Track Reports

Belmont Park Notes: Saratoga on the Horizon for G1 Belmont Winner Creator

creator credit Chelsea Durand/NYRA
Chelsea Durand/NYRA

ELMONT, N.Y. – Steve Asmussen, who won his first Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets with Creator on Saturday in the trainer’s third try for the third jewel in the Triple Crown, happily reported the son of Tapit to be in tip-top shape this morning.

“I am obviously very proud of the horse. He’s very proud [of himself] this morning and he’s very alert. I’m kind of surprised by his energy. He ate up last night,” said Asmussen, who admitted he didn’t get much sleep. “I got up to watch the replay every 15 minutes.”

What he saw each time was as exhilarating as when Creator, with Irad Ortiz, Jr. up, rallied from way off the pace, spilt horses in the stretch, dug down deep inside the eighth pole, and got up just in time to get his nose down at the wire and prevail over the Todd Pletcher-trained Destin.

“I thought it was a great race. I thought Irad did a masterful job with him and with every decision he made,” he said. “I really thought the horse tried to win late. He just really, really laid out there and dug in, and I personally feel very fortunate for his effort.”

Asmussen finished fourth in 2011 with Nehro and in 2007 eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin came up short by a head after battling the filly Rags to Riches whisker-to-whisker down the lane in one of the most dramatic finishes in Belmont Stakes history. As fate would have it, Pletcher also trained Rags to Riches, who went on as well to post-season championship honors.

“I cannot wait to walk by that wall [the Clubhouse display of past Belmont winners], and I’ll actually stop next year and look at the pictures for obvious reasons,” said Asmussen.

He also is experiencing a sense of satisfaction that now Creator, who is owned by WinStar Farm LLC and Bobby Flay, is a Classic race winner. After winning the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, he encountered a terrible Kentucky Derby trip to finish 13th, and skipped the Preakness Stakes.

Considering the Derby, where things can and did go wrong in a 20-horse field, Asmussen said that a horse’s ability does not always guarantee success.

“We’re just very proud for him having the opportunity to prove who he was. Nothing but congratulations to the victors. We felt he could prove his worth and he did yesterday,” said Asmussen. “For him to be carrying Irad as well as he was at the quarter-pole and then dig in to the wire [was impressive]. I thought he galloped out good. He’s a strong horse. This is a credit to him. I’m very proud that he got it done on such a big day.”

It took Creator six tries until he graduated from the maiden ranks at Oaklawn Park February 27 and Asmussen credited his assistant Darren Fleming for the colt’s remarkable progression in becoming the Arkansas Derby winner. Asmussen said the mindset Creator learned at Oaklawn made a difference in the Belmont.

“You walk over [in the Belmont], you’re in the holding barn, there are 13 head, not much air moving in there, 10 times more people than you need under normal circumstances, but he stayed focused. The whole race, with the traffic, he stayed focused. He never gave anything back. He stayed on the bridle,” he said. “I mentioned Irad’s trip with him, but he stayed right underneath him. He stuck his head out at the wire. The pageantry of it didn’t overwhelm him. I think that’s where the other win [Arkansas Derby] comes in.”

Asmussen, who was born in Gettysburg, S.D., also heaped praise on his other Belmont runner, Gettysburg.

Gettysburg, a son of Pioneerof the Nile, is owned by WinStar as well. He faded to fifth in the Arkansas Derby after posting sizzling splits, and during Belmont week, WinStar president, CEO and racing manager Elliott Walden transferred the front-running colt from the barn of Pletcher to Asmussen to ensure there would be honest fractions in what had shaped up as a paceless race.

“After the Derby, you just want a shot. You just want it to unfold. Elliott made a great move with Gettysburg,” Asmussen said. “We’d seen his previous races and looked at it on paper. Without Gettysburg, the race goes fifty and change for a half-mile. Fifty and change makes it a cluster. It makes it a bowling ball going around there. We felt that a little pace would stretch the race out to where you had a shot. It was a very smoothly run race. With Gettysburg being there, it gave us 48 and change.”

