Saturday, June 5, 2010
Drosselmeyer grinds out place in history
By Paul Moran Special to ESPN.com
ELMONT, N.Y. -- He was fourth in the Risen Star Stakes, third in the Louisiana Derby and, though hopeful, excluded from the Kentucky Derby for lack of graded-stakes earnings. He was second in the Dwyer Stakes and eligible for non-winners-of-two allowance conditions when Saturday dawned hazy, hot and humid over New York. But Drosselmeyer is now the winner of an American classic, final leg of the Triple Crown -- not a memorable Triple Crown or a Belmont Stakes that will long live in memory but once a horse's name is etched in history, it is forever chiseled in time.
On a day dominated by long shots, Sarah Palin and 45,242 others -- including the widely reviled Governor of New York David Paterson -- watched Drosselmeyer prevail in a staggering stretch drive over Fly Down and First Dude in the 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes. In the process, Drosselmeyer secured a pick-six carryover of $930,495, gave WinStar Farm its second victory in this Triple Crown to go with Super Saver's Kentucky Derby and awarded trainer Bill Mott his first classic success 15 years after his induction into the Racing Hall of Fame.
Drosselmeyer and jockey Mike Smith, seven-wide turning into the stretch, required 2:31.57 to cover 12 furlongs, the slowest Belmont since the 1995 renewal won by Thunder Gulch. The only thing that took longer here Saturday was the singing of "Empire State of Mind," the new and hopefully short-lived Belmont Stakes anthem.
If the bettors gave Drosselmeyer no better than a 13-1 chance in the Belmont, his trainer was not appreciably more confident. "I got a little nervous when he ran in the Dwyer and looked like he needed some racing," Mott said. "But it turned out to be a good plan."
In some ways, the long-winded Drosselmeyer is a popular Belmont winner -- owned, trained and ridden by well-liked, widely respected people. "There is a thing called racing luck," Mott said, "and we had our luck today. Some things are just meant to be."
One of those things apparently "meant to be" was a change of riders that put the California-based Smith astride Drosselmeyer, who is named for the villainous father in the "Nutcracker Suite."
"This horse needed a change in his routine," WinStar racing manager Elliott Walden said. "Something had to change."
Frustration is the mother of alteration. So, Kent Desormeaux, who was aboard Drosselmeyer in seven of his eight races before the Belmont and has been Mott's go-to guy in New York, was off and Smith, who has now ridden a winner in each of the Triple Crown races and spent much of this career in New York, was on.
"Mike was in town to ride Proviso in the Just A Game," Walden said. (He and Mott won that $400,000 Grade 1, too.) "We've had success in the past and it seemed like a good fit."
No American rider is as skilled as Smith when aboard a closing horse. Look no further than the undefeated multiple championship mare, Zenyatta, or his 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, Giacomo, for evidence of his acumen and timing when lagging well behind the early pace. The huge Drosselmeyer is reliably slow early, has no turn of foot and gains momentum slowly, a grinder who probably found his best distance Saturday.
"It was all about getting into a rhythm. He just kept coming and coming. It was incredible," Smith said.
In the late stages of the Belmont, Drosselmeyer, who had not posed a serious threat in any race since January, was the last of a dozen 3-year-olds still moving forward. It took a while, but there are no style points in racing. The winner's share of a $1 million purse is $600,000 -- three times the 142nd Belmont winner's earnings prior to Saturday -- no matter how long it took Drosselmeyer to run 1½ miles. The celebration among the principals of WinStar Farm, where the Belmont winner's sire, Distorted Humor, stands will be no less joyous. Perhaps there will be talk of the Breeders' Cup Marathon in the autumn. A 12-furlong horse has little opportunity to put that advantage to productive work.
"People don't know this," Mott said, "but this is the second Belmont winner I've saddled. I saddled Victory Gallop [who denied Real Quiet a Triple Crown sweep in 1998] when Elliott Walden had a broken leg."
Good karma. The right distance. The right rider. Serendipity?
Some things are just meant to be.
Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He has also been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.