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Creator Edges Destin to Take Belmont  

     WinStar Farm and Bobby Flay`s Creator needed every step of the 1 1/2 miles over Big Sandy to win the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (gr. I) June 11.

The gray son of Tapit split horses, surged in the final furlong, and nosed out Destin at the wire to win the third leg of the Triple Crown. Destin led every stride but the last from the top of the stretch to the wire as Creator found just enough under Irad Ortiz Jr. to win for trainer Steve Asmussen. The victory with Creator, who won the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) and then finished a troubled 13th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), is Asmussen`s first in the Belmont.

"It`s the best feeling right now," Asmussen said. "The great thing about racing—you can have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month. They don`t put you behind the gates. They put you up even and give you a chance to prove yourself."

Creator`s stablemate Gettysburg—who was moved to Asmussen for the Belmont and now will go back to former trainer Todd Pletcher—set the pace, clicking off fractions of :24.09, :48.48, and 1:13.38 through six furlongs. But Destin cruised by in the final turn, after tracking the front-runner in second and opened up a clear advantage in the lane. Creator moved up on the inside in the backstretch after racing in 11th and 10th early, and found himself sixth after a mile in 1:37.96 and continued to save ground in the final bend.

Creator and Lani loomed a closing danger as Destin sought the wire late, but Creator found just enough, finishing off the 1 1/2 miles in 2:28.51.

"He ran a great race," Pletcher said of Destin`s photo finish. "Tough beat."

Lani held for third, another 1 1/2 lengths back, and Governor Malibu completed the superfecta in fourth.

"I thought Irad gave him a perfect trip," Asmussen said. "I thought he saved yards and won by inches. He made the difference."

It appeared as if Creator might get closed off in the lane, as Governor Malibu had to angle out from the rail to put the eventual winner into tight quarters between the Malibu Moon colt and Stradivari, but Creator rallied gamely between his two rivals.

"He was calm and I just waited for somewhere to go," Ortiz said. "When he got in the clear, he started running."

Favored Exaggerator, up closer stalking the pace in sixth than his Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) runs and wide throughout, didn`t threaten in the stretch and was eased by jockey Kent Desormeaux in the final furlong to finish 11th.

"I was praying to God that the reins were lying to me," Desormeaux said. "The horse that (has been) keen to progress was not underneath me. ... I said, `Show me your stuff,` and there was nothing there. By the time we got to the eighth pole, he was stepping on his tongue and I said, `That`s enough.`"

Exaggerator`s trainer, Keith Desormeaux, didn`t have any definitive answers as to why the Curlin colt lacked his late kick.

"The Triple Crown might have caught up to him," the conditioner said. "We will have to see. When he pulled up, he didn`t look winded. I don`t know. We`ll have to figure it out."

Creator paid $34.80, $14.60, and $9.40 across the board. Destin, sixth in the Derby, brought $9.40 and $6.20. Lani, who contested all three legs of the Triple Crown, delivered $6.60 to show. Following Governor Malibu came Stradivari, Brody`s Cause, Cherry Wine, Gettysburg, Suddenbreakingnews, Trojan Nation, Exaggerator, Seeking the Soul, and Forever d`Oro.

Although it took him six starts to break his maiden, Creator now has a 3-4-1 record from 10 starts—including two grade I wins—with lifetime earnings of more than $1.5 million. Flay, who bought a minority interest in the colt three days before the Belmont, could not have picked a better time to buy in.

"The truth was that I planned to bring about 15 to 20 people to the Belmont Stakes, which I do every year," Flay said after the race. "I had a horse named America, a filly, who was going to run in the Ogden Phipps (gr. I), but I retired her just last month, so I really had nothing to run.

"So, I wanted to make sure my guests had a very enjoyable experience. So, I wanted to purchase a horse to run—not necessarily in the Belmont Stakes—and there were a couple horses we were looking at."


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Harzand shrugs off injury scare to win Derby  

     Investec Derby (Group 1) 1m4f, 3yo colts and fillies

HOURS before the race, Harzand`s participation was in doubt after the colt spread a plate. But with no serious damage sustained, connections rolled the dice, and were rewarded with a Classic victory.

