NEW YORK (AP) — Mo Donegal won and filly Nest finished second, giving trainer Todd Pletcher a 1-2 finish at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday for his sixth victory in a Triple Crown race.
Donegal completed the 1 1/2 mile track in 2 minutes, 28.28 seconds, ahead of Nest and Skippylongstocking.
Pletcher won the Belmont Stakes for the fourth time, after Rags to Riches in 2007, Palace Malice in 2013 and Tapwrit in 2017.
Mo Donegal beat a wide-open eight-horse field with no clear favorite – monster-in-the-mud We the People opened 2-1 amid a rainy forecast but made it 7-2 at race time as the showers held off.
Mo Donegal entered the gate the betting favorite at 5-2. We the People led for much of the race, but Mo Donegal and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. took the lead coming out of the final corner.
“The only thing I told Irad was to be patient,” Pletcher said. “I think you have the best last quarter of any horse in the race.”
Rich Strike, a stunning Kentucky Derby winner at 80-1 odds, finished sixth after owner Rick Dawson and trainer Eric Reed held him out of the Preakness with an eye on Belmont. Rich Strike was the first healthy Derby winner to skip Pimlico since 1985.
Reed said the team encouraged jockey Sonny Leon to try and push Rich Strike from the outside, but the horse kept trying to get back inside – where he made a late charge after 19 horses for win at Churchill Downs.
“I think we just made a tactical mistake,” Reed said.
Much like Rich Strike, Mo Donegal was trailing at the Derby, but the colt didn’t get enough kick at Churchill Downs. He found it on Saturday, winning the 154th edition of the $1.5 million race.
“To be honest with you, we were a bit confident for the race today,” said Donegal Racing CEO Jerry Crawford. “When he got home I was like, forget it. I know Todd thought he could get a good last quarter mile, and he certainly did.
It is the fourth year in a row that the Triple Crown races have been won by three different horses, a first in the sport since 1926-29.
The race marked a return to form for Belmont itself after the 2020 Stakes were closed to the public due to the pandemic and the 2021 event was limited to 11,238 spectators by virus restrictions.
Capacity was again capped, this time at 50,000, due to congestion issues stemming from the newly built arena next door for the NHL’s New York Islanders. Still, fans piled into cars on the Long Island Rail Road and breathed life into the 117-year-old track with floral headwear, pastel suits and the unmistakable musk of booze and cigars. .
Still, the stands weren’t as full as when the ground hosted 120,139 fans in 2004. Hardly a surprise, given the unstable weather forecast and the absence of a Triple Crown contender.
The field was also sparse. No horse has raced all three Triple Crown stages this year, heightening concern that three races in five weeks may be too tight a schedule to keep horses healthy.
Preakness winner Early Voting was sidelined, likely to set up the $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Racecourse on August 27. Epicenter, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up, also skipped.
In the $500,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies, Matareya took a win by 6 1/4 lengths. Favorite Echo Zulu scratched the post on the advice of the track vet.
Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Flavien Prat, Matareya ($2.60) ran the mile in 1:35.77, winning for the fifth time in eight career starts.
Much-favored Flightline started a slow pace, overcame an early traffic problem and took a six-length victory in the million-dollar Hill ‘N’ Dale Metropolitan Mile.
The win kept the 4-year-old Tapit colt undefeated in four career starts. It was the first he hadn’t won by double-digit lengths.
Flightline ($2.90) was also ridden by Prat and trained by John Sadler.