Commissioner nearly became the latest long shot to win the Belmont Stakes, losing to Tonalist in a photo finish as a 28-1 shot Saturday.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said all along his horse had the perfect pedigree to run 1 ½ miles at Belmont Park. He had dreamed of saddling him in the Belmont from the first days he worked with the colt.
“He ran super,” Pletcher said. “I didn’t anticipate that we would be on the lead, but we weren’t going to take away anything they gave us. He was almost good enough today.”
Like Tonalist, Commissioner did not run in either of the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He also finished second behind Tonalist in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on May 10.
Ben's Cat falls shy of $2 million milestone
Ben's Cat fell short in his quest to become the seventh Maryland-bred with at least $2 million in career earnings, finishing fourth in the $300,000 Jaipur Invitational on Saturday.
He needed to win or finish second to pass the mark. Undrafted, owned by Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, won the Grade III stakes.
Ben's Cat is one of the great stories in Mid-Atlantic racing, having bounced back from a broken pelvis to win 26 races in 40 career starts. In the process, he rejuvenated the barn of Maryland institution King Leatherbury, who ranks fourth on the all-time wins list among trainers with 6,429.
"It wasn't a good trip," Leatherbury said of the Jaipur, in which Ben's Cat went off as a 2-1 favorite. "He did right, but then he got trapped and he couldn't finish his normal finish."
Cigar remains the all-time leading money winner among Maryland-breds with $9,999,815 in career earnings.
Norumbega charges home for Janney
Norumbega, owned by Janney and trained by Shug McGaughey, stalked the front-runners in the 126th running of the Brooklyn Invitational and charged to victory in the third race on the Belmont Stakes card.
Joel Rosario, who brought Orb from well back in the giant field to win the Derby last year, held Norumbega in the middle of the seven-horse field before overtaking Micromanage and Cat Burglar to win the $500,000 Grade II stakes.
Social Inclusion falls short
Social Inclusion, originally expected to set the early pace in the Belmont Stakes, left the day with a third-place finish in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens. He was bested by another speedy Preakness horse, Bayern, who won impressively under Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens.
"You just have to draw a line through the Preakness," said Bayern's trainer, Bob Baffert. "He lost all chance at the start. We were up against it here because we drew the [No.] 1 hole. He left the gate running, set some serious fractions and finished very strong."
Owner Ron Sanchez pulled Social Inclusion from the Belmont field after he struggled in the starting gate early in the week.
"He got a perfect trip, I guess," said Social Inclusion's jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr. "That horse that won, won very good. It's tough."
Queen of the fillies
Perhaps the second-most anticipated showdown of the day occurred in the $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes, which pitted three of the nation's best fillies.
In a mild upset, Close Hatches beat Princess of Sylmar by a head and finished soundly ahead of even-money favorite Beholder.
"I think when they advertised that this race would be held on this particular day, I think everybody started pointing to it," said Close Hatches' trainer, Bill Mott. "There was a lot of buildup to it, at least for us."