Trainer Dermot Weld and jockey Pat Smullen were left celebrating their first Derby victories as the Aga Khan-owned Harzand held off favourite US Army Ranger, with Idaho taking third.

The first three home were all trained in Ireland, with Wings Of Desire faring best for the home contingent in fourth, but the front three pulled clear.

Smullen could be seen punching the air as he crossed the finish line, and Harzand was not his original intended ride for the race, as he thought he would be aboard Midterm before he was ruled out through injury.

The jockey said: "It`s unbelievable. It`s what dreams are made of, more so for me to ride the winner for the boss - it makes it more fitting. I`m just delighted to ride the winner for him; he`s the world`s best trainer.

"The trouble we had this morning I didn`t think I`d have a ride at all. It`s a whole team effort, I`ve always said it. I sensed Ryan [Moore] coming and could see US Army Ranger`s white face but I knew he would try all the way.

"It`s amazing how this game works. When I got on Midterm I thought he would be my Derby ride but when the rain came for this horse we had to take our chance and he`s just improved so much."

Weld added: "It`s wonderful. We had a huge worry this morning after he spread a plate and he was still a doubt to run a little over an hour ago. Thankfully with a lot of help we`ve made it."

Benefit of experience

While the well-backed 13-2 chance Harzand was having only his fourth start, that was one more than favourite US Army Ranger, and there were signs of greenness from the 7-2 favourite in the heat of battle.

Moore made his challenge just inside the final furlong once Harzand had hit the front, but his mount did hang down the camber.

However, even if US Army Ranger had stayed completely straight, he would have been hard pressed to get much closer, and was beaten a length-and-a-half. Idaho took third under Seamie Heffernan at 14-1.

Trainer Aidan O`Brien felt US Army Ranger was still lacking experience, as he said: "I thought he behaved very well in the preliminaries but he was a bit babyish early in the race. Ryan felt that as well, but I wouldn`t make any excuses. We`ll see how our horse is but we would definitely be looking forward to our lad running again.

"Idaho also ran very well and I think he`ll come forward, too."


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Minding overcomes trouble to land Oaks  

     Investec Oaks (Group 1) 1m4f10y, 3yo fillies

ANY doubts over stamina or stalls were brushed aside by Minding, who overcame trouble on the turn to the straight to become the first filly since Kazzia in 2002 to complete the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks double.

Aidan O`Brien`s daughter of Galileo landed her fourth Group 1 success just 12 days after finishing second to Jet Setting in the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas, though it didn`t look particularly likely three furlongs out.

As Ryan Moore attempted to make his move aboard the odds-on favourite, the retreating pair of Australian Queen and Turret Rocks pinned her in with Moore being forced to switch to the rail.

However, as soon as she saw daylight, it was clear there was only going to be one winner as Minding ranged upsides eventual second Architecture two furlongs out before securing a length-and-three-quarter win with Harlequeen eight lengths back in third.

`She`s much the best`

Moore said: "I had a charmed run and then the boys all wanted to get moving and came on top of me. She had nowhere to go but thankfully she got me out of trouble.

"She`s much the best, she`s a very good filly. Her class got her out of trouble and she`ll be effective at shorter, for sure."

Cut for the Arc

Paddy Power shortened the star filly to 5-1 (from 12) for the Prix de l`Arc de Triomphe and O`Brien is set to give her a "little easy time" before finalising plans for the rest of the season.

O`Brien said: "She`s incredible, what can I say? She has speed, class, stamina and a great mind. She has everything and Ryan did brilliantly to win after what she went through.

"Real heart and guts and courage had to come into it with a furlong and a half to go and she had it in abundance.

"Like all the Galileos, when you go digging, they usually have it. We will give her a little easy time now and then pick a time for her."

`I`m hugely proud of her`

Hugo Palmer`s Architecture posted a career-best performance in second with the Newmarket trainer "hugely proud" of his filly.

Palmer said: "There were several moments in the race when I thought we had won but my God, the winner is good.