Gettysburg’s contributions were considerable, but the star of the day remained Creator.

“I was disappointed that we may have lost our window in the Derby with this horse, so I’m glad that he didn’t sour off of that trip, which easily he could have. For the Belmont they talk about giving them time. Five weeks off the Derby ain’t a lot of time. He didn’t sour. He was willing to do it again and he didn’t hold it against us, and it worked out for him,” Asmussen said.

Creator and Gettysburg, who wound up eighth in the Belmont after doing his job well, will both get some well-deserved R&R at WinStar farm, where they are headed tomorrow afternoon after their flight to Kentucky.

Asmussen said that Creator will spend an undetermined amount of time there, dependent upon how he responds, and will then be pointed to the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes on August 27 at Saratoga Race Course.

“I very much think that right now, with all of the pressure we’ve put on him, and the amount of racing that he’s had this year, he needs a little mental freshening to get away from it for a bit,” said the trainer. “When he wins the Belmont in New York, you would love for Creator to be at his best for the Travers. But I think we need to do the responsible thing and let him let down a little bit, and then see how he responds. That is respect for the effort he gave us yesterday.”

Asmussen is also headed to Saratoga, where he will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in August, and good things are coming in triplicate for him.

In addition to becoming a Hall of Famer and a Belmont Stakes winner, he and his wife, Julie, are celebrating the recent news that the cancer she has battled ferociously has gone into remission.

“To be blessed enough to have the big victory yesterday and to be able celebrate and share that with your family means everything. Everything. Racing for me is a family affair. I grew up in my parents’ barn and they’re still a huge part of it. To be able to celebrate and share this win with my family is very, very special,” said Asmussen, who also had his children with him. “It’s so exciting, the excitement of how the race unfolded with Creator just getting up. It’s all the things we love about racing.”

Beaten Belmont favorite Exaggerator walks Sunday, pointing to Saratoga

Grade 1 Preakness winner Exaggerator walked the shedrow Sunday morning, emerging no worse for wear following his 11th-place finish as the 7-5 favorite in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

“He’s good. I walked him myself at about 6:30 this morning. He’s his same, vibrant self, bright-eyed, ate up his feed last night, legs are clean,” trainer Keith Desormeaux said. “Maybe a little more subdued than he usually is, but that stands to reason. [He’s] good, happy and still has that confident look in his eye, so we’re good. His trainer, I don’t know about him. He’s still trying to shake the cobwebs but, all in all, it’s a good morning.”

Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, Keith’s younger brother, had Exaggerator in the clear four wide around the turn and down the backstretch from post 11 in the 13-horse field. They remained in contention through a mile and a quarter before easing off down the lane and winding up 14 lengths behind winner Creator, finishing ahead of only long shot maiden winners Seeking the Soul and Forever d’Oro.

Winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby April 9 and runner-up to then-unbeaten Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby, Exaggerator and Japanese import Lani were the only two horses to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

“The only thing I can settle on right now is I really don’t think he liked the surface, even though Kent disagrees. Kent only has two minutes to figure things out, I have 24 hours,” Keith Desormeaux said. “What sticks out in my mind is the fact that in the [previous] three races – Derby, Preakness, Santa Anita Derby – Kent’s first comment when he came back to the winner’s circle was, ‘Keith he’s cooled out already.’ In other words, he caught his breath, he’s calm, his heart rate’s down. He’s back, before he got back to take his saddle off.

“Yesterday he panted and gasped the air and looked a little fatigued for 45 minutes after the race. I can guarantee the races haven’t had the toll on him. He struggled with the track,” he added. “He gave us his [best] to try to win and it got to him. That’s what I’m settling on. I think he didn’t get hold of the track as well as he needed to in order to win the race. If it’s a mile and a quarter, would he have won? I don’t think he was ahead at the quarter pole. It wasn’t the distance. It was the fact that he struggled with the track.”

