Favorite Mo Donegal survives Nest and wins Belmont

Favorite Mo Donegal survives Nest and wins Belmont
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NEW YORK — Triple Crown veteran Todd Pletcher gave jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. some simple advice on Saturday ahead of the Belmont Stakes.

“Be patient,” Pletcher said. “I think you have the best last quarter of any horse in the race.”

Sometimes less is Mo.

Mo Donegal stormed away down the home stretch and held off the filly Nest to win the Belmont Stakes, giving Pletcher a 1-2 finish and his sixth Triple Crown victory, including four at this track on the outskirts of New York.

“To be honest with you, we were a bit confident for the race today,” said Donegal Racing CEO and co-owner Jerry Crawford. “When he got home I was like, forget it. I know Todd thought he could do a good last quarter mile, and he sure did.”

Rich Strike, a stunning 80-to-1 Kentucky Derby winner, finished sixth.

Mo Donegal covered the 1½ mile distance in 2 minutes 28.28 seconds, three lengths ahead of Nest – ridden by Ortiz’s brother José. Pletcher, who lives on Long Island, adds another title to Belmont after wins with Rags to Riches in 2007, Palace Malice in 2013 and Tapwrit in 2017.

Mo Donegal beat an eight-horse field with no clear favourite. We the People, a monster in the mud, opened 2-1 amid a rainy forecast but went 7-2 at running time as the showers held out.

Mo Donegal entered the gate the betting favorite at 5-2. We the people led for much of the race, but Mo Donegal and Ortiz took control coming out of the final corner.

The 3-year-old colt paid $7.20, $3.80 and $3. Nest – who came close to becoming Pletcher’s second filly to win Belmont after Rags to Riches – paid $5.30 and $4.10. Skippylongstocking finished third and earned $5.60 to show. We the people finished fourth.

Rich Striker owner Rick Dawson and trainer Eric Reed held the Kentucky Derby winner out of Preakness with an eye on Belmont, the first healthy horse to jump Pimlico after winning the first Triple Crown since 1985.

Reed said the team encouraged jockey Sonny Leon to try pushing Rich Strike from the outside, but the horse kept trying to get back inside – where he made a late charge after 19 horses for win at Churchill Downs. Rich Strike spent much of the race in last place and couldn’t recover.

“I think we just made a tactical mistake,” Reed said.

Much like Rich Strike, Mo Donegal was trailing at the Derby, but the colt didn’t get enough kick at Churchill Downs. He found it on Saturday, winning the 154th edition of the $1.5 million race.

Mo Donegal made a winner out of co-owner Mike Repole, a local entrepreneur known around the track as “Mike from Queens”. Repole is also co-owner of Nest.

“It’s the biggest race in New York and to win it here, with my family and friends and 70 people here, it’s going to be a big circle of winners,” he said.

It is the fourth year in a row that Triple Crown contests 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 limited to 11,238 spectators by virus restrictions.

Capacity was again capped, this time at 50,000, due to congestion issues stemming from the newly built arena next door for the NHL’s New York Islanders. Still, fans piled into cars on the Long Island Rail Road and breathed life into the 117-year-old track with floral headwear, pastel suits and the unmistakable musk of booze and cigars. .

The reported attendance of 46,103 was well below the field record of 120,139 set in 2004. Not much of a surprise, given the unstable weather forecast and the absence of a Triple Crown contender.

The field was also sparse. No horse has raced all three Triple Crown stages this year, heightening concern that three races in five weeks may be too tight a schedule to keep horses healthy.

Preakness winner Early Voting was sidelined, likely to set up the $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Racecourse on August 27. Epicenter, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up, also skipped.

In the $500,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies, Matareya took a win by 6 1/4 lengths. Favorite Echo Zulu scratched 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, winning for the fifth time in eight career starts.

Much-favored Flightline started a slow pace, overcame an early traffic problem and took a six-length victory in the million-dollar Hill ‘N’ Dale Metropolitan Mile.

The win kept the 4-year-old Tapit colt undefeated in four career starts. It was the first he hadn’t won by double-digit lengths. Flightline ($2.90) was also ridden by Prat and trained by John Sadler.

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