New York Bobby Frankel's wish came true. Everybody hates him.
Eager to play the villain in Funny Cide's feel-good march toward Triple Crown immortality, Frankel stepped up with a smile after Empire Maker won the Belmont Stakes on a soggy Saturday.
Empire Maker won by three-quarters of a length over Ten Most Wanted, giving the trainer his first Triple Crown race victory.
Funny Cide, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, was third, disappointing many of the 101,864 wet fans who wanted to see racing's first Triple Crown in 25 years.
"This is probably the biggest thrill in racing for me," Frankel said. "A little redemption here."
Funny Cide, a New York-bred gelding, captured America's fancy with his fun-loving, small-time owners, obscure trainer and jockey who overcame a baseless accusation that he used an illegal electrical device to prod Funny Cide to victory in the Derby.
"I thought maybe destiny wanted that horse to win," Frankel said.
Yet all week, Frankel and jockey Jerry Bailey expressed confidence in Empire Maker's ability to handle the grueling 11Â¼2-mile race.
"I hope everybody hates me after the race, then I'll know I did well," he said days before the final leg of the Triple Crown.
When Bailey walked into the paddock, Frankel didn't give him any instructions.
"You ride him like you want to ride him," Frankel told him.
So Bailey did, laying third behind front-running Funny Cide.
"My intention was to let him run," he said.
Bailey was in perfect position to see Funny Cide tugging mercilessly under the hold of Jose Santos.
"My horse was very relaxed," Bailey said. "If they pull on you all the way, they've got nothing left when they turn for home."
Frankel is in the Hall of Fame, and he led the nation's trainers in earnings last year. But what he really wanted was to win a Triple Crown race, something rivals Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas do routinely.
At 61, Frankel wondered if it was his lot in life to come up short. Twice before he finished second in the Belmont, including last year when Medaglia d'Oro was beaten by a half-length by 70-1 shot Sarava.
In 2000, Frankel failed when Aptitude was second in the Derby and the Belmont.
This year, Empire Maker, bothered by a foot injury, finished second to Funny Cide in the Derby. Frankel's other horse, Peace Rules, was third.
Giving up a terrace seat with his fellow trainers, the ultra-competitive Frankel holed up in the racing secretary's office, his favorite hiding place to watch big races on television.
Accompanied by his friend and fellow trainer Lisa Lewis, Frankel looked on tensely until Empire Maker moved up to challenge Funny Cide's lead at the 11Â¼4-mile pole.
Lewis and Frankel shouted at the television until Empire Maker crossed the wire in front. Frankel jumped in the air and threw his arms up, a wide smile on his weathered face.
"I don't feel bad. I feel great," he said. "I won the race and that's what I wanted."