WinStar Farm and Bobby Flay's Creator nosed out Destin to win the 148th running of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, covering the 12 furlongs in 2:28.51 over Belmont Park's fast main track. Just after the son of Tapit crossed the wire, rains began to fall over the Belmont oval, drenching the connections in the winner's circle and leaving a rainbow over the emotional scene. It was the first Belmont Stakes victory for jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. and for trainer Steve Asmussen.
“He proved his worth today,” said Asmussen. “It's the best feeling right now. The great thing about racing; you can have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month. They don't put you behind the gates, they line you up even and give you a chance to prove yourself. Obviously want to say thanks for the opportunity with a horse like him that can prove he's good enough to win the Belmont Stakes.”Creator was named by WinStar CEO Elliott Walden, a very religious man. “We liked this horse an awful lot as a 2-year-old, and I don't know, God might have given me a sign,” said Walden. “We are a Christian farm, and the Troutts are Christians, and faith is very important to them, and their relationship with Christ is very important to them.”
Celebrity chef Bobby Flay must have also seen something special in Creator, as he purchased a minority interest in the colt just last week.
“It's not really the thing I usually do because I usually buy fillies,” said Flay. “But having a chance to be involved with a horse like that, with a farm like that, and the people that are involved in it, just it was a no brainer for me.”
Earlier this week WinStar Farm, Creator's majority owner, entered another colt, the speedster Gettysburg, in the 148th running of the Belmont Stakes. This move totally changed the complexion of the race, allowing Creator's typical late-running style to be far more effective than it might otherwise have been.
Despite trainer Asmussen's week-long insistence that Gettysburg was not entered as a “rabbit” for Creator, that's pretty much how the race played out. Destin broke sharply and went to challenge for the lead under Javier Castellano, but Gettysburg and Paco Lopez out-sprinted that Todd Pletcher trainee to make the front. While the early fractions weren't out of the norm for top-level competitors, :24.09 and :48.48 for the quarter and the half-mile, respectively, they allowed the large number of late-closing horses a better chance to finish strong.
“Gettysburg did his job,” said Asmussen. The speedy colt had been transferred to his stable from Todd Pletcher's barn not long before the Belmont. “A great call by Elliott [Walden] there. Forty-eight and four for a half allowed Creator to show who he is.”
While Gettysburg pushed out to a 1 1/2-length lead near the half-mile mark, Destin closed that gap on him approaching the half-way point of the race; the pair were just a neck apart through three-quarters in 1:13.38. The heavily favored Exaggerator was not far off the pace-setters with clear sailing along the outside of Stradivari, and it was at about this point that he began to struggle against jockey Kent Desormeaux, fighting to be turned loose and ranging up into third position.
Near the rear of the field waited Creator and Ortiz, as far as 21 lengths off the leaders in the early going. Just as Exaggerator begged for more rein, Creator was beginning to make his way between horses, moving into sixth by the one-mile mark. Gettysburg was still in front at this point, but was quickly tiring, and Destin took over to mark the mile in 1:37.96. The rapidly-slowing Gettysburg backed up into the path of Governor Malibu just as that colt made his move, forcing jockey Joel Rosario to check sharply.
Along the outside, Desormeaux began asking more of the Preakness-winning Exaggerator, but to no avail.
“It was a gallop to the half-mile pole,” explained Desormeaux. “I couldn't believe we were going so slow for such an animal, such a talent, such a horse with expeditious speed. We quickened at the four and a half, and this horse I had about 10 pounds of pressure on the reins asking him to wait. It took about that. I was pulling with about 10 pounds of pressure.
“We switched leads where we normally start racing on little racetracks and the guys in front quickened and I elected, ‘Ok, well I like my position and don't want to lose it. He can a run half a mile from here.' So, I released the lines and now I had about four pounds of pressure on him, and they kept opening up on me. I was praying to God that the reins were lying to me. The horse that was keen to progress was not underneath me. I nursed him to the quarter pole and set him down, put him down for a mad drive and said, ‘Show me your stuff,' and there was nothing there. By the time we got to the eighth pole he was stepping on his tongue and I said that's enough.”
At nearly the same time, Creator and Ortiz made their way up the rail, finding a seam along the inside. Just four lengths off the lead at the head of the lane, Ortiz had to be very patient in waiting for a hole to open in front of him. The tiring Exaggerator was blocking him from going around the outside, and Governor Malibu's interrupted rally was to Ortiz's inside. Finally, a seam opened as Stradivari drifted out slightly, and Creator exploded through with little urging from Ortiz.
It was game on from that point. Ortiz focused on riding Creator with his arms and his body, only urging the colt on once with a left-handed stick. In the final sixteenth of a mile, Creator found his best stride and accelerated to just get his nose down in front of Destin at the wire. It was a turn of fate from the Belmont Stakes in 2007, when Todd Pletcher's Rags to Riches just bested Steve Asmussen's future Horse of the Year Curlin by a head.“I'm glad to see him put that number up; they came to the wire together,” exhaled Asmussen just as Creator was declared the winner. “Irad gave him a dream trip. He saved yards and he won by inches. He made the difference.”
Finishing third in the Belmont Stakes was the fan-favorite, often-entertaining Lani, who closed from dead last to finish just 1 3/4 lengths behind Destin. The troubled Governor Malibu was relegated to fourth, 2 3/4 lengths behind the Japanese-trained Lani.
After the horses galloped out, Jose Ortiz, who'd ridden Forever d'Oro to finish far back of the field for Dallas Stewart, rode up alongside the winner to give his brother a jubilant high-five.
“It's an amazing feeling. It's very important to me,” said an emotional Irad Ortiz. “He was calm and I just waited for somewhere to go. When he got clear, he started running.”Bred in Kentucky by Mt. Brilliant Broodmares I, Creator hammered for $440,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale. He is out of a multiple graded stakes-placed daughter of Privately Held. He was one of the top choices for the Kentucky Derby following a strong late-running victory in the Arkansas Derby, but lost all chance when interfered with at the start on the first Saturday in May. With a second Grade 1 victory under his belt, Creator now boasts a career record of 3-4-1 from 10 starts, with earnings of over $1.6 million.
“Every race he's improved upon himself, except for the Derby where he got stopped, and I'm really excited about his future,” said Walden of Creator. “Today just validated his whole career to this point. If he didn't win today, you'd think, well, maybe the Arkansas Derby was just a fluke, but the fact that he won today validates everything that he's done, and he's going to be a horse that's going to be a lot of fun.”
Watch the race replay here:
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