Second jewel

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Mark Casse went into Saturday’s 151st Belmont Stakes thinking, maybe hoping, that he stood a decent chance at collecting a second jewel of the Triple Crown.

The belief came in the form of War Of Will, the Preakness winner three weeks prior and the colt he and most members of his barn call ‘Wow’ in reference to his initials but more his raw ability. Sir Winston, a homebred colt by Awesome Again who finished a more than sneaky good second in the Grade 3 Peter Pan in his last start, gave Casse an even better chance at landing the longest and most grueling of the U.S. classics.

Sir Winston did that and more, taking advantage of a savvy ride by Joel Rosario to outrun a field of nine others led by runner-up Tacitus and gallant frontrunner Joevia to cap Casse’s crown with an exclamation point.

Sir Winston won by a length in front of a crowd of 56,217 that turned out on a warm and clear Long Island afternoon for the $1.5 million Belmont. Tacitus finished second, adding another classic-placed effort to his elevated third in the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago. Sir Winston won in 2:28.30.

“I said all week he was going really well,” Casse said. “He had a race over the track. What can I say? It’s just exciting.”

War Of Will finished ninth of 10, beaten 7 lengths as the 7-2 second choice following his victory in the Preakness. That defeat took some of the thrill away from Casse, who admitted to being emotional switching his line of sight in the latter stages of the Belmont from War Of Will to the late-rallying Sir Winston.

“I could see where War Of Will was struggling a little bit,” Casse said. “He looked like maybe he was a little flat today. I saw Joel cut the corner a little bit (and) I could see where War Of Will was getting a little weary, so I went to riding Sir Winston.

“It’s tough to do because you have two horses. I love War Of Will as well. The Farmers have been so great to us and to give us this opportunity is just a dream come true.”

Sir Winston’s victory gives the Triple Crown series three winners after Country House earned the Kentucky Derby win via the disqualification of Maximum Security and War Of Will’s Preakness. That followed Justify’s sweep of the Triple Crown a year ago after two straight years of three winners of each race.

The 10-1 fifth choice in the field of 10, Sir Winston improved to 3-for-10 with the victory. He started his career in a 5-furlong maiden on the main track at Churchill Downs, finishing sixth and 13 3/4 lengths back, and a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden at Saratoga, finishing ninth and 11 3/4 lengths back, as a 2-year-old before Casse shipped him to his Toronto base at Woodbine. He woke up on the synthetic surface, winning two of three, including the Display Stakes and finished third in the Grade 3 Grey Stakes. 

Sir Winston came into the Belmont with four defeats in 2019, a fourth in the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct Feb. 2, a fifth in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby March 9 and a seventh in the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland April 6. He prepped for the Belmont in the Grade 3 Peter Pan, closing ground in the lane to finish second and 1 1/4 lengths behind Global Campaign under Rosario for the first time.