The history books will say Sir Winston won the 151st Belmont Stakes early Saturday evening. The reality is that the colt’s jockey, Joel Rosario, won it by giving his mount a perfect ride.
For three consecutive days at Belmont Park, horses running near the rail on the main track had a decided advantage. The wider horses ran; the less chance they had to win or, in most every case, even come close to winning.
Rosario obviously understood the track bias and immediately steered Sir Winston from the 7 post to the rail, where he stayed on the first turn, the long run down the backstretch, and, as he moved closer to the leaders, around the sweeping far turn. While favorite Tacitus was very wide on both turns, with Preakness winner War of Will just to his inside and also wide, Sir Winston was running on the best part of the track.
You can watch thousands of races and never see a horse given a better chance to win than Rosario gave Sir Winston. When the jockey finally came off the rail in the stretch with Sir Winston, the colt had so much energy, he spurted away from the field and had more than enough to hold off Tacitus to win by 1 length in the mile-and-a-half marathon.
To show the power of being on the rail, Joevia, the longest shot in the race, set the pace on the rail and held on to be third. War of Will, racing wide, faded to ninth.
Three weeks after winning the Preakness with War of Will, trainer Mark Casse won the Belmont Stakes with Sir Winston. Yes, the colt was, in fact, named for Sir Winston Churchill by owner Tracy Farmer, and won the Belmont 75 years, two days, and 2:28.30 after D-Day.
Sir Winston, who went off at 10-1, had not won on dirt in five tries, but kind of announced himself with a strong second in the May 11 Peter Pan Stakes in his first race at Belmont Park. His previous two wins had come on the Tapeta synthetic surface at Woodbine outside Toronto last year.
The main track was exceptionally fast all day, so the winning time, in that context, suggests this was not a very strong race. In fact, one could make that case for the entire Triple Crown. Other than Maximum Security’s run in the Derby, there really was not an exceptional performance. And all that got Maximum Security was 17th after he was disqualified from first. One could make a further case that the entire Triple Crown went off the rails at that point.
How fast was the surface? The brilliant filly Midnight Bisou, who won the 2018 Cotillion at Parx, won the Ogden Phipps after running a mile and sixteenth in 1:39.69. The superstar sprinter Mitole held off 2018 Pennsylvania Derby winner McKinzie, who encountered major traffic trouble in the stretch, to win the Met Mile in 1:32.75.
So there were local connections during the wonderful undercard and, as it turned out, in the Belmont, as well. Sir Winston is a grandson of the great Afleet Alex, who dominated the 2005 Belmont Stakes in the final race of his wonderful career.
So what of the 3-year-old division that gave us four ``winners’’ of the three Triple Crown races — Maximum Security for 20 minutes and then Country House officially in the Derby, War of Will in the Preakness, and Sir Winston in the Belmont.
Sounds as if Maximum Security will be running as soon as next Sunday or at least next month at his home base of Monmouth Park. Omaha Beach, who would have been favored in the Derby before being scratched because of an entrapped epiglottis, hopefully will be back at some point.