The much-anticipated showdown in the older filly division lived up to its billing on Belmont Stakes Day Saturday.
Two-time champion Beholder flew cross-country to face Princess of Sylmar and Close Hatches, but had to settle for also-ran status as Close Hatches held off Princess of Sylmar by a nose in the Grade I Ogden Phipps.
After a hot speed duel between the two longest shots on the board, Classic Point and Antipathy, Close Hatches and jockey Joel Rosario nosed in front at the top of the stretch, with Beholder (Gary Stevens) and Princess of Sylmar (Javier Castellano) in hot pursuit.
Beholder, who beat both fillies in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, failed to maintain her momentum as Princess of Sylmar, owned by Schenectady native Ed Stanco, started rolling on the outside.
She and Close Hatches engaged in a head-bob duel in the final strides, with Close Hatches hanging on by about 12 inches in a final time of 1:40.55, less than a second off the track record for a mile and a sixteenth.
“It’s a challenge. We were prepared for it,” said Bill Mott, Close Hatches’ trainer. “We felt she would run well. Would she win? I don’t know. It was two other championship-type fillies. She was very game.”
“They ran 1:40 and 2 [fifths]. That’s super, super stuff,” Stanco said. “But this is world championship stuff, so you got the race expected.”
“People got what they came to see,” Stevens said. “We all came into the last eighth of a mile on equal terms. It was a fair trip for everybody, a good horse race.”
It’ll be interesting to see when these three hook up again.
Stanco said he and trainer Todd Pletcher don’t map out a long-term schedule for Princess of Sylmar, but the Delaware Handicap is a possibility, and he would like to run at his hometown track, Saratoga Race Course, where the Princess won the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama last year. The Personal Ensign could be the spot.
“I’m really look forward to the next matchup now,” Stanco said.
Beholder, the Eclipse Award winner as a 2-year-old and at 3, finished fourth of six as the even-money favorite. Along with a loss to Princess of Sylmar in the Kentucky Oaks last year, Beholder is 0-for-2 in races outside California in 11 career starts.
“Just wasn’t quite the same today,” trainer Richard Mandella said. “That’s the risk you take when you run them. She looked like she was trying hard and just maybe wasn’t comfortable with her surroundings.
Last year’s Belmont Stakes winner, Palace Malice, took advantage of his homefield advantage to roll along the rail for a one-length victory over Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents in the Grade I Met Mile.
Trained by Pletcher and owned by Dogwood Stable, Palace Malice has won all four of his starts this year, three of which have been at a mile.
Mechanicville native Chad Brown got another Grade I victory for his 5-year-old turf runner Real Solution when the son of Kitten’s Joy won the Manhattan by 11⁄4 lengths over Kaigun.
Owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and ridden by Javier Castellano, Real Solution won the Arlington Million by disqualification last year. After finishing second in the Man ‘o War, Castellano told Brown that Real Solution was a cinch in the Manhattan because he made a mistake out of the starting gate.
“He said, ‘If I just left out of there and didn’t care who I was following, I would have won. Put me back on in the Manhattan and he’ll win.’ “ Brown said.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker got a stakes win when his colt, Undrafted, won the Grade III Jaipur.