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Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid still growing

He had gone widely unnoticed in the days leading up to the 131st Belmont Stakes and, even after crossing the finish line first, the bay colt from the barn of Scotty Schulhofer still didn't have the attention of the racing world.

On the evening of June 5, 1999, it appeared Lemon Drop Kid would always have the unfortunate designation of being associated with tragedy.

But while the non-fatal breakdown of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic still reigns as the indelible image that day, the ongoing success of the horse who won the 1999 Belmont Stakes has helped shine a different light on what was initially one of racing's darker moments.

When Lemon Drop Kid edged Vision and Verse by a head to capture the Belmont Stakes 10 years ago, he was the overlooked, underachieving colt who was further overshadowed by the heart-wrenching sight of jockey Chris Antley cradling Charismatic's fractured left front leg in the race's aftermath.

Though many associate the 1999 Belmont as the day one champion's career came to a premature end, the race has also come to signify the start of Lemon Drop Kid's own illustrious journey.

Following his narrow Belmont victory, the son of Kingmambo went on to earn three more Grade I victories and retired in 2000 as the Eclipse Award-winner for champion older male.

After getting off to a similarly slow start as a stallion, Lemon Drop Kid is now one of the rising commodities in the breeding shed — currently standing for $50,000 at Lane's End Farm — and has one of the top Belmont contenders this year with his graded stakes-winning son Charitable Man.

"You know, it's been terrific to see him develop the way he has," said Will Farish, owner of Lane's End and co-breeder of Lemon Drop Kid. "It's funny because he came on really late as a 3-year-old and then took off as a 4-year-old and his stallion career has been very similar. It wasn't really until his second and third crop that he began to show what he is capable of."

The emotional roller coaster of Lemon Drop Kid's Belmont triumph was particularly tumultuous for Farish, who was also the co-breeder of Charismatic, who finished third before being pulled up just after the finish line.

Like many in the crowd of 85,818, Farish was so focused on the Derby and Preakness winner it took him a few moments to realize who had actually taken the final leg of the Triple Crown.

"That was a big day, it was an emotional day," recalled Farish, who also co-bred fifth-place finisher Stephen Got Even. "We knew Lemon Drop Kid was right there but we were so focused on Charismatic possibly winning the Triple Crown and then so concerned for him afterwards.

"In that moment it was like 'Oh my God,' and then, 'Wow, look what Lemon Drop Kid did.' It was a very tough day."

Despite having won the Grade I Futurity as a juvenile, Lemon Drop Kid was dismissed at odds of 29-1 in the Belmont thanks to off-the-board efforts in the Blue Grass Stakes and Kentucky Derby and a third-place run in the Peter Pan Stakes.

But those looking to dismiss his Belmont win as a fluke had to go elsewhere when he defeated Vision and Verse again the Grade I Travers Stakes that August.

"He is one of the best, if not the best 3-year-old," jockey Jose Santos said after the Travers victory.

Though he lost 3-year-old champion honors and Horse of the Year to the then-retired Charismatic in 1999, Lemon Drop Kid returned the next year to win four straight graded stakes — including the Grade I Whitney Handicap and Woodward Stakes — before concluding his career with a fifth-place finish behind Tiznow in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

In validating his talent on the track, Lemon Drop Kid also helped enhance the career of his then-up-and-coming sire Kingmambo, who entered stud in 1994 and is now one the world's top international stallions.

"Before, with one or two exceptions, most of Kingmambo's best runners were mostly on the grass in Europe," Farish said. "Lemon Drop Kid showed he could get a top runner on the dirt."

Though his stud fee dropped to $35,000 in 2008 after entering stud at $100,000 in 2001, Lemon Drop Kid has put in a similar resurgence in the breeding shed, notching 41 stakes winners from six crops, including 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever.

Due to the circumstances surrounding his signature victory, accolades eluded Lemon Drop Kid for some time.

But in the decade since his Belmont victory, the bay stallion has made sure to keep the attention coming his way for all the right reasons.

"It looks very much like his offspring tend to develop mentally and physically a little bit later like he did," Farish said. "He's just getting better with age, which is very gratifying to see."