Bellamy the road to Triple for George

Apr 19, 2005 9:08 AM

Here is the scenario, so write it down.

George Steinbrenner wins the Triple Crown with Bellamy Road, returns to his spectacularly beautiful Kinsman Farms in Florida, watches his Yankees win the World Series, and winds up 2005 the happiest man in the universe.

I expect all of those things will happen, but I admit a few things may get in the way.

Like the three and seventh-eighths miles over three racetracks that stand between Bellamy Road and a Triple Crown, starting with the mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs May 7.

Bellamy Road, of course, may never reach the Derby. He has to stay healthy for another two and a half weeks, no small accomplishment with top thoroughbreds today. They are like old Meissen china in an upscale antique shop. You break them and you own them. They break themselves and they own you.

I keep thinking of Devil’s Bag, euthanized recently at 24. Unbeaten at two, he was the daily poster boy for the Derby, won its Derby Trial, and then never got to run for the roses.

Events of the last week have changed this year’s up and down Derby. First there were the usual highly touted stars like Declans Moon, who fell by the wayside to injury along with other hyped hopefuls. At that point it was called anyone’s race. Then Bellamy Road exploded in the Wood Memorial, and for one week the Derby appeared to be a one-horse runaway. But last Saturday Afleet Alex returned from sickness and stormed the Arkansas Derby by eight lengths, and Bandini blasted home six in front in the Blue Grass. Ye Gods, we have a classic again.

Their two massive margins combined, however, still were less than the 17½ lengths that Bellamy Road tossed at his rivals in the Wood, so I have to stick with him, and Steinbrenner.

I happen to know George, and I have regretted the easy target he has made himself for some of New York’s wiseguy newsmen. I also have resented their taking advantage of it by painting him as an ogre.

He is at heart a compassionate guy, and I would rather see him and Nick Zito, a real class act, win the Derby than any of the other owner-trainer combinations likely to be in it.

For one thing, both of them are free of the snobbishness of a lot of thoroughbred owners who run with blinkers on, and turn up their noses at other breeds, particularly harness horses.

Both Steinbrenner and Zito own trotters as well as runners. George has never won a Hambletonian, the Kentucky Derby of the trotters, but he has bought top class yearlings in trying.

Zito happens to be partners this year in a 3-year-old trotting filly that was one of the three best 2-year-olds in North America last year. He does not train her, but his wife gets supremely excited about her, which is as good as it gets for someone who owns horses. The filly’s name is Centerfold Hall, and since harness racing plays Avis to thoroughbred racing’s Hertz in news coverage, I’ll keep you posted from time to time this summer if she fulfills her juvenile promise for the Zitos.

While the hype for the Derby builds, this time with good cause because of really topflight contenders, justice wends its weary and winding way elsewhere in racing, from California to New Jersey, and north to Ontario. People have been caught doing things that disgrace racing in all of those jurisdictions, but continue to appear on the racetrack under stays and appeals.

The presumption of innocence until proved guilty is paramount to justice in this country, but allowing people charged with crimes to continue plying their trade is disturbing in a game where other people are betting their hard-earned, or even easily-earned, or perhaps ill-earned, money.

I know the analogy will draw screams from trainers and owners — and certainly from their lawyers, paid handsomely by the hour — but someone charged but not yet convicted or acquitted with stealing from a bank is not allowed to continue working as a teller while under appeal. They should not be allowed to race, either.