There was still about half a mile to go in the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes when trainer Mark Casse, who saddled two entries in the final leg of the Triple Crown, sensed it wasn’t going to be War of Will’s day.
“I could tell that he was struggling a little,” Casse said of the Preakness winner. “Because normally, he’s on the bit and wanting to go.”
Then Casse watched as jockey Joel Rosario guided his other entry, Sir Winston, on a ground-saving trip for most of the 1-½ mile journey before swinging three-wide down the stretch where he overtook 21-1 longshot front-runner Joevia and held off 9-5 favorite Tacitus by a length to capture the “Test of the Champion” in 2:28.30 before a crowd of 56,217 on a picture-perfect Saturday.
“I looked for Sir Winston and Joel had ducked inside, and I have to be honest, I started hollering for Sir Winston at that time,” Casse said. “As excited as I am — and believe me, the Belmont is big to me. It’s huge to win. But it still hurt that War of Will didn't run better. So, yeah, I’m a little emotional.”
War of Will finished ninth in the 10-horse field. Sir Winston, who didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, and entered the Belmont winless in four starts this year, beaten by a combined 29-plus lengths, went off at odds of 10-1 and paid $22.40 to win.
“He broke real good,” said Rosario, who rode Sir Winston to a runner-up finish in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 11. “I got into the spot where I wanted to be. I was able to save ground the whole time. I was in a good spot. After that, it was all him. I knew he was going to win the race, the way he was moving.”
Joevia broke from the inside post and set relatively slow fractions of 23.92 seconds for the opening quarter, 48.79 for half a mile, 1:13.54 for three-quarters and 1:38.27 for a mile. Tax, who finished a game fourth, held second until the final turn when Rosario asked Sir Winston for another gear.
“He's a very nice horse and you have to let him do this thing. I'm really happy,” said Rosario, who also won the Belmont in 2014 when Tonalist ended California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid. “It seemed like he didn't mind [being] inside. I just took my time with him. For the distance, he broke very good. Today, he was a little closer, so I let him be where he was comfortable.”
Owned by Tracy Farmer, Sir Winston earned $800,000 of the $1.5 million purse to raise his earnings to $961,773 in 10 career starts. His two previous victories came over a synthetic surface in Canada. “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.”
Tacitus, who was elevated the third in the Derby following the historic disqualification of Maximum Security, skipped the Preakness and was heavily supported at the betting windows at Belmont. The gray, with jockey Jose Ortiz aboard, broke from the far outside post and was three-wide most of the way and shuffled to five-wide down the stretch.
“He came running and finished up the race good, but it looked like he just got going too late,” trainer Bill Mott said of Tacitus. “We did have a bit of a wide trip, which you never like. He came running and looked like he was traveling better than anybody. We planned to try and be in contention at the quarter-pole and he was. He just couldn't get there.”
For $1 wagers, the exacta returned $48, the trifecta paid $1,244, and the superfecta brought back a whopping $10,428. Rounding out the order of finish was Japanese-bred Master Fencer (fifth), Spinoff, Everfast, Intrepid Heart, War of Will and Bourbon War.