Mo Donegal Wins Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park
Mo Donegal, Donegal Racing and Repole Stables, patiently handled by Irad Ortiz, Jr., staved off his filly stablemate Nest to capture the 154th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
The three-length victory marked the fourth Belmont Stakes win for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, following scores by filly Rags to Riches , Palace Malice , and Tapwrit .
"First of all, it's our family's favorite race. Our kids grew up here and went to school here and we've always felt like it's our hometown race," Pletcher said. "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."
For Repole, who co-owns Grade 1-winning Nest with Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House, the victory provided redemption for the Queens, New York native's Stay Thirsty, who finished a close second to Ruler On Ice in the 2011 Belmont Stakes.
"It's a 40-year dream. 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," Repole said. "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 is by the Repole/Pletcher campaigned Uncle Mo, who captured the 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile en route to Champion 2-Year-Old Colt honors. Out of the Pulpit mare Callingmissbrown, Mo Donegal was purchased by Donegal Racing for $250,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
"I want to thank all the partners of Donegal Racing. They've believed and today they've been rewarded," said Jerry Crawford, owner of Donegal Racing. "I think 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 today 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."
We the People took command under Flavien Prat and led the field of eight sophomores through splits of 23.99 seconds, 48.49 and 1:13.23 on the fast main track, with the Manny Franco-piloted longshot Skippylongstocking pressing from second position, while the upset Grade 1 Kentucky Derby-winner Rich Strike trailed last-of-eight under Sonny Leon.
Nest, who stumbled at the start, advanced up the rail down the backstretch to stalk from third position to the inside of Mo Donegal as Skippylongstocking continued to pester the pacesetter. Ortiz, Jr. gave Mo Donegal his cue approaching the quarter-pole and his charge advanced with a powerful move, surging outside rivals at the top of the lane and got the jump on Nest, who then angled outside and followed her stablemate's path.
Mo Donegal vaulted past a game Skippylongstocking and a tiring We the People with three-sixteenths remaining, traveling confidently to the wire down the middle of the track to win by three lengths in a final time of 2:28.28. Nest completed the exacta by 3 1/4-lengths over Skippylongstocking with We the People, Creative Minister, Rich Strike, Barber Road and Golden Glider rounding out the order of finish.
Mo Donegal entered from a troubled fifth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby after breaking poorly from the inside post and rallying 10-wide down the lane to finish 5 ¾ lengths in arrears of 80-1 upset winner Rich Strike.
Ortiz, Jr. said a clear trip made the difference on this day as he bested Nest, ridden by his brother Jose Ortiz.
"Last time in the Derby, he didn't have the best trip and he still got beat by [only] three or five lengths," Ortiz, Jr. said. "I knew if I got a better trip, he could get there. When I asked him in the clear, he took off. He's a nice horse."
The victory was the second in the Belmont for Ortiz, Jr. following a score with Creator in 2016.
"It means a lot to me. It's a lot of hard work and dedication. I've been riding here for 11 years - there's no better feeling," Ortiz, Jr. said. "I'm happy I won and I'm happy Jose got second."
Ortiz said he was proud of how Nest, winner of the Grade 1 Ashland in April at Keeneland, recovered after the break.
"She stumbled out of the gate. I think that was the worst break for me today. When she got up, she got a nice position on the rail," Ortiz said. "By the three-eighths pole, she was traveling very nicely. I was expecting We the People to run a little bit further and not get tired until the three-sixteenths and we could split horses then, but We the People was done by the three-eighths.
"When I took a peek to go out, Mo Donegal was already there full of horse. I didn't want to make a premature move and when I called her to run, I wanted it to be my only move," he continued. "I had to wait to make my move. I don't know if it would have made a difference. I know Mo Donegal was traveling very nicely at the quarter pole and traveled very nicely to the wire, so I would call myself second-best. It was a huge effort by my filly."
Rodolphe Brisset, trainer of morning-line favorite We the People, said his Grade 3 Peter Pan-winner may have found the distance trying.
"We had everything the way we wanted. I just think the mile and a half was just too long, you know," Brisset said. "That would be our first guess to why he ran like that. There's nothing you can do - you have to try and he went in 48 and two-fifths and 1:13 and it was just too long for him."
Eric Reed, trainer of Rich Strike, lamented being so far back early in the race.
"We were hoping we could have been a little closer and our pace was slow," Reed said. "Our biggest change was deciding to stay a little off the rail and try to give him a good, open run where he could take off. The whole way, his head turned and he was trying to get to the inside. I guess we made a mistake not putting him on the fence."
Mo Donegal graduated at second asking in October at Belmont and made the grade at first asking, besting eventual Grade 1 Blue Grass-winner Zandon by a nose in the Grade 2 Remsen in December at Aqueduct Racetrack.
