A little help gets Creator to Belmont Stakes winner’s circle

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NEW YORK — A little gamesmanship, a celebrity chef added to the mix, and a stirring finish paid huge dividends all around when Creator came through in the Belmont Stakes.

Credit the well-played hand to Creator’s owner Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm.

Here’s how it worked:

Preakness winner Exaggerator came into the $1.5 million Belmont as the favorite and one of many in the field who rally from well back in the pack, Creator among them. A fleet front-runner to set a fast early pace could be a huge help.

Enter Gettysburg. Also owned by WinStar, but trained by Todd Pletcher, who already had two horses in the race, Gettysburg fit the bill as a quick starter. Before he was entered, he was sent from Pletcher’s barn to Creator trainer Steve Asmussen’s.

Meanwhile, Bobby Flay smacked down some dough and became a co-owner of Creator.

As it turned out, one of the Pletcher’s two horses in the race, Destin, was on the short end of a thrilling finish. Destin had the lead well into the stretch when Gettysburg dropped back after a mile, but Creator moved closer with every stride and won by a nose, the slimmest margin possible.

“I shouldn’t even be sitting here,” Flay said at the post-race news conference. “The only thing I did … I certainly was cheering the loudest in the entire racetrack, and maybe I gave that last little head bob, but that’s about it.”

Some extra candy and carrots go to Gettysburg, too.

“He needs to be rewarded, and pampered a little bit,” Asmussen said Sunday morning at Belmont Park. “He was a valiant horse on the lead. He showed (in the Arkansas Derby) that he’s not a patsy by any means, that it will take a lot to wear him down. He carried them a long ways yesterday.”

Creator earned $800,000 for his owners to boost his bankroll to more than $1.5 million with his third victory in 10 career starts. It was the first Belmont win for Asmussen and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.

“I watched the replay multiple times. I thought it was a great race,” said Asmussen, who also won the Preakness twice, with Curlin and Rachel Alexandra. “I thought Irad did a masterful job with him and with every decision he made. 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.”

This is perhaps the most rewarding year of Asmussen’s career. The 50-year-old trainer will be inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame at Saratoga in August, and his wife, Julie, recently received news that her cancer has gone into remission.

“To be blessed enough to have the big victory and to be able celebrate and share that with your family means everything,” he said. “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.”

Exaggerator, meanwhile, finished 11th in the field of 13 in the final leg of the Triple Crown. He, too, raced well behind the leaders, but when he tried to move into contention around the turn, he just didn’t have the same finishing kick he displayed in winning the Santa Anita Derby and Preakness.

“He’s good. Walked him myself about 6:30 this morning, and he’s his same vibrant self,” trainer Keith Desormeaux said. “He’s bright-eyed, ate up last night and maybe he’s a little more subdued than usual, but that stands to reason. He still has that confident look in his eyes, so we’re good.”

The trainer said he thinks Exaggerator didn’t like the deep, sandy track. He pointed out that after wins at Santa Anita and Pimlico, the colt had already cooled down by the time he returned to the winner’s circle.

This time, “before he got back to take the saddle off, he panted and gasped for air and looked a little fatigued for 45 minutes after the race,” Desormeaux said. “I can guarantee the (Triple Crown) races didn’t take a toll, but he struggled with the track. He gave us his life to win and it got to him. I’m settling on he didn’t get a hold of the track.”

For the fifth time in the past eight years, a different horse won each of the Triple Crown races. Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby, ran third in the Preakness and did not run in Saturday’s Belmont.

With no Triple Crown on the line after American Pharoah swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont last year, the announced crowd was 60,114. Last year, the attendance was capped at 90,000.

And now, it’s on to the summer season, with a possible meeting between Creator and Exaggerator in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

Maximum Security wins Haskell, survives inquiry

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OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) Maximum Security captured the $1 million Haskell Invitational and, unlike the Kentucky Derby, survived a steward’s inquiry Saturday night.

It capped a long day that included a major delay triggered by intense heat and the safety concerns for the horses and riders. It led to the cancellation of six races and the delay in six stakes, including the Haskell, the biggest race in Monmouth’s meet.

When racing resumed around 6 p.m., the stakes went off without a hitch until the Haskell.

Maximum Security got to the finish line first, outlasting trainer Bob Baffert’s Mucho Gusto by 1 1/4 lengths.

For a minute, it seemed a clear-cut win in the Grade I race. However, the stewards posted the inquiry sign. Videotape replays showed King for a Day had to check when Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto stormed past.

However, it was quickly dismissed, unlike the Derby when there was a 22-minute delay before Country House was elevated to the top spot and Maximum Security was dropped to 17th place. It was the first time a horse that crossed the finish line first in the Derby was disqualified.

Owners Gary and Mary West are still trying to overturn that decision in federal court in Kentucky.

This was one of the most bizarre days in the 52-year history of the Haskell and it was just another weird twist in the 3-year-old thoroughbred picture which has had one strange turn after another.

There was the Kentucky Derby disqualification. A riderless horse in the Preakness. Three different winners of the Triple Crown races.

The latest turn came Saturday as the extreme temperature and a heat index value reaching 107- caused track officials to a order a 4 1/2-hour delay after the running of the first two races on the 14-race card.

The Haskell went off at 8:11 p.m., 2 hours, 24 minutes after its scheduled start. The field was reduced to six horses when third-place Belmont States finisher Joevia scratch after the delay.

