Creator eked out a narrow win over Destin in last Saturday’s 148th running of the Belmont Stakes. But the performance of the day, of the week, of the month and of the year so far was the spectacular victory by Frosted in the 123rd edition of the Metropolitan Handicap.
“That race yesterday was just a ‘wow’ race,” Kiaran McLaughlin, Frosted’s trainer, said to Belmont Park publicity the next morning when discussing his charge’s tour de force. “It was fabulous.”
To say Frosted’s Met Mile was fabulous is not an exaggeration. He was “geared down in the final 70 yards,” according to the official Equibase chart, yet his final time of 1:32.73 made it the fastest Met Mile in history, breaking the stakes record of 1:32.80 set by Honour and Glory in 1996. Najran set the track record of 1:32.24 when he won the 2003 Westchester Handicap at Belmont Park by 4 1/2 lengths.
Frosted had to take a back seat to American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes a year ago. Frosted ran a good race to finish second in the Belmont, but he was no match for mighty American Pharoah, who won by 5 1/2 lengths to complete the first Triple Crown sweep in 37 years.
In fact, Frosted spent most of 2015 in the shadow of American Pharoah. In addition to what happened in the Belmont Stakes, when American Pharoah won the Kentucky Derby, Frosted finished fourth. When American Pharoah ended his racing career with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Frosted ran seventh. When American Pharoah finished second to Keen Ice in the Travers, Frosted came in third.
But Frosted did not take a back seat to anybody last Saturday.
Earlier this year, Frosted made his 2016 debut by winning a Group II race by five lengths in Dubai on Feb. 4. In the subsequent Group I, $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26, Frosted was perceived by most to be California Chrome’s chief adversary. But Frosted could only manage to finish fifth in the World Cup, while California Chrome won by 3 3/4 lengths even though his saddle had slipped at the outset.
Following Frosted’s loss in the World Cup, he rebounded to win the Met Mile by 14 1/4 lengths. He was assigned a huge 123 Beyer Speed Figure for his Met Mile triumph. It’s the highest Beyer Speed Figure since Midnight Lute recorded a 124 when he won the seven-furlong Forego Stakes at Saratoga in 2007 with a final time of 1:21.06.
In terms of races longer than one mile, Frosted’s 123 is the highest Beyer Speed Figure since Commentator and Saint Liam each recorded a 124 in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Handicap at Saratoga in 2005. Commentator won the Whitney by a neck over Saint Liam.
According to the American Racing Manual, Frosted’s 123 ranks as the biggest Beyer Speed Figure by a Met Mile winner going back to 1990, the first year in which a Beyer is listed for that race. These are the figures for the Met Mile winners, from the highest down to the lowest:
123 Frosted (2016)
122 Holy Bull (1994)
122 Swept Overboard (2002)
122 Ghostzapper (2005)
118 Wild Rush (1998)
117 Criminal Type (1990)
117 In Excess (1991)
116 Pico Central (2004)
115 Yankee Victor (2000)
115 Shackleford (2012)
114 You and I (1995)
114 Sir Bear (1999)
113 Ibero (1993)
113 Tizway (2011)
112 Langfuhr (1997)
112 Silver Train (2006)
112 Quality Road (2010)
112 Palace Malice (2014)
112 Honor Code (2015)
111 Dixie Brass (1992)
111 Honour and Glory (111)
110 Aldebaran (2003)
110 Sahara Sky (2013)
108 Exciting Story (2001)
108 Corinthian (2007)
108 Bribon (2009)
103 Divine Park (2008)
Three Met Mile winners on the above list -- Holy Bull in 1994, Criminal Type in 1990 and Ghostzapper in 2004 -- would go on to be voted Horse of the Year that same year.
Tapit is by the fantastic sire Tapit. In a tremendous feat, Tapit not only is the sire of the winner of this year’s Met Mile, he is the sire of Creator, the winner of this year’s Belmont Stakes. Not only that, it was a one-two finish by sons of Tapit in the Met Mile, with Anchor Down running second. And it was a one-three finish in the Belmont Stakes by Tapit colts Frosted and Lani.
Sons of Tapit now have won two of the last three Belmonts. Tonalist, who won the 2014 Belmont when California Chrome’s bid for Triple Crown immortality proved unsuccessful, also is by Tapit.
Tapit was North America’s leading sire in money won in 2014 and 2015. He set a record in 2014 with progeny earnings of $16,479,907, according to the American Racing Manual. He broke his own record last year when his progeny earned $17,224,117. Currently atop the sire list for this year, Tapit seems well on his way to a third straight title.
THIS WEEK’S TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
In the wake of Frosted’s dazzling Met Mile, he appears on this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll after not being in the Top 10 last week. Here is this week’s poll, (first-place votes in parenthesis):
1. California Chrome (37)
2. Tepin (1)
4. Frosted (1)
ASMUSSEN SMILING THIS TIME
The Belmont Stakes has the distinction of being the oldest of the Triple Crown races. It was first run all the way back in 1867.
