Belmont was packed that spring day in 1989. Everyone there was hoping to be an eye witness when Sunday Silence became the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed.
As it often happens in racing, you sometime have to settle for second place. Home court advantage ruled that day and Easy Goer made sure that there was no Triple Crown horse that year. But what a race. It was among one of the 10 best races I have seen in my lifetime.
But the backstretch story is often the most interesting. After the race I went back thru the tunnel to the spitbox to check the horses out. Easy Goer had finished his bath and was cooling out in the spitbox shed row. It had started to rain lightly and I was watching Sunday Silence get his bath in the courtyard. I guess the light rain was keeping everyone away because there were no fans nor reporters around. I was the only one there.
As there was no Triple Crown horse that year, there was no Triple Crown trainer that year either. If Sunday Silence had won it would have crowned the career of one of the greatest thoroughbred trainers of the 20th century, Charlie Whittingham. Winning this race literally would have been the crowning jewel for his training career. To boot, there would have also been a bonus check of $5 million dollars for Sunday Silence (and a nice chunk of change for the trainer).
I was in the process of taking a picture of Sunday Silence, who had just finished his rinse and scrape, when Charlie walked out of the spitbox barn and into the courtyard. Charlie carefully looked his horse over and Sunday Silence, ears perked, looked at Charlie. Charlie then reached into his pocket, pulled out a peppermint, unwrapped it and held it out in his hand to an eagerly expectant Sunday Silence. I snapped the photo just then, freezing the moment in time. The backstretch story was that Sunday Silence was a tough colt when he originally came tot he Whittingham barn. Charlie had made friends with him by feeding him peppermints. It was bribery and reward cementing a friendship between the two of them.
They had just lost the elusive Triple Crown by a nose. Odds are that the trainer will never have that chance again, and he is out a $5 million dollar bonus. All that was secondary to Charlie Whittingham as he gave Sunday Silence that peppermint. the horse ran his heart out, tried his best, came back sound and will go on to race and win again. That is all that matters to a true Horseman. That’s what that photo of Charlie and Sunday Silence shows: just who Charlie Whittingham really was and what it is to be a great Horseman.
I was lucky enough on that rainy afternoon at the Belmont spitbox to get a glimpse of greatness and be able to share it with you. As Charlie liked to say about a horse when he was testing their ability, “Let’s find out where Molly hid the Peaches!”
Molly didn’t hide the peaches much at all that day when it came to Sunday Silence’s or the trainer’s ability. The peaches and peppermints were right out there for everyone to see.