Creator’s connections spot on in Belmont Stakes planning
by Dick Powell
Well, the Triple Crown is over and we saw three different colts win each leg. All seem to be fine physically for the second half of the year and there are some promising three-year-olds who will be heard from before the year is out.
All the attention will not be placed on one horse, like it was last year with AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile), but spread across many. As far as wagering opportunities, I like it. Should be a lot of fun and, scarily, Saratoga is less than six weeks away so it won’t be long before we get to see some juicy matchups.
I have a lot of respect for the three-year-old program at Oaklawn Park. The purses are enormous and despite the Arkansas Derby (G1) being run only three weeks before the Kentucky Derby (G1), many horses have come out of their races to win or be in the money in the Triple Crown.
This year’s group looked strong but my attention fell upon SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (Mineshaft), winner of the Southwest Stakes (G3) and later second in the Arkansas Derby (G1) behind CREATOR (Tapit).
Suddenbreakingnews ran well in the Kentucky Derby with a furious rally while Creator had a rough trip that was self-inflicted. Both skipped the Preakness and came into the Belmont with five week’s rest. Both switched jockeys and that is where it all went wrong for me.
Trainer Donnie Von Hemel decided to make a change in pilots and removed Luis Quinonez for Hall of Famer Mike Smith. Smith won it in 2010 with DROSSELMEYER (Distorted Humor) then three years later with PALACE MALICE (Curlin). At his age, he has been on appointment only and seemed to fit this one well.
Creator had been ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr. and, as good as he was at Oaklawn Park this winter, his Kentucky Derby ride was a nightmare. He needlessly interfered with Suddenbreakingnews in the first furlong of the Kentucky Derby then ran himself into trouble at the top of the stretch. Steve Asmussen, and WinStar Farm racing manager Elliott Walden removed Santana and made the brilliant move of selecting Irad Ortiz Jr. to ride.
Ortiz might not be a household name, yet, but for those of us who get to watch him on a regular basis in New York, it’s only a matter of time before he is in big demand for America’s top races.
Still, I wasn’t convinced. In the Arkansas Derby, Creator carried four fewer pounds than Suddenbreakingnews and saved more ground and the Derby result left me convinced that Suddenbreakingnews was the better horse. When Creator drew widest of all in post 13, that was it and even with Ortiz. aboard, I seriously underestimated Creator’s chances of winning the Belmont Stakes.
Besides the brilliant rider switch to Irad Ortiz Jr., Walden was not through. It was announced the weekend before the race that WinStar Farm’s GETTYSBURG (Pioneerof the Nile) was being transferred from Todd Pletcher’s barn to Asmussen’s and would serve as a pacemaker for Creator.
It wasn’t so much that they wanted Gettysburg to set a suicidal pace but to go to the front and try to stretch the field out so that they would not be so bunched up and enable Creator to run his race and not have to go extremely wide.
For Pletcher, this was a big problem since a speedy horse in his barn was taken away, entered in the Belmont Stakes when he was not originally expected to run, and now his two pace horses, DESTIN (Giant’s Causeway) and STRADIVARI (Medaglia d’Oro), were going to have pace pressure from his former runner.
Gettysburg did his job as he set initial fractions of :24.09, :48.48 and 1:13.28. Instead of being on the lead and controlling things, Javier Castellano had to sit second aboard Destin and bide his time instead of dictating things as the lone speed. Despite breaking from post 13, Ortiz was able to get Creator over to the inside and save much more ground than expected. Even before they made it into the clubhouse turn, Creator was already on the rail.
The field was strung out enough down the backside and Ortiz was able to make up ground while down on the inside. Also down on the inside was GOVERNOR MALIBU (Malibu Moon) and, while it seemed that every decision Ortiz made was the right one, every decision that Joel Rosario made on Governor Malibu was the wrong one.
Kent Desormeaux kept Preakness Stakes (G1) winner EXAGGERATOR (Curlin) four wide for most of the trip. A strong line of thunderstorms just missed the Belmont area earlier in the day and as luck would have it, one hit right after the Belmont finished but when Exaggerator needed it, the rain never came and he was a flat horse throughout.
Going into the far turn after the first mile was run in 1:37.96 seconds, Creator had snuck up the inside to within about five lengths. He had live cover in behind Governor Malibu, who was running strong, and the question was when would Gettysburg begin to tire and back up into the field?
Ortiz got Creator off the rail and, turning for home, Gettysburg had both Pletcher runners on his outside flank.
Castellano could wait no more and sent Destin up after the lead with a quarter-mile to run. Rosario decided to duck to the inside to pass Gettysburg and was stopped cold. Creator had to go back to the inside since Stradivari was drifting out a bit and there was an opening that was created from Rosario going to the rail. If Rosario waited and gone outside, I don’t know if Ortiz would have had the same clean run.
Creator’s acceleration was immediate and now he had clear sailing behind Destin. Ortiz had him rolling and at the wire, stuck his head down and won the Belmont by a nose in a thrilling finish.
Japanese runner LANI (Tapit) was a good third after racing out in the middle of the track for most of the trip and capped a huge day for Tapit. The stallion’s offspring ran first and third in the Belmont and FROSTED (Tapit) was a gigantic winner of the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) earlier on the day.
Creator’s win was an incredible team effort on behalf of WinStar Farm. Every decision was spot on and they reaped the benefits. It wasn’t the nicest thing to do to Todd Pletcher but they did provide his only Kentucky Derby winner in SUPER SAVER (Maria’s Mon) so hopefully the hard feelings will subside.
With the likes of GIFT BOX (Twirling Candy), COLLECTED (City Zip), ECONOMIC MODEL (Flatter) and UNIFIED (Candy Ride) all ready for big second halves, we should be looking at some terrific stakes racing coming up.