The 2007 renewal produced one of the most thrilling Belmont Stakes finishes ever. Rags to Riches, an outstanding filly trained by Todd Pletcher, prevailed by a head, edging Curlin, an outstanding colt conditioned by Steve Asmussen. (Curlin was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. It is ludicrous that Rags to Riches, who became eligible in 2013, is not in the Hall of Fame and has not yet even appeared on the ballot. Rags to Riches became the first filly to win the Belmont in 102 years.)
In last Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, it again came down to a close finish between colts trained by Pletcher and Asmussen. But this time it was Asmussen smiling after the race. Asmussen won this year’s Belmont with Creator, while Pletcher just missed with Destin.
For a time, it looked like this year’s Belmont Stakes might not have much pace at all. If that had been the case, it would have severely compromised the chances of come-from-behind runner Creator, owned by WinStar Farm and Bobby Flay.
But the pace picture for the race changed dramatically when it was announced that WinStar Farm’s Gettysburg would be running in the 1 1/2-mile classic. Pletcher understandably was not keen at the idea of Gettysburg being in the race. Pletcher already was running Destin and Stradivari in the Belmont. Both figured to race forwardly early and benefit if the pace was moderate or slow. WinStar, however, was desirous of having Gettysburg in the race to help Creator pace-wise. And so it was that Gettysburg made his way from Pletcher’s barn to Asmussen’s prior to the Belmont.
No, Gettysburg was not a “rabbit” in the mold of Hedevar, who did his sinister job superbly by twice racing the great but headstrong Dr. Fager into defeat. Damascus won the 1967 Woodward and 1968 Brooklyn Handicap in come-from-behind fashion when Dr. Fager, thanks to his unbridled passion to run, could not resist seriously going after Damascus’ stablemate, the speedy Hedevar, in the early going.
“Dr. Fager could never tolerate following a rival or stalking the pace once his blood was up, and his impatience had a low threshold,” Charles Hatton wrote in the American Racing Manual.
After the 1968 Brooklyn, John Nerud, Dr. Fager’s trainer, expressed his frustration at the tactics employed by Frank Whitely Jr., who trained both Damascus and Hedevar.
“I’ll tell you this, no one horse can beat Dr. Fager doing anything -- anything,” Nerud is quoted as saying after the Brooklyn in a Sports Illustrated story written by Billy Reed.
Nerud’s point was that it took two horses, Damascus AND Hedevar, to beat Dr. Fager.
Braulio Baeza was Dr. Fager’s pilot in the Brooklyn.
Dr. Fager “wanted to run with the leader,” a disappointed Baeza said after the race.
Indeed, Dr. Fager was his own worst enemy by going after Hedevar with so much zest when the early pace was so hot (:22 4/5, :45 4/5) for a 1 1/4-mile race.
“If he [Hedevar] was a horse in there trying to win the race,” growled Nerud, “he couldn’t run a pace like that because he would die out. But he’s not in there to win. The only thing he’s in there to do is harass Dr. Fager and let the other horse [Damascus] get him. You can’t beat a setup like that.”
After a half-mile, Dr. Fager blasted past Hedevar and quickly opened up a three-length advantage. Dr. Fager sped the first six furlongs in 1:09 2/5, a clocking that would have tied the track record. He still led at the quarter pole while going a mile in 1:34 3/5. The track record was 1:34 4/5. However, after going a mile, Dr. Fager had a big problem. He still had a quarter of a mile to run.
After going a mile in 1:34 3/5, Dr. Fager “just couldn’t hold off Damascus in the stretch,” Baeza said.
Taking command “before reaching the furlong pole,” according to the Daily Racing Form chart, Damascus drew away to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Considering Dr. Fager’s early efforts, he did well to hold on for second. Hedevar? He finished last in field of seven, 30 1/2 lengths behind Damascus.
Damascus’ final time of 1:59 1/5 smashed the Belmont Park track record of 2:00 established by Whisk Broom II in 1913 and tied by Kelso in 1961.
CREATOR GETS LEGITIMATE PACE
Asmussen was hoping to see something like an opening half-mile in :48 and change in this year’s Belmont rather than the :50.14 in 2007 when Rags to Riches narrowly defeated Curlin.
On Steve Byk’s radio program Monday, Asmussen said what happened to Curlin in the 2007 Belmont was why he thought “the pace was so important” for Creator in this year’s Belmont.
I wrote last week that I thought “there was a very good chance that Gettysburg will be the early pacesetter” in the Belmont. That was about the only thing I got right. Gettysburg showed the way through the early stages while posting fractions of :24.09, :48.48 and 1:13.28.
“When Curlin was second in the Belmont Stakes, there was just no pace whatsoever,” Asmussen said. “It became a half-mile work. They came home the last half in under :48 that day. For him to be second and not win the Belmont was a travesty. Pace makes the race. And I think that a very fair and honestly run race allowed Creator to show his true quality and beat an exceptional field.”
