ELMONT, N.Y. — A wacky Triple Crown season ended with another surprise on Saturday.
Sir Winston, who went off at relatively steep odds of 10-1, held off favorite Tacitus to win the 151st Belmont Stakes.
It marked a second consecutive Triple Crown victory for trainer Mark Casse, who also works with Preakness winner War of Will.
“I said all week [Sir Winston] was doing really well,” Casse said. “What can I say, it’s just exciting.”
There’s plenty of feel-good factor when it comes to Casse. The 58-year-old is a six-time winner of the Sovereign Award, given to the outstanding trainer in Canada each year, and is a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. But he’d never won a Triple Crown race before this year.
Now he has won two in a row, with two different horses. But Casse still had mixed emotions after the race.
“Believe me, the Belmont is big to me, it’s huge to win,” Casse said. “But it still hurt that War of Will didn’t run better. I’m still real emotional about that.”
For jockey Joel Rosario, it was a second Belmont Stakes victory. He also won on Tonalist in 2014.
“[Sir Winston] is a very nice horse and you have to let him do his thing,” Rosario said. “I’m really happy.”
For Sir Winston, it was just his third victory in 10 career starts. He didn’t even run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness.
“This horse, he’s an amazing little horse,” Casse said. “At this time last year, if you had asked me to rate our top 20 2-year-olds, he would have been 16th or 17th. I’m very proud of him.”
A year ago here at Belmont Park, Justify became just the 13th horse to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, winning the Triple Crown. But 2019 has been very different.
It started with Maximum Security seemingly winning the Derby, before being disqualified for interference. Two weeks later, War of Will won at Pimlico — a victory overshadowed by Bodexpress ditching jockey John Velazquez and running the race riderless.
War of Will, the only horse to run all three legs of the Triple Crown this season, faded badly on Saturday, finishing ninth in the 10-horse field. This is now the seventh year since 2008 that a different horse has won each of the three Triple Crown races, and the third time it’s happened in the past four years.
And, maybe that’s a good thing?
Sure, watching Justify finish it off last year was thrilling. And the crowd on Saturday — 56,217 — wasn’t nearly as big as it was a year ago, when 90,000 people packed Belmont Park.
But a big part of sports’ appeal is their unpredictability.
Relatively few people predicted Sir Winston’s victory on Saturday — he hadn’t won any of his four starts this year. And no one could have predicted all the twists and turns of this Triple Crown season.
Can’t wait ’til next year.