The stretch run of the inaugural Grade 1, $1.25 million Belmont Derby turned into an exhilarating showdown between the United States and Europe when Mr Speaker hooked up with the highly touted Irish-bred Adelaide midway through the lane, with Mr Speaker proving best by a neck after a stretch-long tussle.
The Belmont Derby headlined a quintet of graded stakes, including the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Oaks and Grade 2, $500,000 Suburban Handicap, on the newly created Stars & Stripes Day card, which aimed to attract some of the best overseas horses to compete at Belmont.
Mr Speaker, trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey for Phipps Stable, rebounded strongly in the Belmont Derby. After finishing fifth in the Pennine Ridge, the local prep for the 1 ¼-mile turf race for 3-year-olds.
"I had a concrete reason [to dismiss his race in the Pennine Ridge], but you always have your doubts," said McGaughey. "Does he belong in the top layer of horses or not? I think today he proved he does. My confidence was shaken a little bit; he was a different horse [before the Pennine Ridge], it was like he had never been in the paddock before. He went to the post and was looking up into the crowd. But today, he was an entirely different horse."
Ridden by Jose Lezcano from post 9, Mr Speaker was taken back to last shortly following the start. An unruly Pornichet, equipped with blinkers for the first time in his career, stepped out to lead the field through fractions of 23.65 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 48.43 for a half, and 1:12.65 through six furlongs.
As the field rounded the far turn, Mr Speaker followed the Aidan O'Brien-trained Adelaide, who was angled off the rail at the top of the stretch to seize command. Lezcano, taking advantage of the opening Adelaide's progress created, dove to the rail aboard Mr Speaker, and his mount charged through the seam and appeared poised to draw off to an easy victory until Adelaide fought back under jockey Colm O'Donoghue. The 2-1 favorite, Adelaide continued to gain ground all the way to the wire, but a determined Mr Speaker held on for the win.
"I got a perfect trip," said Lezcano. "We broke, and I got the position I wanted. I let him settle. Last time, he was a little aggressive. It was a five-horse field, he broke, and no one wanted to go, so he took the lead. Today, on the backside, I made a little move to try and hold my position. Then I followed a horse I saw running; I think I followed the right horse (No. 4 Adelaide)."
Mr Speaker's win in the first edition of the Belmont Derby, formerly run as the Jamaica Handicap, gave the dark bay or brown colt his first Grade 1 victory.
"He definitely redeemed himself; his last race was very disappointing," said McGaughey. "He trained well coming up to today and we changed our game plan; I wanted him back. Jose [Lezcano] rode a great race on him. We're tickled that [NYRA Senior Vice President of Racing Operations] Martin [Panza] carded this race and we're tickled to death that we won it."
Mr Speaker, who returned $49 to win, completed the 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.18 and enhanced his bankroll by the winner's share of $670,000. His career earnings now stand at $945,880.
Adelaide, who was making only his fifth career start, finished 3 ½ lengths clear of third-place finisher Flamboyant.
"He ran well," said T.J. Comerford, assistant to Aidan O'Brien. "Colm [O'Donoghue] is happy with him, and [O'Brien] is happy with him. He ran a good race."
Flamboyant, who finished second in the Pennine Ridge, was a half-length in front of French raider Gailo Chop, who was entering the Belmont off a pair of Group 3 wins in France.
Recent maiden graduate Sheldon finished fifth, three-quarters of a length in front of UAE Derby winner and 9-2 second choice Toast of New York.
Global View, Bobby's Kitten, Pornichet and Gala Award completed the order of finish. Dance With Fate was scratched.