The Breeders' Cup began for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. in the sixth race with his largely unheralded sprinter Silver Train knocking off Lost in the Fog, who entered the World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park as the undefeated star of the day. It concluded for Dutrow at dusk with his Saint Liam holding off Flower Alley by a length to win the $4,291,560 Breeders' Cup Classic and likely cementing claim to the title of horse of the year.
Two races, two victories on the richest day of racing in the country. For a trainer who earlier this year served a 60-day suspension for two drug violations in his horses, this was the highlight of his career.
Asked afterward if he had ever had a day like this, Dutrow simply said, "Not in racing."
For the past two years, Saint Liam, a 5-year-old, had ranked among the elite horses in the world. Only 2004 horse of the year Ghostzapper appeared better. With that horse retired, Saint Liam inherited the mantle, and he lived up to his billing and 2-1 favorite status in the Classic with a powerful performance.
The 11/4-mile race began, awkwardly, in the middle of the clubhouse turn because of the configuration of the huge 11/2-mile Belmont dirt track. Saint Liam, one position from the outside in Post 12, broke out several steps when the gate opened, and jockey Jerry Bailey had to let him settle before straightening him out.
The 3-year-old Sun King, who had run in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, took the lead, setting a moderate pace through a mile while being pressed by long shot Suave.
On the far turn, Bailey tucked Saint Liam behind Flower Alley, and the two moved toward the leaders on the outside in tandem. As they reached the stretch, Sun King gave way while Saint Liam surged past Flower Alley to win by a length, running the Classic in a time of 2 minutes 1.49 seconds.
"I was where I wanted to be, and when I asked he responded," said John Velazquez, the rider of Flower Alley, a 3-year-old who had been routed in his previous start. "The winner was just a little better today."
Starcraft, an Australian horse whose owners put up $800,000 to get into the field, never threatened and finished seventh.
Saint Liam had won three Grade I races this year entering the Breeders' Cup -- the Donn Handicap, the Stephen Foster Handicap and the Woodward -- but he had never won at a mile and a quarter. Neither that nor Saint Liam's tender hoofs discouraged Dutrow, who, along with his brother Tony, learned the training game working for his late father, who raced for years in Maryland before moving on to success at the larger New York tracks.
"That wasn't even a thought, a concern, that he couldn't get a mile and a quarter at Belmont," Dutrow said.
The winner will be retired to stud with nine wins in 20 lifetime starts with earnings of $4,456,995. His first prize for winning the Classic -- $2,433,600 -- was more than he earned in 19 prior starts.
Dutrow was asked about the drug violations for which he was barred from the racetrack in June and July, and if he considered winning the Classic any kind of vindication. He sidestepped the question.
"I just love racing horses," he said. "I have a passion for it. I love the feeling you get when you win."
Breeders' Cup Notes: Funfair, who had won three races for Fair Hill, Md.-based trainer Graham Motion since being transferred to his care after running the first two years of his career in England, fractured his right front canon bone on the backstretch in the Mile and was euthanized . . . A crowd of 54,289 bet $14,658,650, the largest on-track handle in Belmont Park history, surpassing the record set last year when Smarty Jones lost the Belmont Stakes to Birdstone in a bid to win the Triple Crown.