Irad Ortiz Jr. Rides Mo Donegal to Victory at the Belmont Stakes

Irad Ortiz Jr. is celebrating a winning ride…

The 29-year-old Puerto Rican jockey led Mo Donegal to victory on Saturday for the second Belmont Stakes victory of his career.

Irad Ortiz Jr., Mo Donegal, Belmont Stakes,“Be patient,” Triple Crown veteran Todd Pletcher told Ortiz prior to the race. “I think you have the best last quarter of any horse in the race.”

Pletcher was correct… Mo Donegal pulled away down the home stretch and held off filly Nest to win the Belmont Stakes, giving Pletcher a 1-2 finish and his sixth Triple Crown victory, including four at this track on the outskirts of New York City.

“To be honest with you, we were a little confident going into the race today,” Donegal Racing CEO and co-owner Jerry Crawford said. “When he turned for home, I was like, forget about it. I know Todd thought he could get a strong last quarter mile, and he surely did.”

Irad Ortiz Jr., Mo Donegal, Belmont Stakes,Rich Strike, a stunning Kentucky Derby winner at 80-to-1 odds, was sixth.

Mo Donegal rounded the 1½-mile distance in 2 minutes, 28.28 seconds, three lengths ahead of Nest — ridden by Ortiz’s brother, Jose.

Pletcher, who lives on Long Island, adds another Belmont title following wins with Rags to Riches in 2007, Palace Malice in 2013 and Tapwrit in 2017.

Mo Donegal beat an eight-horse field without a clear favorite. We the People, an outstanding runner in the mud, opened at 2 to 1 amid a rainy forecast but reached 7 to 2 by race time as showers held off.

Mo Donegal entered the gate the betting favorite at 5 to 2. We the People led for much of the race, but Mo Donegal and Ortiz took charge coming out of the final turn.

The 3-year-old colt paid $7.20, $3.80 and $3. Nest — who nearly became Pletcher’s second filly to win Belmont after Rags to Riches — paid $5.30 and $4.10. Skippylongstocking was third and returned $5.60 to show. We the People finished fourth.

Rich Strike owner Rick Dawson and trainer Eric Reed held the Kentucky Derby winner out of the Preakness with an eye on Belmont, the first healthy horse to skip Pimlico after winning the Triple Crown’s first race since 1985.

Reed said the team encouraged jockey Sonny Leon to try pushing Rich Strike from the outside, but the horse kept trying to get back inside — where he made a late charge past 19 horses to win at Churchill Downs. Rich Strike spent much of Saturday’s race in last place and couldn’t recover.

“I think we just made a tactical error,” Reed said.

Just like Rich Strike, Mo Donegal was at the back of the pack at the Derby, but the colt didn’t have enough kick at Churchill Downs. He found it Saturday, winning the 154th running of the $1.5 million race.

Mo Donegal made a winner out of co-owner Mike Repole, a local entrepreneur known around the track as “Mike from Queens.” Repole also co-owns Nest.

“This is New York’s biggest race and to win it here, with my family and friends and 70 people here, this will be a big winner’s circle,” he said.

It’s the fourth straight year the Triple Crown contests were won by three different horses, a first for the sport since 1926 to 1929.

The race marked a return to form for Belmont itself after the 2020 Stakes was closed to the public due to the pandemic and the 2021 event was limited to 11,238 spectators by virus restrictions.

Capacity was capped again, this time at 50,000, because of congestion concerns stemming from the newly built arena next door for the NHL‘s New York Islanders. Still, fans crammed into cars on the Long Island Rail Road and breathed life into the 117-year-old track with floral headwear, pastel suits and the unmistakable musk of booze and cigars.

The reported attendance of 46,103 fell far short of the grounds record 120,139 set in 2004. Not much of a surprise, given the shaky weather forecast and the lack of a Triple Crown contender.

The field was sparse, too. No horse ran all three Triple Crown legs this year, heightening concern that three races in five weeks may be too tight a schedule to keep the horses healthy.

Jose Ortiz Rides Early Voting to Victory to Claim His First-Ever Preakness Stakes Title

Jose Ortiz is celebrating a major win…

The 28-year-old Puerto Rican jockey rode Early Voting to victory at the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, giving him his first win in five tries at the race.

Jose Ortiz, Preakness Stakes,Early Voting held off hard-charging favorite Epicenter for the win.

Early Voting stalked the leaders for much of the race before moving into first around the final turn and finished 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Epicenter, who was second just like in the Kentucky Derby.

The initial plan in the Preakness was for Early Voting not to wait and for jockey Jose Ortiz to take him to the lead. That looked especially important on a day when the dirt track at Pimlico Race Course was favoring speed and making it hard for horses to come from behind down the stretch.

But when Armagnac jumped out to the lead, Ortiz settled Early Voting, who had plenty left in the tank before the finish line with Epicenter threatening inside at the rail.

“I was never worried,” trainer Chad Brown said. “Once we had a good target, I actually preferred that. We were fine to go to the lead, but I thought down the back side it was going to take a good horse to beat us. And a good horse did run up on us near the wire and it was about the only one that could run with us.”

After just two Triple Crown winners in the past four-plus decades, Rich Strike owner Rick Dawson took plenty of criticism for skipping the Preakness because he felt the horse needed more rest to prepare for the Belmont Stakes on June 11.

Some of that might be muted in the aftermath of Early Voting’s impressive performance.

“That’s very hard to get an owner to pass on the Derby, and they did the right choice,” said Ortiz. “The horse, I don’t think he was seasoned enough to run in a 20-horse field and they proved that they were right today. I’ve been on him since he was a baby. We always knew he was very talented, but we knew he was going to be a late developer.”