He made his seasonal debut with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Holy Bull in February at Gulfstream before defeating next-out Grade 1 Preakness-winner Early Voting in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino in April at the Big A.
Mo Donegal became the first horse to secure the Wood Memorial/Belmont double since Empire Maker in 2003.
Bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables, Mo Donegal banked $800,000 in victory while improving his record to 7-4-0-2. Sent to post as the 5-2 mutuel favorite, he returned $7.20 for a $2 win wager.
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Mo Donegal provides Pletcher a sentimental Belmont Stakes win
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he was reminded on Saturday why he trains racehorses when Mo Donegal provided the Hall of Famer with his fourth triumph in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
Mo Donegal rated in between horses down the backstretch under Irad Ortiz, Jr., 1 1/2 lengths off pacesetter We the People, and angled wide around the far turn, surging to the front past the quarter pole. Fending off an inside rally from stablemate and fellow Repole Stable color bearer Nest, Mo Donegal won by three lengths in a final time of 2:28.28 over the fast main track.
The win was a first Belmont Stakes coup for owners Donegal Racing and Repole Stable.
"Yesterday was why you do this," Pletcher said. "To win a race like that for the ownership group with all the Donegal team, Repole family, it's a dream race for Mike [Repole] and his family, being a native New Yorker. It was a dream race for him. He had told me that this was the race he had dreamed of winning the most. That's the most gratifying part of my job is to win races like that and see the enjoyment and excitement people get from it."
Pletcher added a fourth Belmont Stakes triumph to his resume with Mo Donegal, having previously saddled Rags to Riches , Palace Malice  and Tapwrit . The win put Pletcher on even terms with his former boss, Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who also boasts four Belmont Stakes victories.
"That's an honor, I consider him to be the best of all time so that's pretty cool," Pletcher said.
Mo Donegal arrived at the "Test of the Champion" off a troubled fifth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, where he broke slow and was forced wide in the final turn, still managing to make up ground in deep stretch.
Nest, the lone filly in the Belmont Stakes field with Jose Ortiz up, stumbled out of the gate but was still able to secure forward stalking position and made a valiant bid in the stretch finishing second.
Pletcher said the race could have been closer between his two runners if Nest had a cleaner break.
"I got the feeling Mo Donegal had a little something in the tank if he was challenged. If you watch the two trips, she had a tougher go of it," Pletcher said. "She stumbled at the start and kind of had to force her way inside to get position and then Jose had horse at the five sixteenths pole, but he couldn't go anywhere because Mo Donegal got the jump on him, so he had to wait until he cleared to get her out. She surged when he did. With a little different trip it would've been closer.
"He bounced out of it well. Both he and the filly," Pletcher added.
Mo Donegal added $800,000 to his bankroll, which now stands at $1,511,800 with a 7-4-0-2 record. The Belmont Stakes elevated Mo Donegal's status among his sophomore counterparts while adding to an accomplished resume, which includes victories in the Grade 2 Remsen in December and the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino in April, both at Aqueduct.
"Like always, there's no need to rank anybody yet because what happens in the summer and fall always seems to carry a little more weight in terms of divisional championships," Pletcher said. "I think with his win in the Wood and the Belmont, the fact that he beat the Preakness winner [Early Voting] in the Wood, that puts him right at the top of the list."
Mo Donegal could continue his upward trajectory in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Runhappy Travers on August 27 at Saratoga Race Course, a race which Pletcher has won with Flower Alley  and Repole's Stay Thirsty .
Pletcher said Mo Donegal could follow the same path as his two prior Travers winners, who prepped for the "Mid-Summer Derby" with a victory in the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 31 at Saratoga.
"I haven't really talked to the ownership group about it too much, but both of our Travers winners went through the Jim Dandy. So to me, if he has a prep between now and the Travers, that would make the most sense," Pletcher said.
Nest will likely have sights set on the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on August 20 at Saratoga and could race back in the Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 23 at the Spa.
"I thought she ran great. We'll target the Alabama and decide if we want to target the Coaching Club before that or not," Pletcher said. "I think she solidified what we already felt going into the Kentucky Oaks. Everyone talked about it being one of the deeper Oaks in a while. I think that Nest showed that to be the case yesterday."
In the Kentucky Oaks, Nest finished second behind Secret Oath who is trained by Lukas, whom Pletcher worked under before going out on his own in 1996.
Mo Donegal also gave his prolific sire Uncle Mo, also owned by Repole and trained by Pletcher, his second victory in a Triple Crown race. He produced 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist in his first crop.
"It's remarkable when you go to the sales, you don't need your catalogue page in most cases. You can tell when you see an Uncle Mo," Pletcher said. "A lot of people say that's a sign of a great stallion when they really stamp their progeny."