"Frankie said she should be very competitive again in Ireland and she`s proved she`s a proper, top class, Group 1 filly. She`ll just have to avoid Covert Love now!"


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Exaggerator Turns the Tables, Wins Preakness  

     After four losses to undefeated Nyquist, Exaggerator turned the tables with an off-the-pace victory in the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (gr. I) May 21 at Pimlico Race Course.

Owned by Big Chief Racing, Head of Plains Partners, and Rocker O Ranch, Exaggerator, a clear second choice at 5-2 in an 11-horse field, made his run along the inside on the far turn and pulled away to win by 3 1/2 lengths on a track rated sloppy. Longshot Cherry Wine, far back early, also made up ground toward the inside and nosed out Nyquist, the 3-5 choice, for second.

The winner is trained by Keith Desormeaux and was ridden by his brother, Kent, who won multiple riding titles in Maryland when he began his career as a jockey at Pimlico and Laurel Park.

Despite rain for most of the day, the Pimlico infield appeared crowded, as did the grandstand and clubhouse. The Maryland Jockey Club announced a record attendance of 135,256, up from the previous high of 131,680 reported last year.

Total pari-mutuel handle on the 14-race card also was a record at $94,127,434. The previous standard of $91,028,000 was established in 2005.

Exaggerator, who won the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on a sloppy track, paid $7.20 to win. By Curlin out of the Vindication mare Dawn Strike, Exaggerator was bred in Kentucky by Joseph Murphy and was purchased for $110,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Reddam Racing`s Nyquist, the Uncle Mo colt who won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), was part of an early pace war through quick fractions but he continued on gamely under Mario Gutierrez given the trip. Stradivari, in his stakes debut, finished fourth.

The final time for 1 3/16 miles was 1:58.31.

"I can`t fathom it," Kent Desormeaux said after the victory. "It`s going to take a while. I`m in shock right now. I think Nyquist had company all the way around the course and stayed really wide, and I had a dream trip today. I was on the fence and they all stayed wide.

"With these turns you want to paint the fence. We did, they didn`t and—not for nothing—knowledge is power."

Uncle Lino fired out of the gate along with Nyquist and Awesome Speed, and it was Uncle Lino who grabbed the inside and led Nyquist by a head through a rapid opening quarter-mile in :22.38. Nyquist had a half-length on Uncle Lino through a half-mile in :46.56, but the latter battled back to almost even terms through six furlongs in 1:11.97.

As the pace began to slow—the mile time was 1:38.19—Exaggerator was in full flight. He rallied from eighth at the three-quarter-mile mark and was on top by 1 1/2 lengths at the stretch call. Nyquist shifted to the outside in the final sixteenth of a mile but failed to gain on the leader.

Exaggerator, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby after an eventful trip, paid $7.20, $3.20, and $2.40 across the board. Cherry Wine, at 17-1, returned $9.80 to place and $4.20 to show, while Nyquist paid $2.20. The $1 exacta was worth $44.20 and the $1 trifecta $73.10.

The order of finish was completed by Lani, Laoban, Uncle Lino, Fellowship, Awesome Speed, Collected, and Abiding Star.

“The horse has been training phenomenally,” Keith Desormeaux said. “I think there was a conscious decision on the training approach between the Derby and here. My philosophy was to take it as easy as possible because you`re not going to gain any fitness in those two weeks. I did what I could to get him happy and fresh and strong, and I`ve always said he had a great ability to recover. He showed it today.”

Doug O`Neill, the trainer of Nyquist, was gracious in defeat.

“My hat`s off to Exaggerator and Team Desormeaux,” O`Neill said. “Nyquist is amazing horse and still ran a great race. He`s still a winner in our book. These horses aren`t machines. They all lose at one time or another. He just didn`t bring it today.”

Exaggerator and Nyquist met for the first time in their career debuts June 5 of 2015 at Santa Anita Park. Nyquist won by a head over Annie`s Candy, while Exaggerator checked in fifth. In Nyquist`s Breeders` Cup Juvenile (gr. I) win at Keeneland in October, Exaggerator finished fourth, and in the San Vicente Stakes (gr. II), Exaggerator came in second to Nyquist. The Kentucky Derby produced the same result.

