BELMONT SPRINT CHAMPIONSHIP STAKES | PURSE: $400,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD & UP | GRADE 3 | 7 FURLONGS
Clearly Now returned to the winner's circle in blazing fashion July 5, setting a track record for seven furlongs when taking home the $400,000 Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes by open lengths at Belmont Park.
Up Hill Stable's 4-year-old son of Horse Greeley went the distance under jockey Jose Lezcano in 1:19.96, bettering the 2002 standard of 1:20.17 set by Left Bank in the Tom Fool Handicap.
It was the first victory of 2014 for the Brian Lynch trainee, who previously won the 2013 editions of the Bold Ruler Handicap and Swale Stakes. He came off a fifth in the June 7 Metropolitan Handicap, with his other starts of the season resulting in thirds in the Churchill Downs Stakes in May and the Carter Handicap in April.
Favored at 2-1 in a field of nine older runners in the Belmont Sprint, Clearly Now broke a step slow but found a perfect inside trip and gradually improved his position behind a pace set by 17-1 shot Moonlight Song. The pacesetter went a quarter in :22.75 seconds and a half in :45.55 seconds while pressed by rival Dads Caps, with Clearly Now steadily making up ground on the rail.
"When he broke a little slow I thought, 'Oh boy, here we go again,' but when he cruised up on the inside near the 4 ½ pole I could tell Jose had a lot of horse," Lynch said. "He had a legitimate pace in front of him, so it was just about finding a hole, and when it came, he went by them."
Turning for home Lezcano shifted his mount out to the three path and they kicked into another gear, easily blowing past Moonlight Song and Dads Caps while clocking three-quarters in 1:08.33. Clearly Now widened his advantage powerfully from midstretch to the wire, geared down while crossing the line 6 ¼ lengths the best.
"I told Brian last time after the Met Mile, I thought the best distance for this horse was six or seven furlongs," Lezcano said. "He did the job today. You could see by the way he finished. He really came running at the end."
Palace finished well to obtain the place, while Salutos Amigos was a neck back in third. Moonlight Song and Dads Caps dead-heated for fourth.
The winner returned $6.40, $3.70, and $2.80. Palace paid $4.80 and $3.10, and Salutos Amigos brought $4.60. Completing the order of finish behind the dead-heat rivals were Central Banker, Mezzano, Big Screen, and Declan's Warrior.
Clearly Now, bred in Kentucky by Claiborne Farm out of the Arch mare Bend, improved his record to 5-3-5 from 15 starts for earnings of $886,927. He was a $30,000 purchase from the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale when consigned by Claiborne. Ron Fleischman signed the ticket.
Lynch said an event to be determined at Saratoga Race Course would be Clearly Now's next target, with an ultimate eye on the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita Park.