Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Tonalist shrugged off a sluggish start with a closing drive to win the $150,000 Westchester Stakes (gr. III) in his 4-year-old debut May 2 at Belmont Park (VIDEO).
The Tapit colt owned by Robert S. Evans raced in last, well behind leader Juba in the early stages of the mile race, but rallied with jockey Joe Bravo to win comfortably by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:34.07. Confrontation was second, followed by Souper Lucky, another 3 3/4 lengths back. Juba, who set opening fractions of :23.08 and :45:91, tired to finish last in the four-horse field.
"He's a special horse," Bravo said. "Everybody knows he's the Belmont winner, (but) you just don't know with the time off, if he's gonna come back and (trainer) Christophe (Clement) warned me--he said, 'He might be a little slow leaving the gate. The hardest part (is) just (to) get him running (in) the first part.' Once that was all over, down the backside, he just pulled us to horses and it's just beautiful to ride good horses--it really is. He was a boy (when I rode him at Gulfstream) and it's funny to now see him as a man. He just completely grew into himself."
Last seen in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I)—where he finished fifth—in November, Tonalist now holds a perfect 4-for-4 record in races at Belmont, including the Belmont Stakes, the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (gr. I), and the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II).
"The layoff was not a concern," Clement said. "I thought he trained very well, so I was happy with that. The mile was a question mark, because the horse was very sharp, obviously, last year. ... We had to wake him up a little bit. He broke a little asleep. I thought Joe did a great job putting him in the race. From the half-mile pole you knew he was traveling very well. It's fun. That's what good horses do. They win. I guess we'll have to think about the Met Mile (June 6)."
The winner paid $3.80 and $2.10. Confrontation delivered $2.50 to place.
Tonalist improved his record to 5-2-1 from 10 career starts and pushed his earnings to just more than $2 million with the $90,000 winner's share.
Palace Malice , 2013's Belmont Stakes winner, was scratched from the race earlier in the week.
Tonalist was bred in Kentucky by Woodslane Farm out of Pleasant Colony mare Settling Mist. He was a $195,000 purchase at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale.