NEW YORK – Triple Crown veteran Todd Pletcher had some simple advice for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. before the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
“Be patient,” Pletcher said. “I think you have the best last quarter of any horse in the race.”
Sometimes Mo is less.
Mo Donegal pulled away down the stretch and fended off filly Nest to win the Belmont Stakes, giving Pletcher a 1-2 finish and his sixth Triple Crown win, including four at this stretch on the outskirts of New York City.
“To be honest we were a little confident going into the race today,” said Jerry Crawford, CEO and co-owner of Donegal Racing. “When he went home I thought forget it. I know Todd thought he could put up a strong last quarter mile and he certainly did.”
Rich Strike, an impressive 80-to-1 Kentucky Derby winner, finished sixth.
Mo Donegal lapped the 1½ mile distance in 2 minutes, 28.28 seconds, three lengths ahead of Nest – ridden by Ortiz’ brother Jose. Pletcher, who lives on Long Island, adds another Belmont title after wins with Rags to Riches in 2007, Palace Malice in 2013 and Tapwrit in 2017.
Mo Donegal beat an eight-horse field without a clear favourite. Excellent runner in the mud, We the People opened 2-1 amid a rain forecast but was up 7-2 by race time as the showers failed to materialise.
Mo Donegal went in goal 5 to 2 as the betting favourite. We the people led much of the race but Mo Donegal and Ortiz took charge coming out of the last corner.
The 3-year-old colt paid $7.20, $3.80 and $3. Nest – who almost became Pletcher’s second filly to win Belmont after Rags to Riches – paid $5.30 and $4.10. Skippylongstocking finished third, returning $5.60. We, the people, finished fourth.
Rich Striker owner Rick Dawson and trainer Eric Reed kept the Kentucky Derby winner out of the Preakness with a view of Belmont, the first healthy horse to skip Pimlico after winning the first Triple Crown race since 1985.
Reed said the team encouraged jockey Sonny Leon to push Rich Strike from the outside, but the horse kept trying to get back inside – where late he charged past 19 horses to win at Churchill Downs. Rich Strike spent much of Saturday’s race in last place and was unable to recover.
“I think we just made a tactical mistake,” Reed said.
Like Rich Strike, Mo Donegal was down the field in the Derby but the colt didn’t have enough kick at Churchill Downs. He found it on Saturday and won the 154th heat of the $1.5 million race.
Mo Donegal made a winner out of co-owner Mike Repole, a local entrepreneur known on the circuit as “Mike from Queens”. Repole is also a co-owner of Nest.
“This is New York’s biggest race and to win it here, with my family and my friends and 70 people here, that’s going to be a big circle of winners,” he said.
It is the fourth consecutive year that the Triple Crown competitions have been won by three different horses, a first for the sport since 1926-1929.
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 due to virus restrictions.
Capacity was again limited, this time to 50,000, due to overcrowding concerns from the newly built arena next door for the NHL’s New York Islanders. Still, fans crowded into cars on the Long Island Rail Road and breathed life into the 117-year-old route with floral headpieces, pastel suits, and the unmistakable musk of alcohol and cigars.
The reported attendance of 46,103 fell far short of the site record of 120,139 set in 2004. No big surprise given the shaky weather forecast and the lack of a Triple Crown contender.
The field was also sparse. No horse has run all three Triple Crown stages this year, adding to concerns that three races in five weeks could be too tight a schedule to keep the horses healthy.
The Preakness winner’s early voting was put on hold to likely prepare for the $1.25 million Travers stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 27. Epicenter, the runner-up at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, also skipped.
At the $500,000 Acorn for 3-year-olds, Matareya romped to a 6¼-length win. Favorite Echo Zulu scraped 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 and won for the fifth time in eight career starts.
The heavily favored Flightline got off a step too slowly, overcame an early traffic problem and rode to a six-way win down the $1 million Hill ‘N’ Dale Metropolitan Mile.
The win kept the 4-year-old Tapit colt unbeaten in four career starts. This was the first he didn’t win by double-digit lengths. Flightline ($2.90) was also ridden by Prat and trained by John Sadler.