Another meeting is possible in the June 11 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Keith Desormeaux indicated Exaggerator could be shipped to New York, while O`Neill indicated the Belmont is possible for Nyquist.

"We`ll head north and settle in at Belmont," Desormeaux said. "And we can`t wait to run in that race."

"We`ll huddle up with (owners Paul and Zillah Reddam) and the whole crew and see how he comes out of it," O`Neill said. "It looked like he came back to be unsaddled in good shape, so maybe we`ll try again."

Dale Romans, who trains Cherry Wine for owners Pacella Racing, Frank Jones Jr., and Frank Shoop, said the Paddy O`Prado colt will head to Belmont along with Brody`s Cause, who won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) before his off-the-board finish in the Kentucky Derby.

"I`m proud of my horse and proud of (jockey Corey Lanerie)," Romans said. "Exaggerator looked great all week and Keith did a good job with him. It`s a special thing, two brothers in a classic like this. That`s the special thing about the sport. It proves it`s a family affair."

Lanerie said Cherry Wine broke inward and lacked speed, though his style of racing is to drop way back and make one run.

"They rode around and let them come to us, and he started to show his kick in the middle of the turn at the three-eighths pole," Lanerie said. "We did not encounter any trouble. We had pretty clear sailing. This one feels good."

Tom Mansor, Purple Shamrock Racing, and trainer Gary Sherlock`s Uncle Lino ended up seventh after his efforts and galloped out, but the Uncle Mo colt was vanned off after the race as a precautionary measure. On-call veterinarian Dr. Keith Latson said inflammation was discovered in one of the colt`s tendons, and that he could have walked back to the barn if the main track was dry.

Later at the barn, Sherlock confirmed that Uncle Lino had tendon inflammation in his left front leg but wasn`t favoring it when he walked around Pimlico stakes barn. Sherlock also said Uncle Lino will ship back to California May 22.


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Awtaad blows Guineas rivals away in style  

     Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas (Group 1), 1m 3yo

AWTAAD bridged a 40-year gap to provide trainer Kevin Prendergast with a second Irish 2,000 Guineas success, four decades after Northern Treasures won the same Classic.

The vibes had been positive all week for the son of Cape Cross and, despite making just his fifth career start and stepping up from a Listed success on his previous run, ran out a convincing winner from Galileo Gold, who was bidding for a Guineas double after success at Newmarket three weeks earlier.

The victory was a popular one for the Curragh`s longest-serving trainer, in his 83rd year, and despite the runner-up not enjoying the cleanest of conveyances, there can be little doubt the best horse on the day finished in front.

Gold has to settle for silver

From stall one, there was always a chance Galileo Gold would need some luck in running and at one stage it looked like Frankie Dettori might find it difficult to deliver his run.

However, a narrow gap did come along the rail and in plenty of time, and while Dettori had little choice when he could make his move, Galileo Gold never travelled with the same ease he had shown when dominating his rivals at Newmarket.

In contrast, Chris Hayes was enjoying the ride of his life as Awtaad motored like a Ferrari and, sensing Dettori`s traffic problems, he made an early and decisive move for Classic glory.

The boss gave me no instructions, except not to get there too soon, which I did, but I saw Frankie was in trouble on the rail and I wanted to make it as hard as possible for him," said Hayes, who punched the air in delight as he rocketed to the finishing line. "He`s the best horse I`ve ever ridden."

Admitting confidence had been sky high, the winning rider continued: "I didn`t sleep for a week as this horse has been flying. We`ve always held him in such high regard."

The margin of victory was two and a half lengths at the line, with a further four and a quarter lengths back to Blue De Vega in third.

`As good a horse as I`ve had`

Describing the winner as the best he has trained, a delighted Prendergast said: "He was forced to go a bit early today and Chris kicked when Frankie was in a bit of trouble, but he won well.

"He`s definitely as good a horse as I`ve had, and I had Ardross. He was a good horse, but this one`s the best I`ve had in a long time."

Looking to the future, he added: "Where he goes next I don`t know. He`s in both Derbys and we`ll see what the owner wants to do."


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