Early Voting’s owner Seth Klarman and Brown cast doubt on the possibility of Early Voting taking on Rich Strike in the Belmont to make it a showdown between the Derby and Preakness winners. They said Early Voting might not be suited for the mile-and-a-half Belmont.

But Early Voting had no problem with 1 3/16 miles in the Preakness, which did not have a blazing fast pace like the Derby.

“It’s just beautiful when a plan comes together,” Brown said.

Early Voting, who went off at 5-1, gave Brown his second Preakness victory. Cloud Computing, the 2017 winner, is also owned by Klarman’s Klaravich Stables.

“Cloud Computing was a once in a lifetime and now I have a twice in a lifetime,” said Klarman, who grew up three blocks from Pimlico and was celebrating his 65th birthday. “Really hard to believe it could’ve happened.”

Early Voting won the race in 1:54.54 and paid $13.40, $4.60 and $3.60. Epicenter paid $2.80 and $2.40 for place and show, and Creative Minister was third and paid $4.20 to show.

Although Epicenter was passed by Rich Strike in the Derby and couldn’t make a similar move in the Preakness, it was a familiar feeling for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Joel Rosario. A disappointed Asmussen said his horse “just had too much to overcome” after a rough start.

“I couldn’t get my position,” Rosario said. “I had nowhere to go. You just have to stay there and hopefully at some point it opens up. It was really tight the whole way.”

Early Voting finished first in a field of nine horses, which included D. Wayne Lukas-trained filly Secret Oath and three who came back after running in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. Secret Oath finished fourth 15 days after winning the Kentucky Oaks.

“She made a big, sweeping run,” Lukas said. “It just wasn’t her day.”

Early Voting, a son of Gun Runner, won for the third time in four career races to take the $900,000 winner’s share of the $1.65 million purse. Asmussen said, “Early Voting is the winner of the Preakness and deserves all the credit for doing so — and nothing but.”

The 147th edition of the Preakness took place in near-record heat with the temperature soaring to 90 when the horses left the starting gate.

Espinoza Leads American Pharoah to Victory in First Post-Triple Crown Race

Victor Espinoza continues his winning ways…

The 43-year-old Mexican jockey, who was named Best Jockey at this year’s ESPY Awards, gave American Pharoah a slight nudge to take control and lead the majestic colt to victory at the Haskell Invitational, delivering an encore performance in his first race since winning the Triple Crown.

Victor Espinoza

“This horse, he just keeps bringing it,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He’s just a great horse.”

With a record crowd of 60,983 cheering him on Sunday at Monmouth Park, American Pharoah came out of the final turn with a clear lead and cruised to a 2¼-length victory while Espinoza barely moved a muscle.

“He ran like a champ,” Espinoza said.

After winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first in 37 years, American Pharoah’s return was greatly anticipated.

Fifty-seven days after the Belmont, the 3-year-old son of Pioneer of the Nile looked better than ever in his eighth consecutive victory.

“That was nerve-racking,” Baffert said after his eighth win in the Haskell, five more than any other trainer. “I was getting pretty nervous.”

“No clue,” owner Ahmed Zayat said when asked about his colt’s next race. “We’re going to enjoy this moment.”

If all goes according to plan, American Pharoah will run his final race in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, on October 31. Then he’s headed down the road to the breeding shed at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud.

A few minutes after Bruce Springsteen‘s “Born to Run” blared over the speakers as the horses walked onto the track, American Pharoah broke well from post No. 4. But it was Competitive Edge who took the lead. Espinoza kept his horse in second until the far turn. And then, American Pharoah took off and was all alone in the stretch.

The final margin was deceptive because Espinoza never asked American Pharoah to run any harder than necessary.

“It was pretty easy,” said Espinoza, who is unbeaten in eight races as American Pharoah’s jockey. “For me the key was just coming out of there running. I knew that other horse would want to take the lead, so I sat back just a little bit. I never like to go head and head with another horse, so I sat back maybe half a length behind. He did everything by himself. It was pretty easy, pretty impressive.”

American Pharoah followed many of his Triple Crown colleagues by winning his first start after three grueling races in five weeks. Of the 11 others, seven won in their return and one, Count Fleet, was retired after the 1943 Belmont with an injury.

American Pharoah opened his career with a loss before reeling off eight in a row — seven of them Grade 1 races. With the $1.1 million payday in the Haskell, his career earnings soared to $5.6 million.

Messi Named Best International Athlete at ESPY Awards

The people have spoken… And, they’ve named Lionel Messi the best of the best…

The 25-year-old Argentine fútbol star—who claimed his third straight Ballon d’Or in January—was named Best International Athlete during Wednesday night’s ESPY Awards, which celebrate the year’s best athletes and moments in sports.

lionel-messi-barca

Messi, who plays for Futbol Club Barcelona in Spain’s La Liga, beat out some of the world’s biggest sports stars for the title, including tennis superstar Novak Djokovic, LPGA Championship winner Yani Tseng and his Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

During his record-breaking season, Messi scored 50 goals in La Liga and an unmatched 73 goals in all competitions. He also finished as the UEFA Champions League‘s top scorer for a fourth consecutive season with 14 goals.

But Messi wasn’t the only Latino athlete recognized…

Mario Gutierrez, who rode I’ll Have Another to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, won as best jockey.

The 25-year-old Mexican jockey beat out Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez
 and John Velazquez for the trophy.

Award winners are selected exclusively through online fan voting from the list of candidates selected by the ESPY Select Nominating Committee.