During the days leading up to Saturday's Belmont Stakes (gr. I), most of the media attention was focused on Kentucky Derby (gr. I) runner-up Aptitude, the morning-line favorite, as well as Unshaded, who was supplemented at a cost of $100,000, and Impeachment, third in both the Derby and Preakness. Very little consideration was given to D. Wayne Lukas-trained Commendable, who had one win to his credit prior to Saturday's classic.
When the gate opened at Belmont Park, Pat Day on Commendable sat right off Hugh Hefner through slow early fractions, then moved to the lead for a stunning 1 1/2-length upset at 18-1 odds.
Jorge Chavez shot Hugh Hefner to the lead and Day put Commendable right with him. The early fractions were :24, :49.11 and 1:14.1 for the first three-quarters of a mile. Into the turn, Day and Commendable took the lead as they went a mile in 1:39. The closers tried to gain on Commendable, but he had plenty left off the slow fractions. The final time for the 12 furlongs was 2:31.19.
Commendable paid $39.60, $12.80, and $6.30, while Aptitude returned $3.80 and $2.80. Unshaded was worth $4.40 to show. He was followed by Wheelaway, Impeachment, Appearing Now, Postponed, Hugh Hefner, Tahkodha Hills, Globalize, and Curule, who was eased.
Bobby Frankel, trainer of Aptitude, said the colt would have preferred to be closer to the leaders early in the race. "He's the kind of horse you have to ride away from the gate," Frankel said. "If you don't do that he will just fall back to last. Going into the race I thought we might be laying third or fourth early."
Commendable has made eight starts and has hit the board twice, in his first and last races. Yes, he was eligible for non-winners of two races lifetime before the classic Belmont. He made two starts last year as a juvenile, breaking his maiden in his first start at Del Mar. In his start prior to the Belmont, Commendable ran a lackluster 17th in the Derby.
The Gone West colt is owned by Robert and Beverly Lewis and is trained by D. Wayne Lukas. It was Lukas' fourth Belmont win and Day's third. Lukas also won in 1994 with Tabasco Cat, 1995 with Thunder Gulch, and 1996 with Editor's Note. Day guided Tabasco Cat and also won on Easy Goer in 1989.
The Lewises had chances to win the Triple Crown in 1997 and 1999, with Silver Charm and Charismatic. Silver Charm was second and Charismatic was third. They got their Belmont trophy Saturday with a longshot.
"He was running easily and handling the track," Lukas said. "I felt good from the get go. You have to look at what you are up against in the race and the field you are face with. We had a horse to fit this very well. We took advantage of this and certain other things."
Day agreed. "Mr. Lukas and I talked it over before the race. It was an energy saving ride, and he was there for me."
"He had a five-week break. I knew that race in the Kentucky Derby wasn't his real race," Lewis said.
Commendable threw a shoe in the paddock, catching it on the rubberized brick surface. The blacksmith reshod him and it obviously had no impact. "It came off clean," Lukas said. "All eight nails came out (of the hoof)."
Commendable was bred in Kentucky by Edward Kelly Jr. and Michael Kelly. He was purchased by the Lewises for $575,000 at the 1998 Keeneland July yearling sale. Another horse sold at that auction was the sale topper, Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, who cost $4 million.
Unshaded overheated, but he was cooled down with hoses and ice water and was reported as fine after the race. He was removed from the race by ambulance. The temperature at race time in New York was 95 degrees.
Commendable did have one equipment change, Lukas taking his nasal strip off for the Belmont. He had worn the strip in his last four starts.
The win tied Lukas with legendary trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons with 13 Triple Crown race victories.
Official track attendance for Belmont Day was 67,810. (Chart, Equibase