The win gave Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith their first victories in the 1½-mile “Test of the Champion,” while owner WinStar Farm now owns two Triple Crown wins this year, having taken the Kentucky Derby in May with Super Saver.
“Miracles never cease to happen,” said a jubilant Mott, who had sent out just four previous Belmont starters, the last of which was second-place Vision and Verse in 1999. “It feels great, just great. It was a pretty good feeling watching him come down the stretch. I thought going wide was going to cost him, but he kind of found another gear.”
Smith, aboard Drosselmeyer for the first time after replacing Kent Desormeaux on the son of Distorted Humor, ended an 0-for-12 streak in the Belmont that began with a second-place finish aboard the Nick Zito-trained Thirty Six Red in the 1990 Belmont.
“Billy told me to give him a nice, comfortable rhythm and … he stayed in that nice cool rhythm all the way,” said Smith, who earlier on the card won the Grade 1 Just a Game on Proviso for Mott. “By the three-eighths pole, I started picking them up. As soon as I asked him, he really kicked in. All I had to worry about was Ice Box or somebody behind me, and he kept on going, and going, and going. It was really a great race today.”
Zito, who was bidding for a third career Belmont Stakes victory, was as disappointed with the ninth-place finish of 9-5 favorite Ice Box as he was delighted with the second-place performance of Fly Down, who edged pacesetter First Dude by a neck.
“Fly Down ran great, obviously, I’m disappointed about Ice Box,” said the Hall of Fame trainer, who has sent out 24 Belmont starters, more than any other trainer. “He didn’t deal well with the heat today. He was ready to go the last couple of days, but I guess he just left his race somewhere. We’ll have to regroup and see what happens.”
“When I asked him to run, he showed no interest,” added Jose Lezcano, aboard the beaten favorite, who was runner-up in the Kentucky Derby. “He didn’t have it today; he didn’t fire.”
As expected, when the gate opened, it was Preakness runner-up First Dude who went straight to the lead, setting moderate fractions of 24.15, 49.19, 1:14.94 and 1:40.25 with Interactif in close pursuit. Approaching the quarter-pole, Game On Dude made a run to move into contention, but it was Drosselmeyer who was moving fastest of all on the outside, collaring the leaders in midstretch and edging clear in the final yards to hit the wire in 2:31.57.
Fly Down, under John Velazquez, also came charging hard at the end to nip First Dude for place, with Game On Dude holding on for fourth.
“We had a perfect trip and everything went like we planned, we just couldn’t hold it together right there at the end,” said Dale Romans, trainer of First Dude. “He ran a mile and a half, ran hard, did all the work again today on the lead, and I’m real happy with him.”
Uptowncharlybrown finished fifth, but was disqualified to last for a weight violation after losing the eight-pound lead weight pad at the quarter pole; following him under the wire were Stay Put, Interactif, Stately Victor, Ice Box, Make Music for Me, Dave in Dixie, and Spangled Star.
Drosselmeyer, who had finished fourth in the Grade 2 Risen Star, third in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and second in the Grade 2 Dwyer, is now 3-3-2 from eight starts. Kept out of the Kentucky Derby for lack of earnings, he has now bankrolled $801,170 with the winner’s purse of $600,000.
He returned $28 for a $2 win bet to his backers in the crowd of 45,243.
“We always believed in him so much,” Doug Cauthen, president and CEO of WinStar Farm, said of Drosselmeyer. “We did think this was the day he would either put up or we’d have to quick, make an excuse, and he really put up. He just ran a super race.”