By Francis LaBelle Jr.

It took a year and the patience of both owner Helen Alexander and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey to make Altesse a graded stakes winner, but the plan finally came to fruition on Sunday afternoon when the 5-year-old A.P. Indy mare dug in on the rail to defeat favored Spring Waltz by a neck in the 14th running of the Grade 3, $107,600 Turnback the Alarm Handicap for fillies and mares at nine furlongs. The race was the feature on the closing day of the 2008 Belmont Park Fall Championship Meet. Racing will resume on Wednesday with the Opening Day of the Aqueduct Fall Meet. First race post is 12:30 p.m.

“We thought we had her set up for this race last year at Aqueduct, when the rein broke,” McGaughey said. “She was eased. She had won two or three of those overnight stakes, but we wanted to win a graded stakes with her. I want to thank Helen (Alexander, owner) for keeping her in training. That was a pretty good race.”

It was an exceptional race.

Breaking from post 3, Altesse and jockey John Velazquez opened a length and half lead over So Glitzy but maintained a comfortable pace of 25.38, 49.41, 1:13.72 and 1:37.88 on a track that started out “good” but was “fast” by mid-afternoon.

Spring Waltz, winless in two starts since taking Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Rampart Handicap back in March, moved forwardly and made a wide move to challenge the leader with a furlong to go and actually took a slight lead.

Altesse, however, came back inside to win in 1:50.02.

“She is so very game,” said Velazquez as Altesse returned $6.40. “She is such a nice horse. She tries hard all the time, no matter what, and you saw that today.”

So Glitzy was third, followed by Rolling Sea, Morning Chop and Nijinsky Bullet.

Gary Contessa was the leading trainer of the Belmont Fall Championship Meet with 16 winners, one more than Richard Dutrow Jr.

Edgar Prado led all the jockeys with 43 wins. Eibar Coa was a distant second with 31 victories.


TURNBACK THE ALARM QUOTES

Winning trainer Shug McGaughey of Altesse (No. 3): “We thought we had her set up for this race last year at Aqueduct, when the rein broke. She was eased. She had won two or three of those overnight stakes, but we wanted to win a graded stakes with her. I want to thank Helen (Alexander, owner) for keeping her in training That was a pretty good race.”

Winning jockey John Velazquez: “She is so very game. She is such a nice horse. She tries hard all the time, no matter what, and you saw that today.”