Exaggerator was trying to become the first Derby runner-up since Hall of Famer Nashua in 1955 to win the final two-thirds of the Triple Crown. Only three favorites in the last 20 years have won the Belmont, including 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.

“All in all what an experience. This is what we live for. This is what we work all our lives to get to this level,” Desormeaux said. “It still amazes me that so many people are interested in horses and their actions and their characteristics and traits. That’s what I fell in love with as a kid, so it’s so cool that so many people are interested as well. I hope we didn’t disappoint them. He’s a good horse. Everybody wants to be like American Pharoah but that’s not the way it is. I hate that he disappointed as the favorite, that’s always hurtful, but the horse will be back for more. It’s cool to see so much interest in what the mainstream media describes as a dying sport. It seems alive and well to me.”

Looking ahead, Exaggerator will remain at Belmont Park through the end of the spring-summer meet before shipping to Saratoga Race Course with eyes on the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy July 30 and Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers August 27.

“It seems like a good plan,” he said. “We’ll go with that and if we have to adjust, we will.”

Team McLauglin still wowed by Frosted’s G1 Met Mile victory

Godolphin Stables’ Frosted came out of his eye-popping victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.25 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap in good order and was headed back to the Greentree training facility in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Sunday morning.

The 123rd running of the prestigious Met Mile was Frosted’s first time racing at Belmont Park since finishing second to Triple Crown champion American Pharoah in last year’s Belmont Stakes, and his first start in the U.S. following his fifth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup March 26.

Under jockey Joel Rosario, also aboard for wins in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial and Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby last year, Frosted cruised to a 14 ¼-length victory, believed to be the largest margin in race history. The final time of 1:32.73 was a stakes record, topping Honour and Glory’s 1:32.81 from 1996. Frosted also earned an automatic berth into the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

“He came out of it great. He was all pumped up after the race. He was happy,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “We were just like in shock; speechless, really. It was incredible to watch it unfold. You say to yourself, ‘What’d we do different to make him run like that,’ but it’s hard to say.

“Joel gets along with him, and he had time since Dubai. Neal, my brother, went with him this winter so we kept him in our program,” he added. “Rob Massey was getting on him in Dubai and came back. They did a great job. I’ve been going up [to Greentree] watching him work and he was doing fabulous, but he’s always trained well. That race yesterday was just a ‘wow’ race. It was fabulous.”

McLaughlin said the next spot for Frosted would likely be the Grade 1, $1.25 million Whitney August 6 at Saratoga, where he was second in the Jim Dandy and third in the Travers last summer.

“We kind of need to look at it but probably the Whitney would be the right spot. It’s 60 days. Last year he was running often. Now when you look, we gave him a little time into Dubai’s prep race and he ran huge. He ran well in the World Cup but he was wide and finished fifth, but I feel like we were second-best,” McLaughlin said. “Then we came back here and gave him 70 days and he won like that. We don’t probably want to go every 30 days. We’ll probably wait for the Whitney.”

Winner of the Belmont Stakes with Jazil in 2006, the same year he trained Invasor to a Horse of the Year championship, McLaughlin said Frosted’s Met Mile was one of his biggest career highlights.

“Way up there in the top five, for sure. It’s our biggest win for Godolphin ever. It’s just so neat with this horse because he’s such a talented horse and has everything. He checks all the boxes. Right race, right day, good horse,” he said. “He’s a year older and he’s still going, a very sound horse and he’s great mentally. He’s really a special horse, a neat horse. He’ll have a great stud career hopefully. He’s so well-bred, a beautiful horse with a great resume now.”

During the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, McLaughlin also won the Grade 1, $1 million Ogden Phipps – a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff – with Cavorting on Saturday and the $150,000 Jersey Girl Stakes with 3-year-old filly Kareena on Friday.

