Jazil comes from behind for 1 1/4 -length victory

Jara, 18, becomes youngest jockey to win 3rd leg since '78

June 11, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Early yesterday morning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin went out to inspect Belmont Park's 1 1/2 -mile racecourse. When he came back to his stable, where Jazil was getting new shoes, McLaughlin couldn't hide his delight.

"The track is fast," he said. "Perfect for a deep closer."

Just how perfect became apparent 2 minutes, 27.86 seconds after the starting bell in the 138th Belmont Stakes, as Jazil breezed home to a 1 1/4 -length victory over Bluegrass Cat. Sunriver finished third, an additional 2 1/4 lengths back.

The win was the first classic victory for McLaughlin and Jazil's owner, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, whose brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum won the Preakness on May 20 for his first Triple Crown victory. It was also the first classic win for jockey Fernando Jara, 18, who had won his only other stakes race four months ago.

Jara, a native of Panama, is the youngest jockey to win the Belmont since Steve Cauthen did it as a 17 year old in 1978, riding Affirmed. He is also the youngest to win a Triple Crown race since Cowboy Jack Kaenel won on Baltimorean Nathan Scherr's Aloma's Ruler in 1982 at age 16.

"I feel great," Jara said after the race. "You have no idea how I feel right now. When I'm a little kid and I saw [this race], I say, one day I gonna be there. Now I win the race. I see all the big jockeys and I say, one day I want to be there and I'm here. You don't know how I feel right now."

For a race that was supposed to be without excitement, there was still plenty of cheering going on by the Belmont crowd of 61,168.

With Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro recovering from career-ending injuries in a Pennsylvania animal hospital, and Preakness winner Bernardini's trainer Tom Albertrani choosing to keep his horse at home, the betting crowd had a lot of choices to make and difficulty deciding on a favorite.

It wasn't until just before race time that Bob and John emerged as the slight favorite (4.7-to-1) over Bluegrass Cat ( 4.9-to-1). And it was Bob and John who took the early lead, as trainer Bob Baffert said he "hoped to steal" the race.

"I thought it was my best chance," Baffert said. "I didn't think anyone would want the lead, but that didn't work out. No one was going to let me do that. ... The best horse won today. Jazil showed he can run with these horses. This was his Grade I race."

Jazil, who went off at 6.2-to-1, paid $14.40, $6.70 and $4.70.

While the end result might seem easily predictable after the fact, Jara's appearance told a different story.

Heading for the winner's circle, Jara and the brown 3-year-old sired by Seeking the Gold, were covered with dirt. As Jara raised his goggles, the outline of his trip was spread across his dirt-laden face. His silks were more brown than royal blue and white.

Jara and Jazil, who did not run in the Preakness and finished in a tie for fourth with Brother Derek at the Derby, won by rallying from last to first and more than proved their ability, recovering from a bad start that might have thrown one or both of them off their game.

Jazil stumbled as he left the starting gate, a misstep he might have been better able to handle than most, given his description as a "deep closer" who likes to come from way off the pace. The only problem with that in the Belmont Stakes is that history has said deep closers can't win, because over 1 1/2 miles horses are going to be leery of a fast pace, which is usually necessary for closers to do their best work. And Jazil's owner, Sheikh Hamdan had given direct orders to have his horse closer to the front than had been the case in the Kentucky Derby.

And Jara, a teenager with only this year's Kentucky Derby on his resume in the classic Triple Crown races, hasn't seen everything yet. But when his horse stumbled, causing him to lose one of his stirrups, he, too, quickly recovered.

"When he broke, he swayed a little bit and I curve my feet with the door," he said. "I can't put [his foot] back right away in the irons, but I did quickly find my stirrup and closed pretty fast. I know I had to get him up there and try to put him more [toward the front] and I tried to do that and we were in the clear the whole way."

The two rallied from more than five lengths behind the field at the start to be leading at the five-sixteenths pole. Bluegrass Cat challenged on the turn for home, but Jazil won that duel entering the stretch and no one else closed.

"It looked like my horse was moving easily when he came next to Bluegrass Cat," McLaughlin said. "It didn't look like anyone else was gaining quickly. I was happy to be there. That's what everybody talks about, deep closers can't win. So we had to be there with three-eighths left to go."

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