Creator pulls upset in 148th Belmont Stakes

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NEW YORK — The finish was dramatic, even without a Triple Crown on the line.
Creator found an opening in the stretch and ran down Destin in the final stride to win the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes by a nose — the closest possible margin of victory. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., pointed to the sky in an appropriate winning salute given the horse’s name.”Today was perfect for us by inches,” said Steve Asmussen, who will be inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame this summer at Saratoga. “Being the victor of the Belmont Stakes will look good on that plaque.”

The 50-year-old trainer has won more than 7,300 races, including the Preakness with champions Curlin in 2007 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009. He was taken off the Hall of Fame ballot last year, though, because of allegations made by PETA about the way he treated his horses. He was later cleared by racing authorities in Kentucky and New York.

The 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion” wraps up the Triple Crown a year after American Pharoah’s run to glory in becoming the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. A different horse won each leg — Nyquist took the Derby and Exaggerator won the Preakness.

This was Creator’s day, a hot, sticky one at Belmont Park with temperatures in the mid-80s. Exaggerator, the 7-5 favorite in the field of 13, raced well back in the pack, appeared to make into contention but just didn’t have his usual finishing kick. He finished 11th.

A 3-year-old gray colt, Creator came flying down the stretch as Destin tried to hang on to the lead. He almost made it, but settled for second with Japan-based Lani a closing third.

“I’m glad to see him put that number up; they came to the wire together,” Asmussen said of the Creator-Destin showdown. “Irad gave him a dream trip. The horse ran super.”

Creator, sent off 16-1, returned $34.80, $14.60 and $9.40. Destin, trained by Todd Pletcher, returned $9.40 and $6.20 and Lani paid $6.60. The winning time for the 1 1/2 miles was 2:28.51. The first three finishers were gray colts.

Governor Malibu was fourth, followed by Stradivari, Brody’s Cause, Cherry Wine, Gettysburg, Suddenbreakingnews, Trojan Nation, Exaggerator, Seeking the Soul and Forever d’Oro.

Creator was one of several closers in the field, and the race set up perfectly for him. Gettysburg was a late addition to the field. Both horses are owned by WinStar Farm, with Gettysburg a front-runner who could set the stage for a thrilling finish.

That’s exactly what happened. After setting a slowish pace, Gettysburg dropped back after a mile, and Destin took charge well into the stretch. With Ortiz urging him on, Creator stormed into contention after running near the back of the pack for his sixth win in 12 career starts. Ortiz, one of the nation’s leading riders, won his first Triple Crown race.

“He was calm and I just waited for somewhere to go,” Ortiz said. “When he got clear, he started running.”

Unlike Exaggerator.

Kent Desormeaux, the Hall of Fame rider aboard the colt, second-guessed his decision to ask Exaggerator to wait behind the pace. When he tried to make a move, the horse trained by his brother, Keith, just didn’t have it.

“I don’t know it there would have been any difference in the outcome,” Kent Desormeaux said. “When I picked him up at the quarter-pole to try and win the race, there was nothing there.”

Exaggerator and Lani were the only horses who ran in all three Triple Crown races. Lani improved each time, running ninth in the Derby and fifth in the Preakness.

“He was in very good condition, and the distance was good,” Lani’s jockey Yutaka Take said. “The track was a fast one all day, and the rain held off until after the finish when a downpour soaked the track and a crowd much smaller than the 90,000 that showed up for American Pharoah’s Triple Crown.

Earlier in the week, celebrity chef Bobby Flay became a co-owner of Creator along with WinStar.

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.