The 154th Belmont Stakes developed into quite a wonderful New York story.
Veteran owner Mike Repole, who proudly identifies himself as Mike from Queens, enjoyed a one-two finish with MO DONEGAL and the filly NEST, Saturday at Belmont Park– in the race he’s desired more than any other.
“It’s a 40-year dream,” said an emotional Repole, 53. “Coming to this track and Aqueduct, being a kid from New York, this is New York’s race.”
Repole had six previous starters in the final leg of the Triple Crown. STAY THIRSTY in 2011 had provided his best finish, placing 2nd to improbable longshot RULER ON ICE.
“I watched the replay 150 times. I will no longer watch that replay,” Repole said of that agonizing outcome eleven years ago. “Getting a 1st and 2nd here, it makes up for it. This was the biggest goal of my racing life, and I just accomplished it and ran one-two.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has enjoyed a long association with Repole, bagged his 4th Belmont Stakes triumph.
Pletcher, based at Belmont Park, earned his first three Belmont Victories with the filly RAGS TO RICHES (2007), PALICE MALICE (2013) and TAPWRIT (2017).
Notably, all four of those Winning horses skipped the Preakness and the quick two-week turnaround from the Derby.
“We have certain things we want to do, coming here immediately after the Oaks and Derby and getting the horses settled in and training over the track,” said the Hall of Fame trainer, adding, “It’s not rocket science. We are trying to take advantage of being at home.”
It was also a huge afternoon for the New York based Ortiz brothers (no surprise here), each of whom sported the royal blue and orange silks of die-hard Mets fan Repole.
Irad stalked expected front-runner WE THE PEOPLE before pouncing with MO DONEGAL as they turned for home in the 1 1/2-mile Test of the Champion.
Jose was aboard NEST, who stumbled out of the starting gate but recovered quickly to be 3rd in the early going. She closed valiantly and dug in during the final strides in an impressive bid to become only the fourth filly to Win the Belmont. She finished three lengths behind her stablemate.
Irad and Jose drew their mounts close to each other after the wire so they could slap hands. Irad also had captured the Belmont with CREATOR in 2016.
“It’s very special,” Irad said of his second Victory in a Triple Crown race. “I’ve been working with him all winter. They kept putting me on and he kept getting better. I liked him every time I got on him.”
All in all it was a great Belmont Stakes for everyone involved with New York Racing.
And we all know what’s right around the corner…beginning Thursday, July 14th. SARATOGA !