Cavorting, a multiple Grade 1-winning daughter of Bernardini, improved to four-for-five lifetime at Belmont including wins in the 2015 Jersey Girl and Grade 2 Ruffian May 14. Fourth choice in a field of seven, she won the Phipps by 2 ½ lengths in 1:40.14 for 1 1/16 miles.

“She’s gotten really good. She’s always been a really nice filly but the one turn helps and settling her. We’ve gotten her back off the pace twice now,” McLaughlin said. “Where we go, what we do, we’ll have to see. Most likely we’re going to see if she can get two turns at Saratoga.”

Kareena will be pointed to the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Test going seven furlongs August 6 at Saratoga off her 6 ¼-length win as the favorite in the six-furlong Jersey Girl, her third career start and first in a stakes. Her final time of 1:07.87 was just .21 off the track record.

“I’m not sure about the time, but it was a great win,” McLaughlin said. “It was huge. Again, she’s been training at Saratoga and doing well. Everybody up there has done a great job. We’ll look at the Test for her. A lot of people thought we maybe should have been in [Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000] Acorn but it was only her third start and we thought it was a bit much. We weren’t looking to run against those type yet.”

Pletcher plans future starts for Destin, Stradivari

Trainer Todd Pletcher reported that Destin, the narrowly beaten runner-up in the Belmont Stakes, and fifth-place finisher Stradivari, exited the race in good shape.

“Both looked good this morning,” Pletcher said outside his barn after training hours on Sunday. “I was pleased with the way they both bounced out of it pretty quickly for a mile-and-a-half race.”

With an eye on the Travers for both Destin and Stradivari, Pletcher is considering a few different possibilities to get his 3-year-olds to Saratoga’s marquee event on August 27. The Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 30, the local prep for the Travers, and the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park on July 31, are possible. The same races are under consideration for Stradivari, who Pletcher pointed out is also eligible to run in the $100,000 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga on July 29 as a prep for the Travers.

Until a week before the Belmont, Pletcher trained the Belmont Stakes pacesetter, Gettysburg, who finished eighth.The WinStar Farm-owned colt was transferred to Steve Asmussen’s care to insure a pace presence for the Asmussen-trained Creator, who is also owned by WinStar, and Exaggerator, who will stand as a stallion at WinStar upon the completion of his racing career.

“I did not feel like running Gettysburg was in my two horses’ best interests, and I had an obligation to those owners, and WinStar felt it was in their best interests to run Gettysburg, and that’s why that decision was made,” said Pletcher, reiterating the events of the past week.

When Pletcher was asked Sunday if the outcome would have been different for Destin, who prompted the pace set by Gettysburg, before taking over the lead at the quarter pole, he responded, “I guess we’ll never know.”

Pletcher said he didn’t actually anticipate that Destin, who was ridden by Javier Castellano, would be as close to the pace as he was.

“I actually anticipated that Stradivari more likely would have been following Gettysburg, and Destin kind of left the gate a little sharper,” the trainer said. “He was the first one to make that run and the first one to put pressure on [Gettysburg].

“Javier waited as long as he could and he kind of inherited the lead,” he continued. “I never really thought watching it that [Destin] lost focus, pricked his ears, and looked at something. I think he kept digging and kept fighting. Who knows [what would have happened] if he would have been loose on the lead . . . he has never given me the impression of the kind of horse that would know what to do with that but, again, we don’t know.”

Pletcher remarked that he spoke to Elliott Walden, WinStar’s president/CEO and racing manager, and told him he thought it would be best that Gettysburg did not return to his care. In the post-race press conference after the Belmont Stakes, Walden’s remarks indicated that Gettysburg would return to Pletcher.

“I spoke to Elliott this morning and I think it is probably best – I don’t think it is a good look if he comes back to us really. I think it is better if it doesn’t happen,” Pletcher said.

