Trainer Steve Asmussen won his first Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes with Creator on June 12th in his third try for the third jewel in the Triple Crown.
“I am obviously very proud of the horse. He’s very proud [of himself] this morning and he’s very alert. I’m kind of surprised by his energy,” said Asmussen, who admitted he didn’t get much sleep. “I got up to watch the replay every 15 minutes.”
What he saw each time was exhilarating: Creator, with Irad Ortiz, Jr. up, rallied from way off the pace, spilt horses in the stretch, dug down deep inside the eighth pole, and got up just in time to get his nose down at the wire and prevail over the Todd Pletcher-trained Destin.
“I thought it was a great race. I thought Irad did a masterful job with him and with every decision he made,” he said. “I really thought the horse tried to win late. He just really, really laid out there and dug in, and I personally feel very fortunate for his effort.”
Asmussen finished fourth in 2011 with Nehro and in 2007 eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin came up short by a head after battling the filly Rags to Riches whisker-to-whisker down the lane in one of the most dramatic finishes in Belmont Stakes history. As fate would have it, Pletcher also trained Rags to Riches, who went on as well to post-season championship honors.
“I cannot wait to walk by that wall [the Clubhouse display of past Belmont winners], and I’ll actually stop next year and look at the pictures for obvious reasons,” said Asmussen.
Creator is owned by WinStar Farm LLC as well as chef Bobby Flay, who bought an interest in the Tapit son, just days before the race. Following race, Flay explained the purchase: “The truth was that I had planned to bring about 15 to 20 people to the Belmont Stakes, which I do every year, and I had a horse named America, a filly, who was going to run in the Ogden Phipps, 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 of other horses that we were looking at.
“And then Mr. Walden next to me told us that we could get involved in Creator. It’s not really the thing I usually do because I usually buy fillies. But having a chance to be involved with a horse like that, with a farm like that, and the people that are involved in it, just it was a no brainer for me.
“I shouldn’t even be sitting here. I mean, really. I just – the only thing I did was I certainly was cheering the loudest in the entire racetrack, and maybe I gave that last little head bob, but that’s about it.”
Creator will not get some well-deserved R&R at WinStar farm. Asmussen said he will spend an undetermined amount of time there, dependent upon how he responds, and will then be pointed to the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes on August 27 at Saratoga Race Course. “I very much think that right now, with all of the pressure we’ve put on him, and the amount of racing that he’s had this year, he needs a little mental freshening to get away from it for a bit,” said the trainer. “When he wins the Belmont in New York, you would love for Creator to be at his best for the Travers. But I think we need to do the responsible thing and let him let down a little bit, and then see how he responds. That is respect for the effort he gave us yesterday.”
Asmussen is also headed to Saratoga, where he will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in August.