Horse Racing

Creator closes out Triple Crown with upset in Belmont

Creator closes out Triple Crown with upset in Belmont

NEW YORK (AP) — 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, moved 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 and trained by Asmussen, 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 third win in 10 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 if 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 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.

Eagle, Scuba Headline Field for Hawthorne Gold Cup

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Barbara Weidl

Eagle, Scuba Headline Field for Hawthorne Gold Cup

Saturday marks the 80th running of the most historic race on Hawthorne’s calendar as the $150,000, Grade 3 Hawthorne Gold Cup returns. To be contested at 1 ¼ miles over the Hawthorne main track, a field of eight has assembled with a mix of locals and out of towners. A trio of graded stakes winners in Eagle, Scuba, and Hay Dakota lead the way in the Gold Cup.

The 8-5 morning line favorite in the Hawthorne Gold Cup is Eagle, from the barn of trainer Neil Howard.  The 2016 winner of the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland and second-place finisher of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill last year, Eagle has raced with mixed results during his 2017 campaign. He opened the season with a pair of fourth-placed efforts in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap and Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds.  He returned to Keeneland in April, finishing second in this year’s edition of the Grade 3 Ben Ali before a flat effort in the Pimlico Special in May.  He got back on track though, winning the Michael Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Grand before running a good second in the Grade 3 Iselin at Monmouth in August.  He enters the Gold Cup off a fifth-place performance in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic at Churchill in his most recent start. Ty Kennedy gets the call aboard Eagle on Saturday.

The 9-5 second-choice in the Gold Cup is the Brendan Walsh trained Scuba. The multiple graded stakes winning gelding posted a big 2016 campaign, finding the board in all eight of his starts last year.  His season closed with a bang, as he rattled off victories in the Grade 3 Greenwood Cup at Parx, the Temperence Hill Invitational at Belmont, and capped his season by winning the Grade 2 Marathon on Breeders’ Cup day. Receiving a break after his Marathon win, Scuba began his 2017 season with sixth and fifth-place efforts respectively in the Ben Ali and Flat Out Stakes. After running fourth in the Grade 3 Dominion Day Stakes at Woodbine, he finished second in the Birdstone at Saratoga on Aug. 3. Scuba enters the Gold Cup off a pair of sixth-place efforts in the Greenwood Cup and Temperence Hill but figures to be the pace of the race on Saturday. Alonso Quinonez gets the call on Saturday to ride.

The field for the Hawthorne Gold Cup:

PP           Horse                                    Trainer                 Jockey             M/L

1              Hay Dakota                         J. Berndt              C. Roman            12-1

2              Futile                                   C. Hartman        R. Prescott           6-1

3              Side Pocket                        J. Smith, Jr.          V. Santiago         15-1

4              Volgograd                           H. Rodriguez      E. Perez              20-1

5              Eagle                                     N. Howard         T. Kennedy         8-5

6              Van Damme                       R. Gorham          T.D. Houghton   8-1

7              Empirestrikesagain          A. Mitchell          S. Sanjur              15-1

8              Scuba                                    B. Walsh            A. Quinonez       9-5

Pair of State-bred Sprints on Saturday Undercard

The top sprinters in the state will also be on the track on Saturday as part of the Gold Cup day undercard. Race four on Saturday is the $100,000 Powerless Stakes for Illinois-bred fillies and mares to be contested at six furlongs. Race eight is the Lightning Jet Handicap as the state-bred boys sprint for $100,000.

Puntsville has been installed as the even-money favorite in the Powerless Handicap for trainer Michelle Boyce.  A winner of 10 of 20 career starts, Puntsville has won three of four races in 2017, including the Hoist Her Flag Stakes at Canterbury and the Richie Scherer Memorial at Arlington Park.  Regular rider Victor Santiago gets the call on Puntsville. 

The Lightning Jet Handicap is a rematch of the top two finishers from the state-bred Buck’s Boy Handicap earlier this month at Hawthorne. The winner of that race, Goneghost, is the 2-1 morning line favorite as one of a pair for trainer Scott Becker in the race that also includes the speedy D’Rapper (5-2). Trainer Michele Boyce with saddle talented three-year-old Devileye, who faced the first defeat of his career in the Buck’s Boy, finishing second to Goneghost.

The fields for the Powerless and Lightning Jet Handicaps:

Powerless Handicap

PP           Horse                                    Trainer                 Jockey                  M/L

1              Kalispell                                J. Johns                O. Hernandez    10-1

2              Dr Winn Kyi                         S. Manley            R. Prescott          8-1

3              Puntsville                            M. Boyce             V. Santiago         1-1

4              Darlin Rosie                        R. Dobbs, Jr.       C. Roman             12-1

5              Jolee                                     A. Mitchell          S. Sanjur              9-2

6              Ima Little Kitten                 R. Lindsay            J. Molina, Jr.       12-1

7              Church Road                      S. Manley            C. Ulloa                 6-1

8              Shar Ran                             M. Tomlinson    E. Perez                10-1

Lightning Jet Handicap

PP           Horse                                    Trainer                 Jockey                  M/L

1              Goneghost                         S. Becker             V. Santiago         2-1

2              Mexico Memories           L. Hellman           A. Quinonez       20-1

3              Reigning Catfish                 J. Smith, Jr.         C. Roman             8-1

4              Devileye                              M. Boyce             S. Sanjur              7-2

5              D’Rapper                             S. Becker             V. Bailon              5-2

6              Cashel Rock                        D. Matthews      J. Lopez                10-1

7              Armando’s Star                 M. Cristel             R. Prescott          5-1

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.