Setting the Stage - by Frank Angst

On a day when one wondered if the Longines finish line clock would begin flashing like the radar-equipped highway signs that blink when they detect a speeder, fast horses delivered swift performances on Belmont Park’s grandest card of racing.

Those speedy efforts came before Creator rallied in the stretch June 11 to catch Destin for a narrow Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (gr. I) victory, ensuring three different classic winners this year. The Tapit colt joins Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Exaggerator and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Nyquist.

The results of this year’s classics couldn’t have been more different than last year when the Belmont outcome set off racing’s biggest celebration in 37 years as American Pharoah closed out the Triple Crown. That win, and the commitment of owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert to share their star with the public, set the stage for a memorable summer and fall capped by American Pharoah’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) victory.

That kind of excitement will not be on display every year, but by bolstering the Belmont undercard with some of the country’s biggest races—and biggest purses—NYRA has put star horses before the eyes of a larger-than-usual audience. It should help build interest in the big races this summer and fall as well as the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

The stacked Belmont day undercard appears a solid foothold for New York Racing Association, searching for an attraction in years the Triple Crown is not on the line. As the first of the classics, the Derby always has the ability to create a star in about two minutes. The Preakness typically has a Derby winner going for a second classic win. The Belmont sometimes has a 3-year-old going for history, but in the years it doesn’t, NYRA’s deep Belmont card of top stakes still showcases racing’s best.

This year those star horses most assuredly showed up, delivering record-breaking performances and eye-catching moves that should have more than a few people looking forward to again seeing Frosted, Cavorting, and Flintshire.

Godolphin’s Frosted turned in the day’s biggest performance in the $1.25 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), winning one of the country’s great races for older horses by 141⁄4 lengths and stopping the clock in 1:32.73. No other horse has completed the one-turn mile race in a faster time than Frosted, and it’s been at least 25 years since a horse won the Met Mile by a wider margin.

Frosted is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who swept the day’s two biggest main-track races for older horses as he also saddled Stonestreet Stables’ Cavorting to a 21⁄2-length victory in the Ogden Phipps Stakes (gr. I).

The clock would help tell the story of some of the day’s top turf performances as well. Juddmonte Farms’ Flintshire displayed an eye-popping turn of foot in making up two lengths in a final quarter-mile of the 11⁄4-mile Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (gr. IT) run in :21.83 on Belmont’s inner turf course. James Bryan Jr.’s filly Celestine came within a hundredth of a second of Elusive Quality’s world-record mile time set in 1998 on the same Belmont course when she completed the Longines Just a Game Stakes (gr. IT) in 1:31.64.

In the Jaipur Invitational Stakes (gr. IIIT) sprinting six furlongs on the turf, Patricia Generazio homebred Pure Sensation secured a course record by completing the race in 1:06.76. As impressive as that effort was, Generazio homebred Disco Partner registered the day’s most incredible non-winning finish when he passed 11 rivals and made up nearly 63⁄4 lengths in a final quarter-mile run in :22.70 to finish second.

While it came up just short, Disco Partner’s wild rally is worth watching again on race replays; in fact, that’s the case with several horses who ran on the Belmont card. Here’s hoping a lot of people make a point of watching the Belmont day stars this summer and fall.

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