No Mo Waiting in the Belmont

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Mo Donegal powers home in the Belmont Stakes to lead a 1-2 finish for horses co-owned by Repole Stable. Tod Marks photo

The annual traffic jam that is the path from the paddock through the tunnel to the owners’ boxes stairway before the Belmont Stakes stopped Mike Repole and his crew cold.

Repole, never one to idle and waste time, didn’t take long to find an opening. Surrounded by his usual entourage, Repole spotted a path, pointed to it in a way that said “let’s go” and made a dash for daylight. He was gone from the mass in an instant, up the steps and into the box seats almost so fast he nearly inadvertently ditched NBC’s Britney Eurton and a camera crew in the process.

About 15 minutes after Repole made his move, Mo Donegal did the same. Running past the tiring We The People and Skippylongstocking and to open space of his own at the top of Belmont Park’s sandy stretch, Mo Donegal made the move when needed on the way to victory in Saturday’s 154th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes. The victory gave Repole, who bought a minority interest in Mo Donegal a week before the Kentucky Derby, a coveted first classic victory in a race he grew up watching.

Repole, who grew up in Queens and also co-owns Belmont runner-up Nest, celebrated the bucket-list win with the partners of Donegal Racing who owned Mo Donegal since landing him for $250,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September yearling sale.

“It’s a 40-year dream,” Repole said. “Coming to this track and Aqueduct, being a kid from New York, this is New York’s race. In 2011, I came in second with Stay Thirsty and I watched the replay 150 times. I will no longer watch that replay. Getting a first and second here, it makes up for it. This was the biggest goal of my racing life, and I just accomplished it and I ran 1-2.”

Mo Donegal, winner of the Grade 2 Wood Memorial and fifth in the Kentucky Derby, topped his stablemate Nest by 3 lengths to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fourth Belmont victory and sixth classic in his ongoing Hall of Fame career. Skippylongstocking finished 3 1/4 lengths back in third, with We The People fourth. Mo Donegal won in 2:28.28.

Mo Donegal and Nest also gave breeders Gray and Natalie Lyster’s Ashview Farm and Richard Santulli’s Colts Neck Stables a rare 1-2 finish in the final jewel of the Triple Crown. Irad Ortiz Jr. rode Mo Donegal for his second classic victory, following Creator’s score in the 2016 Belmont Stakes.

The winner went to the post in front of a paid crowd of 46,301 as the 5-2 favorite. The son of Repole’s 2010 champion 2-year-old male Uncle Mo topped a field that included Peter Pan winner and morning-line favorite We The People, longshot Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, who finished a non-threatening sixth Saturday, and Kentucky Derby sixth Barber Road, who finished seventh in the Belmont.

“First of all, it’s our family’s favorite race,” Pletcher said. “Our kids grew up here and went to school here and we’ve always felt like it’s our hometown race.

“When we’re fortunate enough to win it, it adds some specialness to it. That hometown feel. That part of it is really cool. Also, just the mile and a half challenge is something we’ve been fortunate enough to do well at. It’s the ‘Test of the Champion,’ so to be fortunate enough to win it four times and with some five, six seconds with some pretty nasty beats, too, is very special. It’s been fun.”

Repole won the Belmont in his seventh attempt, either with horses he owned solely or in partnership. Donegal, perhaps best known for upsetting Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers Stakes with Keen Ice, won the Belmont in its third try.

“First, I want to thank Jerry [Crawford of Donegal Racing] for letting us partner with this horse. He’s a great marketer, because he has a horse with Irad and Todd and named it ‘Mo’ so he could sell me a piece of it. So it worked out well for him,” said Repole. “It’s surreal, it really is. I’ve been coming to races for years, Aqueduct and Belmont and when I could get a car, Saratoga.

“Winning with Todd, my family and his family are very close. To give him his fourth Belmont is really, really special [and] to win it with a son of Uncle Mo. Todd always said he was one of the most talented horses he’s ever had. You can only be 3 years old in May or June once in your life. For my silks, for a horse named ‘Mo,’ by Uncle Mo, it’s pretty special.”

We The People, a 10 1/4-length winner of the Grade 3 Peter Pan on a wet track at Belmont May 14, took the lead early as expected under Flavien Prat with Skippylongstocking just a length back through the opening half-mile in :48.49. Ortiz tracked those two and Nest, who stumbled at the start not unlike the Pletcher trained filly winner Rags To Riches in 2007; and Golden Glider through that split into the backstretch.

Ortiz inched Mo Donegal up to fourth by the time the field left the backstretch and ran past the mile mark in 1:37.74, while We The People clung to a narrow advantage over Skippylongstocking. Mo Donegal stayed in the clear around the far turn and ranged up alongside the leaders turning for home. They offered no response and retreated. Mo Donegal, winner of last year’s 9-furlong Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, opened up in a flash in the lane and drew clear.

“When I asked him in the clear, he took off,” Ortiz said. “He’s a nice horse.”

Nest, who recovered enough from her bad break to race third throughout most of the race, continued on well in the lane under Jose Ortiz to finish a clear second best.

“It is what it is. It’s horse racing,” said Jose Ortiz, who three weeks ago won the Preakness aboard Early Voting. “She finished very well. I was waiting for my time to go at the five-sixteenths but Irad was outside of me he had a lot of horse, so I had to wait for him to make his move and he beat me to the punch. After that his horse stayed. My filly made a good run. I’m very proud of her.”

Mo Donegal improved to 4-for-7 with two thirds and boosted his bankroll to $1,511,800 with the victory. He also avenged his fifth, beaten just 3 3/4 lengths by Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby after breaking from post one, racing 19th early and making up ground from the half-mile pole to the wire.

“I want to thank all the partners for Donegal Racing. They’ve believed and today they’ve been rewarded,” Donegal’s Jerry Crawford said. “This victory today shows that the sport is more accessible than they may realize. I can’t say enough for Todd Pletcher and Irad Ortiz, Jr. for the great job they’ve done with this horse.

“We were a little confident going into this race and when he turned for home, I said ‘forget about it.’ I knew Todd thought he could get a strong last quarter mile, and he surely did.”

NOTES: The Belmont result left the Triple Crown three winners of each race for the fourth year in a row, since Justify swept the series in 2018.  … Rick Dawson’s Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, purposely kept out of the Preakness by trainer Eric Reed to give him five weeks between races, never threatened and finished 13 1/4 lengths back. … NYRA reported total handle of $98,766,906 for Belmont Day, down the non-Triple Crown year record of $112,725,278 reported after last year’s edition. On-track handle rose significantly, from $7,532,571 when just over 11,000 attended in 2021 to $9,530,303 this year. All sources handle on the Belmont Stakes was $50,248,624, down from $60,459,330 last year.