Brown updates Slumber condition, looks forward with other stakes winners

After a fabulous three days that saw Chad Brown win four of stakes, his first thoughts on Sunday morning were to talk about Slumber, who finished eighth in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan, and was vanned off after the finish.

“Slumber is okay,” Brown said. “Potentially he has a soft-tissue injury, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet. He is walking the shedrow sound. He took some awkward steps after the wire. We’re just going to let him be for a couple of days and get over the race and do some diagnostics on him to figure out if and where he was potentially injured.”

Brown won the $1 million Manhattan for the fourth time in the last five years with Juddmonte Farms’ Flintshire, who was making his first start for the trainer since arriving from Europe in March.

“We were impressed and relieved that the horse ran to his workouts,” Brown said. “He came to us in outstanding shape from Andre Fabre. His works have been spot-on. I was relieved to see a clean trip and to see what he could do.”

Brown said he would have to consult with Juddmonte’s Garrett O’Rourke, the racing manager, before an exact plan is hatched for Flintshire’s next race. In the meantime, the trainer has some early thoughts on the matter.

“We’re trying to work backwards from the Breeders’ Cup Turf. That race and the Joe Hirsch in the fall at Belmont are on radar for us,” Brown said. “There are some races in the summer that potentially would make sense. They are the Sword Dancer, which he won last year, and the way he cut back to a mile and a quarter yesterday, the Arlington Million wouldn’t be out of line. All these plans have to be discussed with Garrett O’Rourke in the days to come.”

Brown also won the opener on the Belmont Stakes card, the Easy Goer Stakes, with Economic Model, who may run next in Belmont’s Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes on July 9.

“The Dwyer is only three weeks from the Jim Dandy and Haskell, which makes it tough to run in both. But the Dwyer is run on a track he just won on and is worth a half-million dollars. We need to look at that race,” he said.

Brown swept the first three spots in Friday’s Grade 2 New York Stakes with Dacita, Sea Calisi and Guapaza, respectively. Dacita, he said, will be pointed to the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga on July 23; Sea Calisi most likely will be trained up to the Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington on August 13, and plans are undecided for Guapaza.

Brown also gave an update on his multiple Grade 1 winner Lady Eli, who continues to make strides for her return to races after a battle with laminitis following her win in last year’s Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational.

“Lady Eli is galloping very well,” Brown reported. “I would say she is about two weeks from her first work. She had four works at Palm Meadows that were really good, but then she just had a minor setback, and we gave her a little extra time. She has rebounded nicely.”

Ortiz brothers back to the grind following big weekend

Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. didn’t get to celebrate his first career win in a Triple Crown race for long. After piloting Creator to a victory in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, he donned the silks again for the final two races of the day. While Creator’s connections participated in the post-race press conference, Ortiz Jr. was again finding a way into the winner’s circle when he rode Dannie’s Deceiver to victory in the 13th and final race. It was his third victory of the day and the 35th of the Belmont spring meet, which trails only his brother, Jose Ortiz.

“I enjoyed it, but it’s over and it’s back to reality,” Ortiz Jr. said. “We keep working like it was before. I enjoy it. It’s my life. I love riding. I ride, then I go home.”

Ortiz Jr., 23, who started riding at Belmont Park in 2011, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2014 with Lady Eli and won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf with Stephanie’s Kitten in 2015. He then added the Belmont Stakes to his ledger when he rode Creator, who went off at 16-1, to a victory by a nose over Destin for trainer Steve Asmussen.

“It’s very special because the race is big for New York,” he said. “Every win is special, but this one is something different. Everybody [who] rides here wants to win that one.”

Jose Ortiz also had a mount in the race, Forever d’Oro, who finished 13th. Just hours before, the 22-year-old led Pure Sensation to victory in the 33rd running of the Grade 3, $300,000 Jaipur Invitational for 4-years-old and up.

