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 turned home I thought forget it. I know Todd thought he could do a strong last quarter mile and he did.”
Donegal lapped the 1 1/2 mile course in 2 minutes and 28.28 seconds ahead of Nest and Skippylongstocking. 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 a wide eight-horse field without a clear favorite – We the People, a monster in the mud, opened 2-1 amid a rain forecast but was 7-2 at 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, and Skippylongstocking returned $5.60 to show it off.
Rich Strike, a stunning oneat odds of 80 to 1, he finished sixth after owner Rick Dawson and trainer Eric Reed knocked him out of the race with an eye on Belmont. Rich Strike became the first healthy derby winner to skip Pimlico since 1985.
Reed said the team encouraged jockey Sonny Leon to try 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.
“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.
It is the fourth consecutive year that the Triple Crown races have been won by three different horses, a first for 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 capped at 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 grandstands weren’t nearly as full as they were in 2004, when the ground hosted 120,139 fans. 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 6 1/4 long 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.