ELMONT, N.Y. - In the days before the Belmont Stakes, owner Robert LaPenta kept waiting for someone, anyone, to ask him about Da' Tara.
"Not one writer mentioned Da' Tara to come in anywhere in the race except next to last," LaPenta said. "They kept saying he didn't belong in the race. But I had a feeling. I thought he would do very well."
Did he ever.
The 3-year-old colt spoiled Big Brown's run at history yesterday, claiming the Belmont as the longest shot in the nine-horse field, and giving LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito redemption.
Four months ago, the duo thought they would be celebrating in the winner's circle with the highly touted War Pass. But last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion's path to the Triple Crown ended in April thanks to a leg injury.
Da' Tara won it by zipping to the lead under jockey Alan Garcia, who hadn't ridden the colt since the horse's debut race at Belmont last September. Speed horses aren't supposed to manage the demanding 11/2-mile third jewel of the Triple Crown, and Zito admitted he kept looking at Big Brown during the race, waiting for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner to make his move.
Only the move never came. Instead, it was Da' Tara who took off, pulling away from the field and giving Zito his second Triple Crown spoiler in five years. Zito trained 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone, who edged by Smarty Jones in the final 70 yards to win.
No such dramatics were necessary this time around. Zito began celebrating his fifth Triple Crown win a little early, jumping up and down over the race's final quarter-mile while Big Brown pulled up and finished last.