Those mercurial 3-year-olds; they did it again in the Belmont Stakes, treating the long-shot players to riches in the mud. Leading the way was George and Lori Hall's Ruler On Ice, trained by Kelly Breen, who is a couple generations removed from his roots in Kenmare, Co. Kerry and points in County Tipperary. The 3-year-old Roman Ruler gelding tracked Preakness winner Shackleford early, took over upon straightening for home and won in a driving finish under Jose Valdivia, Jr. by almost a length over 16-1 Stay Thirsty.
Ruler On Ice returned $51.50 to win and keyed a $928 exacta and an $8,268 trifecta.
Master of Hounds, the Aidan O'Brien trainee, went off the 6-1 third choice, slightly lower than Shackleford, having caught the eyes of many who were impressed with his late Kentucky Derby charge. He never factored, finishing 10th in the 12-horse field.
Eddie Kenneally's charge, Santiva, was forwardly placed early, but lacked the stamina to continue on and checked in eighth. The public pegged him at 13-1 off his sixth-place finish in the Derby.
"[Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan] said he just didn't handle the track at all, and was beat a long way out," said Brendan Walsh, assistant to Kenneally. "I'm disappointed because we really had him going good and he was doing so well, and you know how hard it is to get them as right as we had him. I guess the weather is something you can't control."
Getting back to the winner, Breen was back at Monmouth Park in New Jersey on Sunday with Ruler On Ice, basking in the glow of his first Classic victory.
"Everything is great," Breen said. "The horse is acting great. I'm shocked to say this morning that he looks as if he didn't even run. I'd have to think that's a pretty good sign."
Breen is one of a vanishing species on the backsides of this country, the private trainer. He trains for the Halls and only for the Halls. He refused to pinpoint any one aspect that would have tipped his gelding's performance before the race, although the off track certainly didn't hurt.
"I don't think anybody could put into words or make any calculations for what helped him or what hurt anybody else," Breen said. "That's racing, and that's why they run the races. If it wasn't, every 4-5 shot would just win. You've got to be in it to win it, and I was more than happy to be in it."
Kiaran McLaughlin also had a big day, winning two stakes races that preceded the Belmont. He sent out Darley Stable's It's Tricky to a $22.00 upset victory in the Acorn Stakes and was back in the winner's circle 40 minutes later with Mill House's Trappe Shot, which romped by eight lengths in the True North Handicap.
The Joe Deegan-owned and trained Maia's Star whistled by five lengths in the fifth race at Indiana Downs on Wednesday. The 3-year-old filly dueled for the early lead under jockey John McKee, won that skirmish around the far turn and drew away in the lane for a 4-length tally against maiden claimers at the $7,500 level. Maia's Star returned a $29.00 win mutuel. This was the second career start for Deegan's filly, which debuted two months ago at the same venue and was off the board against similar company over a sloppy surface.