The Maskette Handicap was expected to be a three-way confrontation of Pearl Necklace, Davona Dale and It's In The Air to determine the nation's best filly. It didn't work out that way.
Blitey, an 11-to-1 shot who seemed to be overmatched in this lofty company, won a dramatic three-horse battle through the stretch at Belmont Park this afternoon. She scored by a neck over It's In The Air with Pearl Necklace another nose behind.
The upset was principally the handiwork of Angel Cordero Jr., New York's preeminent jockey, who perceived a bias in the Belmont track and rode to capitalize on it. Cordero saw that every race before the Maskette was won by a stretch-runner circling the field in the middle of the track. He decided that is what Blitey would do.
It's In The Air took the early lead and jockey Jeffrey Fell sent Pearl Necklace up the rail to challenge her. They battled through a half-mile in 45 3/5 seconds, while Cordero sat back, waiting.
As they turned into the stretch, Pearl Necklace, the 11-to-10 favorite, took a narrow lead. Cordero now steered Blitey into the middle of the track.
"I knew I had it won then," he said.
That wasn't obvious to the crowd of 18,213. The two leaders were not giving up, but Blitey wore them down in the final yards, covering the mile in an excellent 1:34 4/5.
The winner paid $24.20, $6.60 and $2.10. It's In The Air returned $3.80 and $2.10, while Pearl Necklace paid $2.10 to show.
Cordero was one of the few not surprised by the outcome of the Maskette.
"I thought we had a real good shot in this race since most of the other horses were coming off tough campaigns and she (Blitey) was fresh," he said. "She was the only one coming up from seven-eighth races while the rest were coming off routes."
Blitey's victory scrambles the races for this year's filly championships. Davona Dale's undistinguished fourth-place finish may have cost her a title in the 3-year-old division she dominated so thoroughly earlier this season.
Pearl Necklace had looked like the country's best older female runner, bringing a six-race winning streak into the Maskette. Her performance disappointed more than a few observers.