Clearly Now made it apparent he's one of the best sprinters around on Stars & Stripes Day at Belmont Park by taking the Grade 3, $400,000 Belmont Sprint Championship by 6 ¼ lengths and stopping the clock in track record time of 1:19.96 for seven furlongs.
Clearly Now, trained by Brian Lynch for Up Hill Stable, had not won a race since October of last year, when he took Belmont's Grade 3 Bold Ruler at the Belmont Sprint Championship's seven-furlong distance. Since his Bold Ruler score, the son of Horse Greeley had been plagued by troubled trips, but things finally went his way on Saturday under Jose Lezcano.
After Clearly Now broke a step slow, Lezcano moved his mount to the inside to inch up along the rail behind fractions of 22.75 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 45.55 for a half. When the field turned for home, a seam presented itself and Clearly Now shot through and cruised to a dominant victory, despite not switching leads in the stretch.
"I told Brian [Lynch] last time after the Met Mile, I thought the best distance for this horse was six or seven furlongs," said Lezcano. "He did the job today. You could see by the way he finished. He really came running at the end."
The break provided a tense moment for Lynch, who believed his trainee was due for a good trip.
"When he broke a little slow I thought, 'oh boy, here we go again,' but when he cruised up on the inside near the 4 ½ pole I could tell Jose [Lezcano] had a lot of horse," said Lynch. "He had a legitimate pace in front of him, so it was just about finding a hole, and when it came, he went by them. He really showed up for us today."
Clearly Now, who paid $6.40 to win as the narrow favorite, bested the previous track of 1:20.17 set by Left Bank in 2002. The dark bay or brown colt enhanced his bankroll to $810,786 with the winner's share of $220,000.
"We'll look at some spots at Saratoga, and ultimately, the Breeders' Cup would be in play," said Lynch.
The New York-bred Palace checked in second for trainer Linda Rice and owner Antonino Miuccio after tracking the early pace. Salutos Amigos finished a neck back in third, and was a nose in front of Moonlight Song and Dads Caps, who dead-heated for fourth.
Central Banker, Mezzano, Big Screen and Declan's Warrior completed the order of finish.