The 1 1/8-mile race was outstanding. King for a Day, who beat Maximum Security in the Pegasus here last month, and the four of the other five colts were closely bunched for the early going with only Everfast trailing.

Around the far turn, Maximum Security and jockey Luis Saez and Mucho Gusto and rider Joe Talamo charged around King for a Day, who was on the rail.

Maximum Security was in the middle lane with Mucho Gusto on the outside. As they turned for home, Maximum Security seemed to put King for a Day and jockey John Velazquez in tight quarters. The only question was whether King for a Day committed a foul or King for a Day ran out of room as he tried to charge up the rail.

There was no change this time. The Jason Servis-trained Maximum Security covered the distance in 1:47.56 and paid $3.60, $2.60 and $2.20.

Mucho Gusto returned $3.40 and $2.80. Spun To Run finished third and paid $5.60 to show.

For the second straight day, the National Weather Service posted an excessive heat warning advisory Saturday, with near steady temperatures in the lower 90s in Monmouth County. The heat index values reached 107. It dipped to 103 by the time racing resumed.

Animal rights activists protested outside the New Jersey Shore track before the first race was to run.

Dennis Drazin, chairman and chief executive of Darby Development, operators of Monmouth Park, said a group of track, state and independent veterinarians monitored the heat for days and felt it was safe to race.

“However, given the heightened concern from the public about the heat, and in the interest of the safety of the horses and jockeys, we’ve decided to proceed with an abundance of caution, to cancel the remaining nonstakes races and to delay the six stakes races,” he said.

None of the horses who competed in the eight races run showed any sign of injury.

Drazin said he had been in contact with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. The governor left the final decision on whether to run to Drazin. He opted for caution in delaying the card, fearing harm to the horses and industry if there were a death.

With racing under pressure because of many horse deaths horses in California, most East coast tracks on Friday canceled their Saturday cards, including Saratoga Race Course.

“It would have created additional momentum to the crisis that already exists because of California problems,” Drazin said of a possible death of a horse. “We’re on the cusp of a crisis in the industry.”

A crowd of 37,186 attended last year’s Haskell, and another big crowd was expected Saturday for Monmouth Park’s biggest racing day. When the announcement came of canceled races and the delayed stakes, fans streamed to the exits. The track announced an attendance of 25,173 but many left before the big races.

Drazin said no decision had been made on how to compensate fans who paid for admission and parking. The track canceled its card planned for Sunday.

NBC was going to televise the Haskell live when it had a 5:47 p.m. post time, but it ended up streaming the race live on its digital platform.

Midnight Bisou won her fifth straight stakes this year, capturing the $150,000 Molly Pitcher with Mike Smith riding.

In other stakes, Just Howard edged Divisidero by a head in the $150,000 Oceanport; Justaholic ($5) won the $75,000 Wolf Hill; War Story ($16) took the $200,000 Monmouth Cup and I’m So Fancy ($5.80) captured the $150,000 WinStar Matchmaker.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Whitney Stakes from Saratoga Springs on August 3. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Monmouth racing card shaken amid fierce heat, track protests

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OCEANPORT, N.J. — With extreme heat draining fans and causing concern about the horses, Monmouth Park canceled six races and pushed back until early evening its stakes races, including the $1 million Haskell Invitational headlined by Maximum Security.

The decision came after the start of the first race was delayed and the racing card was re-evaluated after the second race.

The National Weather Service again posted an excessive heat warning advisory Saturday, with near steady temperatures in the lower 90s in Monmouth County. The heat index values reached 107.

Animal rights activists protested outside the New Jersey Shore track before the first race was to run.

Dennis Drazin, chairman and chief executive of Darby Development, operators of Monmouth Park, said a group of track, state and independent veterinarians monitored the heat for days and felt it was safe to race.

“However, given the heightened concern from the public about the heat, and in the interest of the safety of the horses and jockeys, we’ve decided to proceed with an abundance of caution, to cancel the remaining nonstakes races and to delay the six stakes races,” he said.

Drazin said he had been in contact with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who left the decision on whether to race to Drazin. He went with caution, fearing harm to the horses and industry if there were a death.

With racing under pressure because of many horse deaths horses in California, most East coast tracks on Friday canceled their Saturday cards, including Saratoga Race Course and Finger Lakes in New York and Laurel Park in Maryland.

“It would have created additional momentum to the crisis that already exists because of California problems,” Drazin said of a possible death of a horse. “We’re on the cusp of a crisis in the industry.”

A crowd of 37,186 attended last year’s Haskell, and another big crowd was expected Saturday for Monmouth Park’s biggest racing day. When the announcement came of canceled races and the delayed stakes, fans streamed to the exits.

Drazin said no decision had been made on how to compensate fans who paid for admission and parking.

In addition to the Haskell, the card’s other stakes races are The Oceanport, The Molly Pitcher, The Wolf Hill, The Monmouth Cup and the Matchmaker.

NBC was going to televise the Haskell live when it had a 5:47 p.m. post time. Monmouth spokesman Tom Luicci said the network planned to fill its 5-6 p.m. slot with other horse-racing covering. It was going to stream the race live on its digital platform at 8:05 p.m., he said.

The start of the first race was delayed by almost 40 minutes, with no reason given at the time for the move. The 14-race card was reassessed after the next race. The six stakes races were reset for 6 p.m., with the Haskell at 8:05 p.m.

Maximum Security, who finished first in the Kentucky Derby and then was disqualified, leads the field of seven in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell.

The first two races went off without incident. The horses were hosed down on the track after the races. There were misting fans in the paddock before the races.