“It’s been a great year. Irad is a hard worker and so am I,” Jose Ortiz said Sunday morning. “Our agents are doing a great job so it’s teamwork. Everybody is doing their job and we keep working hard – as you can see Irad just won the Belmont and he’s here today. It’s just about working hard and trying to improve on any mistakes that we’ve made. We also have great relationships with the trainers. I think we’re doing [well].”

Ortiz’s win with Pure Sensation marked his 10th graded stakes victory in 2016, including a pair of Grade 2 wins in the Peter Pan and Sheepshead Bay. Pure Sensation, off at 18-1, hit the wire in 1:06.76 in the six-furlong turf race to beat a course record that had stood since 2005.

“We went pretty fast [Purse Sensation] when I asked him to go and we entered into the stretch he gave me a great response and great run,” Ortiz said. “I didn’t know it was a track record. As soon as we came back to the winner’s circle and I saw 1:06 on the scoreboard I asked right away ‘Was it a record?’ and Little Christophe [Christophe Lorieul, assistant to trainer Christophe Clement] said ‘yes.'”

Clement thrilled with Pure Sensation

Entering the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival with just four starters among the 19 stakes over the weekend, trainer Christophe Clement initially felt this may not be his strongest year.

However, following Saturday’s races, a day that included a thrilling track record victory by Pure Sensation in the Grade 3 Jaipur Invitational and a gutsy fourth-place finish from Governor Malibu in the Grade 1 Belmont, Clement was pleased to admit that he may have been wrong.

“I’m very happy,” said Clement. “Obviously I’m thrilled with the way Pure Sensation won. We’ve always known that he was a top class horse at his best. He’s a very fast horse, so the track record didn’t surprise me. It’s a great thrill, especially for Mr. and Mrs. Generazio who bred and own him. I’m delighted for them and that they finished first and second.”

Speaking about Governor Malibu, Clement acknowledged the difficult trip the colt encountered racing along the rail the majority of the way, but remained pleased with his ability to be competitive in graded stakes-level competition.

“So far, so good,” added Clement. “I thought he ran a really good race. I will call it no racing luck from the quarter- pole on. The pacemaker [Gettysburg] was all over the place. [Joel] Rosario had to check twice but he ran a really strong race and showed that he really belongs with them.”

Lani set to return to Japan

Initially arriving in America April 1 and having competed in every leg of the Triple Crown ending with yesterday’s third-place finish in the Belmont, Japanese import Lani entered the Belmont Park’s Quarantine barn Sunday morning to begin preparations for his return journey home on June 19.

Training at Belmont since his ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and shipping to Pimlico Race Course, where he finished fifth in the Grade 1 Preakness, Lani’s team was proud of the colt’s overall efforts in the United States and were looking forward to returning to America with future prospects according to Kieta Tanaka, agent for owner Koji Maeda.

“He came out of the race well,” said Tanaka. “We thought he ran a good race and improved along the way especially here in New York he really took a liking to the track.”

Experiencing the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival first-hand, Tanaka said that Lani’s entourage enjoyed with the day’s card and added that the group would love to come back with more runners in the future.

“I like New York racing,” added Tanaka. “The experience was great, and everyone was friendly. We will definitely look forward to returning in the future with more horses.”

Suddenbreakingnews in good shape

Suddenbreakingnews has exited his ninth-place finish in the Belmont in good order, according to the Donnie K. Von Hemel barn on Sunday morning.

Brandon Velarde, Von Hemel’s Remington Park-based exercise rider who has been on hand since the horse arrived at Belmont Park last Tuesday, reported that the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby runner-up is no worse for the wear and will fly back to Churchill Downs on Monday afternoon.

The second wagering choice in the Belmont at 5-1, Suddenbreakingnews, who finished a fast-closing fifth in the Kentucky Derby, raced wide before fading in the stretch to finish 9 ½ lengths behind the winner.

“It’s a deep track. Maybe ‘Big Sandy’ got to him a little bit, but he’s shown before that he’s that caliber horse and we live to fight another day,” said Velarde.


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