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Steady Sir Winston grinds out Belmont victory

Steady Sir Winston grinds out Belmont victory

Colt's victory, coupled with Preakness winner War of Will's fade to ninth, creates an even more unsettled 3-year-old male division
Steady Sir Winston grinds out Belmont victory
Sir Winston holds off Tacitus, left, by a length to win the 151st Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT — From chaos comes order comes chaos ...

For once in this Triple Crown season, nothing messy or bizarre needed to be shaken off the leg.

No furor over disqualifications, no lawsuits, no 15 minutes of folk hero fame for a riderless horse sucking attention from a race. No mysterious slop of a track from rainy weather, as a crowd of 56,217 at Belmont Park was kissed by a pristine, sunny day on Saturday, an occasional breeze reminding you what June in New York can be when it really tries.

The horses -- an intense rainbow of stars on a powerhouse stakes-studded card -- all came back clean and healthy, and in the main event, Sir Winston put a slow, steady burn on the field like one of his British namesake's trusty cigars.

He and jockey Joel Rosario came from near the back of the pack to win the 151st Belmont Stakes by a length over Tacitus in a sharp 2:28.30, 12-hundredths of a second slower than Justify when he won the Triple Crown last year, and a mere 45-hundredths of a second faster than when Sir Winston's granddaddy, Afleet Alex, won this race in 2005.

The Kentucky Derby ended with the controversial disqualification of Maximum Security from first place to 17th for interference that affected multiple horses, and the Preakness began with jockey John Velazquez being catapulted out of the saddle of Bodexpress right out of the gate, after which the colt ran all the way around, then doubled back past the Pimlico finish line. War of Will won, but social media and even national cable networks had their true hero, the animal born and trained to run who chose -- oddly -- to run.

Then the Belmont allowed itself to be simply a horse race, and a good one, with a worthy winner for worthy connections.

And, oh, what a lovely mess we have now.

When Justify won the Triple Crown last year, he slammed the door on the 3-year-old male championship with a long five months of important races still to be run. As Tacitus' trainer Bill Mott said of the 2019 Eclipse Award, "Could come down to the Breeders' Cup [in November], who knows?"

Trainer Mark Casse will be right in the thick of that chase, as much because one of his horses, Sir Winston, put himself in the middle of it with his Belmont win, and because another, War of Will, let himself fall back into the middle of it, from what could've been an almost ironclad hold if he had backed up his Preakness win with the Belmont.

Instead, War of Will, the only horse to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this season, looked like he might get himself into a threatening position approaching the quarter pole, only to fade in the stretch to ninth place in the 10-horse field.

Meanwhile, the quarter pole was also the pivot point for Sir Winston, but to the positive. Rosario kept the colt, who didn't run in the Derby or Preakness, but was a solid second in the Peter Pan at Belmont on May 11, to a ground-saving trip near the rail and found an opportunity to move a few paths out for running room.

His gradual move forward on the backstretch turned into a gradual move to the lead in the homestretch, passing 21-1 long shot Joevia and Tax inside the eighth pole and holding off the hard-charging Tacitus to give Casse and owner Tracy Farmer the first Belmont victories of their careers. Rosario won his second, after riding Peter Pan winner Tonalist to victory in 2014 to deny California Chrome the Triple Crown.

"You know, this horse, he's an amazing little horse," Casse said. "If, at this time last year, if you had asked me to rate our top-20 2-year-olds, he would have been about 16th or 17th.

"But I'm very proud of him, because he's kind of what our operation represents, and that is I feel like we develop horses. We run our horses. I think the first two times he ran, he got beat 10 or 20 lengths. And I can remember having a conversation with Mr. Farmer up at Saratoga, and he didn't run very well.

"I said, 'Don't give up on him.' I said, 'It's crazy, but I see something. Let's just give him some time to develop."

In fact, Sir Winston lost his first two maiden races, the second of which was at Saratoga Race Course on July 21 last year, by a combined 25 1/2 lengths.

On Saturday, he forced himself into the 3-year-old male picture at the tail end of a cavalcade of outstanding stakes races.

Trainer Chad Brown came in with a typically strong hand and walked away with three Grade I victories, with the brilliant Rushing Fall in the Just A Game, Guarana in the Acorn (over Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress) and a spectacular Bricks and Mortar-Robert Bruce-Raging Bull trifecta in the Manhattan, a race Brown has now won five times.

"This [Manhattan result] ranks right up there," Brown said. "I have to digest it first, but it's certainly way up there. I hold this race in such high regard. To run 1-2-3 in it really points out how fortunate I am to have so many talented horses in my barn."

Like Brown, trainer Steve Asmussen didn't have a horse entered in the Belmont, but also enjoyed a stellar day, when Midnight Bisou solidified her status as the best older dirt female in North American with a 3 1/2-length victory in the Grade I Ogden Phipps and a victory by Mitole in a ridiculously challenging edition of the Grade I Metropolitan Mile.

Racing farther than seven furlongs for the first time, Mitole staunchly held off a charge by McKinzie to win by three-quarters of a length, with $12 million Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow just another neck back.

"We know what this race meant; what a tremendous field it had," Asmussen said. "I believe this race is the showcase we want it to be."

Casse, meanwhile, is looking forward to showcasing his top two 3-year-olds in the second half of the season, after War of Will gets a break from the Triple Crown. He said Sir Winston will love all of the mile and a quarter that the Travers offers at Saratoga. Mott said Country House, who was elevated to the Derby victory via Maximum Security's DQ, should make his presence felt. Maximum Security is still lurking out there, as are other Triple Crown horses who are reloading. Will there be an Omaha Beach sighting?

"You know, it's [Triple Crown] a grind," Casse said. "I felt like he [War of Will] looked good. I thought he was in a good place. So, I really don't know. But one thing about it, he'll regroup."

The exhausting 13-race card finally wrapped up after 8 p.m. with Marconi's win in the Grade II Brooklyn, followed by a beautiful shape-shifting orange sky that just wouldn't quit.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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