October 20, 2020

Sir Winston lords over Belmont Stakes to give Casse second classic

Sir Winston and jockey Joel Rosario win the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on June 8, 2019 (c) EquiSport Photos/Jessie Holmes

In a Triple Crown season that many described as “chaos,” the one constant was trainer Mark Casse, who completed the Preakness/Belmont Stakes (G1) double when Tracy Farmer’s homebred Sir Winston won the “Test of the Champion” on Saturday at Belmont Park.

Sir Winston’s stablemate, Preakness Stakes (G1) winner War of Will, was center stage through much of the Triple Crown chaos, drawing the rail for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and being involved in the melee that led to the first raceday disqualification in Derby history. War of Will came back with a vengeance two weeks later when winning the Preakness and, on Saturday at Big Sandy, his stablemate completed the double for Casse.

“I’m so proud of our operation,” Casse said. “We have about 10 people who have been with us at least 20 years. It really is a team effort.”

Casse was watching War of Will throughout the initial stages of the Belmont Stakes while that colt stalked the pace, but noticed he looked a little flat hitting the far turn. That is when Joel Rosario made his move aboard Sir Winston.

“I saw where War of Will was, and I could tell he was struggling a little,” Casse said of the action on the far turn. “Normally he’s on the bit wanting to go, but he was struggling, so I looked for Sir Winston and Joel Rosario ducked in and had horse, so I went to riding him.”

Sir Winston, with jockey Joel Rosario aboard, wins the Belmont Stakes (G1) for trainer Mark Casse at Belmont Park on June 8, 2019 (c) Horsephotos.com/Uli Seit

Casse said Sir Winston’s Belmont win is a tribute to his operation’s ability to develop a horse. Farmer bred Sir Winston in Kentucky and the chestnut colt was broken as a two-year-old at Casse’s Ocala, Florida, farm, but was slow to get going, losing his first two career starts by a combined 24 lengths.

“At this time last year, if you had asked me to rate my top 20 two-year-olds he’d have been 16th or 17th,” Casse said. “I’m proud of him for how well he represents our operation. After he got beat open lengths I told Mr. Farmer, ‘Don’t give up on him. It might sound crazy, but I see something. Let’s give him time to develop.’”

Following his initial two races, Sir Winston proceeded to win two of his next three starts, including a triumph in the Display Stakes to close out the Woodbine season. Three straight stakes losses began his three-year-old campaign before a smart runner-up finish in the May 11 Peter Pan Stakes (G3) going 1 1/8 miles set the Awesome Again colt up for his 1 1/2-mile Belmont score.

“He’s a very nice horse, and you have to let him do his thing,” Rosario said. “It seemed like he didn’t mind being inside. For the distance, he broke very good. Today, he was a little closer, so I let him be where he was comfortable.”

The move to the inside worked on Rosario’s second trip aboard Sir Winston, who was six wide when a fast-closing second in the Peter Pan.

Speaking of fast-closing, that was race favorite Tacitus, who came wide too late to catch Sir Winston but was well clear of Joevia in third. Belmont Park racing analyst Andy Serling said that the jockeys made the difference.

With Tax completing the superfecta, the top finishers in the Belmont Stakes had a distinct New York flavor. Winner Sir Winston was fourth in the Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct in February and second in the Peter Pan; runner-up Tacitus won the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) in April at the Big A; Joevia was second in the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes at Aqueduct in early February and competed in the Wood; and Tax won the Withers before finishing second to Tacitus in the Wood. It’s also worth noting that Sir Winston was fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in March behind winner Tacitus.

Casse said he’d regroup with both his classic winners before plotting a summer campaign that would likely include the Travers Stakes (G1), as he is bullish on Sir Winston’s ability to go 1 1/4 miles after winning the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.