tommy began to make an impression on the horse. The colt's transformation during the last three months has been remarkable. That it was engineered by two Barreras is hardly so. The Cuban-born Luis comes from one of the most accomplished families of horsemen in America. Since his oldest brother, Angel, emigrated here in 1933 and became a trainer, four other Barreras have followed him—Luis, William, Oscar and Lazaro—to make it as horsemen. The most prominent of the brothers, Laz, trained Triple Crown winner Affirmed as well as the Derby and Belmont winner Bold Forbes.

One of the first owners to send horses to Laz was Charles T. Wilson Jr., 63, an industrialist born in New York and educated at Choate and Yale who now lives in Mexico City. Brother Luis trains Summing for Wilson, who has a small stable, only three horses, but has been breeding for years. "When I was 8 years old I had a Shetland pony named Dixie," Wilson says. "And I had a friend who had a 'gelding' named Tony. We turned them out together one year, and the next year the pony produced a foal. My Catholic friends thought it might be an example of immaculate conception. I myself guess he wasn't a gelding."

Wilson bred Summing himself, and there was nothing mysterious about that affair, either. He sent his homebred mare Sumatra to Verbatim, a fast, versatile horse who won stakes from seven furlongs to a mile and a quarter a dozen years ago, including the one-mile Gotham at Aqueduct in record time. Luis saddled Summing for the Gotham this spring, but the colt was in no condition to tangle with Proud Appeal and Cure the Blues, who hooked up in one of the most sensational speed duels of recent years. Summing struggled home fifth, 16 lengths behind the two buzz saws.

"He ran so bad I couldn't believe it," Barrera says. "As soon as we got him back to the barn I took his temperature. He had a 101° fever. He also had a skin rash before that. I couldn't get it together for him."

And then, suddenly, Luis and Tommy did. Already the Barreras had begun to sense a change in the horse's temperament and consequently in his running style. "We'd go out and gallop two miles in the morning and then, before I brought him back to the barn, I'd stop off at the starting gate," Tommy says. "We'd back him into the gate and have him stand there 10 or 15 minutes. In the last three months we started schooling him in the gate every day, and all of a sudden he started settling right down. He started relaxing. We would also get him out at 5:30 in the morning, when it was still dark, to gallop him. When you took him out in daylight, he'd see other horses and get very high-strung and you'd have to fight him. He got to where he could be rated. Like in the Pennsylvania Derby."

Two weeks ago, under Martens, Summing settled into fourth in the early part of that nine-furlong Derby and won by a length and a half in a burst of speed through the lane, in 1:49. "He relaxed," Tommy says. "When the jock said go, he went. Before, there was no holding him. Just go!" He paid $75.20 for $2. "He shouldn't have been 36-1 in that race," Luis says. "He won it quite easy."

When, on June 2, Summing worked a mile on the Belmont training track in 1:37⅘ one of the fastest mile works on that track in recent memory. Luis chortled all the way to the barn. He felt that the Penn Derby and the workout had set the horse up perfectly for the Belmont. "He got a good shot," Luis said the morning of the race. "A key question is, can Pleasant Colony go a mile and a half.?"

As for Martens, he abandoned all caution. On Saturday he told a longtime friend, Carl Pfister, "There's no way I can lose this race. My horse is much the best. I'll see you at the victory party."

Luis had begun celebrating two days before the Belmont. His wife, Clara, had been undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer, and on Thursday she called to tell him that the latest X-rays had revealed that the tumor had disappeared. "That was my Kentucky Derby and Preakness," Barrera said. There was now only the Belmont to win.

Despite Martens' optimism and Barrera's confidence, it was difficult to make a serious case against Pleasant Colony, who had run three strong races in a row—the Wood, the Derby and the Preakness. The form on most of the other horses ranged from bleak to erratic, and not even Campo could figure who would be chasing him home. Campo didn't throw out Summing. "He's coming to the race good," he said.

Pleasant Colony broke out in a sweat in the paddock, and he balked several times before he agreed to move into the starting gate, perhaps upset by the presence of a television cameraman in the outside stall. He gave an impression of sourness, looking uncomfortable and out of sorts, like a straphanger on a hot, crowded bus. The speed horses, such as they were, took back at the break, leaving Bare Knuckles, an 80-1 shot, in front for the first half in 48⅖ a stroll. Summing lay sixth, with Martens saving ground. Pleasant Colony was last into the backstretch, almost 10 lengths behind the leaders—Bare Knuckles, Sezyou, Stage Door Key and then Summing.

They cantered past the three-quarter pole in 1:14⅕ a holiday. Martens had Summing in a perfect spot. "I thought if I stayed on the fence and saved ground, it might make the difference," he says. As the horses in front drifted out, leaving room on the rail, Summing picked up the beat and took the lead. "He made that move by himself," Martens says. "When I made the lead and he relaxed, I knew I had a hell of a shot. I had a long hold: I just galloped around."

Running easily, Summing opened two lengths quickly as he left the far turn. Then three. Suddenly, Summing was five in front and all alone, following a slow mile in 1:39[2/5]. What had been keeping Jorge Velasquez, on Pleasant Colony, through that slow three-quarters of a mile? "What could I do?" Velasquez said later. "My horse had no speed." As they made the turn, Jacinto Vasquez, on Highland Blade, rushed up into second, with Pleasant Colony following. Straightening for home, with Summing still five on top, Martens chirped to him. The horse picked up the pace. Vasquez tried but couldn't close in. Nor could Velasquez.

Nearing midstretch, Martens asked for it all. "I said, 'It's time now.' " With an eighth of a mile to go. Summing still had three lengths on Highland Blade. Both riders were using the whip, Martens slashing righthanded, Vasquez lefthanded. In the closing yards Summing began to tire. Martens switched his stick to his left hand. He waved it in front of Summing's left eye. Vasquez, riding Highland Blade hard, was a length back, then half a length. Blade's nose came to Summing's neck. Then the wire flashed by. Martens raised his left arm in the air.

Up in the seats, Luis Barrera nearly collapsed. Wringing wet with perspiration, Wilson wandered among friends, dazed. "I'm numb," he said. "With joy. I'm a country boy. I don't deserve this." Minutes passed muggily in the heat, as if the pace of the race had slowed the tempo of life itself. Looking about for his 85-year-old mother, Wilson said, "Where's my mom? I can't go to the winner's circle without my mom." She was found. Corks exploded. Hands scratched heads. "I thought he'd run a little better," Campo said of Pleasant Colony. "Terrible! I can't explain it."

Barrera mopped his brow. "I got the Fat Man," he said. "I got the Fat Man."

Rivezzo was waiting for Summing in the detention barn after the race when she ran into James Washington, an old friend who now grooms Pleasant Colony.

"Where you been hiding him?" Washington asked.

"We ain't been hiding him," Rivezzo said.

"Where did he come from?" Washington asked.

"From heaven, James," she said.