WinStar Farm and Bobby Flay's Creator needed every step of the 1 1/2 miles over Big Sandy to win the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (gr. I) June 11.
The gray son of Tapit split horses, surged in the final furlong, and nosed out Destin at the wire to win the third leg of the Triple Crown. Destin led every stride but the last from the top of the stretch to the wire as Creator found just enough under Irad Ortiz Jr. to win for trainer Steve Asmussen. The victory with Creator, who won the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) and then finished a troubled 13th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), is Asmussen's first in the Belmont.
"It's the best feeling right now," Asmussen said. "The great thing about racing—you can have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month. They don't put you behind the gates. They put you up even and give you a chance to prove yourself."
Creator's stablemate Gettysburg—who was moved to Asmussen for the Belmont and now will go back to former trainer Todd Pletcher—set the pace, clicking off fractions of :24.09, :48.48, and 1:13.38 through six furlongs. But Destin cruised by in the final turn, after tracking the front-runner in second and opened up a clear advantage in the lane. Creator moved up on the inside in the backstretch after racing in 11th and 10th early, and found himself sixth after a mile in 1:37.96 and continued to save ground in the final bend.
Creator and Lani loomed a closing danger as Destin sought the wire late, but Creator found just enough, finishing off the 1 1/2 miles in 2:28.51.
"He ran a great race," Pletcher said of Destin's photo finish. "Tough beat."
Lani held for third, another 1 1/2 lengths back, and Governor Malibu completed the superfecta in fourth.
"I thought Irad gave him a perfect trip," Asmussen said. "I thought he saved yards and won by inches. He made the difference."
It appeared as if Creator might get closed off in the lane, as Governor Malibu had to angle out from the rail to put the eventual winner into tight quarters between the Malibu Moon colt and Stradivari, but Creator rallied gamely between his two rivals.
"He was calm and I just waited for somewhere to go," Ortiz said. "When he got in the clear, he started running."
Favored Exaggerator , up closer stalking the pace in sixth than his Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) runs and wide throughout, didn't threaten in the stretch and was eased by jockey Kent Desormeaux in the final furlong to finish 11th.
"I was praying to God that the reins were lying to me," Desormeaux said. "The horse that (has been) keen to progress was not underneath me. ... I said, 'Show me your stuff,' and there was nothing there. By the time we got to the eighth pole, he was stepping on his tongue and I said, 'That's enough.'"
Exaggerator's trainer, Keith Desormeaux, didn't have any definitive answers as to why the Curlin colt lacked his late kick.
"The Triple Crown might have caught up to him," the conditioner said. "We will have to see. When he pulled up, he didn't look winded. I don't know. We'll have to figure it out."
Creator paid $34.80, $14.60, and $9.40 across the board. Destin, sixth in the Derby, brought $9.40 and $6.20. Lani, who contested all three legs of the Triple Crown, delivered $6.60 to show. Following Governor Malibu came Stradivari, Brody's Cause, Cherry Wine, Gettysburg, Suddenbreakingnews, Trojan Nation , Exaggerator, Seeking the Soul, and Forever d'Oro.
Although it took him six starts to break his maiden, Creator now has a 3-4-1 record from 10 starts—including two grade I wins—with lifetime earnings of more than $1.5 million. Flay, who bought a minority interest in the colt three days before the Belmont, could not have picked a better time to buy in.
"The truth was that I planned to bring about 15 to 20 people to the Belmont Stakes, which I do every year," Flay said after the race. "I had a horse named America, a filly, who was going to run in the Ogden Phipps (gr. I), but I retired her just last month, so I really had nothing to run.
"So, I wanted to make sure my guests had a very enjoyable experience. So, I wanted to purchase a horse to run—not necessarily in the Belmont Stakes—and there were a couple horses we were looking at."