After being 11th early in the field of 13 while almost 10 lengths off the pace, Creator rallied strongly in the stretch and just got up in the final jump to win by a nose. Destin had to settle for second, while Lani finished a respectable third, just 1 1/2 lengths behind the winner. An unlucky Governor Malibu, who had a horrible trip, came in fourth. Gettysburg, virtually ignored by the bettors at 55-1, wound up eighth.
Creator completed 1 1/2 miles in 2:28.51. American Pharoah won last year’s Belmont in 2:26.55, the second-fastest Belmont Stakes clocking by a Triple Crown winner. The only better final time in the history of the Belmont is Secretariat’s incredible 2:24 flat when he won by 31 lengths in 1973.
Whereas Frosted posted a 123 Beyer Speed Figure in the Met Mile, Creator was assigned a 99 for his win in the Belmont on the same track and on the same day. American Pharoah recorded a 105 for his Belmont Stakes. Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont predates published Beyer Speed Figures. But Andrew Beyer, the father of those figures, once wrote that he retroactively calculated what Secretariat’s Beyer Speed Figure would have been for the Belmont. It would have been a whopping 139.
As for Destin, when he led by 1 1/2 lengths with a furlong to run, it appeared he might well be on his way to a Belmont Stakes victory. He ran his heart out, only to finish second when nailed right at the finish by Creator. I think it is quite likely Destin would have won if Gettysburg had not been in the race to assure a quicker pace for Creator.
Exaggerator, my choice to win, started as the 7-5 favorite. It turned out that I just picked the wrong horse whose name ended with “tor.”
After getting away to a good start, Exaggerator raced within three lengths or so of the lead through the early furlongs while racing wide. He mildly threatened turning for home, but then had no kick in the stretch. He actually retreated in the final furlong to end up 11th.
Going into the Belmont, Southern California-based horses had won seven of the last eight Triple Crown races. I thought Exaggerator would make it eight of the last nine. Wrong.
I mentioned in this column last week that a concern I did have for Exaggerator in the Belmont was the Triple Crown grind of starting in three races at three different tracks in just five weeks. Only Exaggerator and Lani ran in all three legs of the series this year.
Did the Triple Crown grind take too much of a mental and physical toll on Exaggerator? Perhaps. Did he not handle the Belmont Park surface, as trainer Keith Desormeaux theorizes? That’s another possibility. Or was Exaggerator exposed as someone who is not as effective when the track isn’t wet? Maybe.
For whatever reason or reasons, after finishing a strong second in the Kentucky Derby and winning the Preakness with authority by 3 1/2 lengths, Exaggerator simply did not have the necessary response during the last part of a demanding race many refer to as “The Test of the Champion.”
Creator, a $440,000 Keeneland yearling purchase, lost his first five starts, all while racing in Kentucky and Florida. Sent to Arkansas, he won a 1 1/16-mile maiden affair by 7 1/4 lengths at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 7.
Following Creator’s graduation from the maiden ranks, he finished third behind Cupid and Whitmore in Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 19. After that, Creator came from far back to win the Arkansas Derby going 1 1/8 miles at that track on April 16 when 11-1 in the wagering.
Creator then ran 13th in the May 7 Kentucky Derby. He experienced a troubled trip in the field of 20. The gray colt, ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., was making a move on the far turn when he got stopped while in heavy traffic.
Not only did Creator have a bad trip in the Run for the Roses, Santana is zero for eight in his career at Belmont Park. Thus, Creator had a new jockey for the Belmont Stakes, with 23-year-old New York riding star Irad Ortiz Jr. taking over the reins. Ortiz has led the New York Racing Association circuit (Aqueduct-Belmont Park-Saratoga) in wins the last two years.
Many have praised Ortiz for his ride on Creator in the $1.5 million Belmont. Asmussen, not exactly someone who is easy to please in terms of what jockeys do during a race, said he thought Creator got “a beautiful ride” by Ortiz.
“It was Irad’s first classic win, but I think quite obviously it’s not his last classic win,” said Asmussen, who will be formally inducted into the sport’s Hall of Fame this summer.
Creator closed at $16.40 to $1 in the betting for the Kentucky Derby. Ironically, he was the exact same price in the Belmont. But, unlike the Kentucky Derby, you made money if you wagered on Creator to win the Belmont, collecting $34.80 for each $2 ticket.
FINAL 3-YEAR-OLD POLL
Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist tops the final NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll this week.
Each week as many as 50 eligible journalists and broadcasters cast votes for their Top 10 horses in the NTRA Top 3-Year-old Poll and the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, with points awarded on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. I have been participating in these polls for several years.
The Top 3-Year-Old Poll concluded this week following the Belmont Stakes. The Top Thoroughbred Poll will end Nov. 7 after the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park.
Here is this year’s final NTRA Top 3-Year-old Poll (first-place votes in parenthesis):
1. Nyquist (35)
6. Gun Runner
8. Carina Mia