ELMONT, N.Y. -- Just try convincing the Drosselmeyer team that the lack of a Triple Crown bid made this year's Belmont Stakes a snoozefest.
Good luck winning any argument with jockey Mike Smith or trainer Bill Mott by telling them that their first Belmont victory was tainted by the absence of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners.
On a sultry afternoon before a surprisingly robust turnout of 45,243 fans, the tender-footed, stout-hearted Drosselmeyer eradicated the memories of his erratic spring to score a three-quarter-length triumph over Fly Down and 10 other rival 3-year-olds to capture the $1 million final leg of the Triple Crown series.
Ice Box, the Derby runner-up, never found his late kick and finished a disappointing ninth as the 9-5 favorite. Drosselmeyer paid $28 to win, racing the 1½ miles in 2:31.57 on a track labeled fast.
Drosselmeyer's win gave WinStar Farm two of the three Triple Crown races this season. Owners Kenny and Lisa Troutt and Bill and Sue Casner also won the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver, but only Lisa was on hand Saturday to accept the trophy from New York Gov. David Paterson.
"It's just been a magical spring [for the farm]," said Elliot Walden, the vice president and racing manager for WinStar.
Winning a Belmont was nothing new for Walden, who sent out Victory Gallop to deny Real Quiet the Triple Crown in 1998 in the closest decision in stakes history. Mott actually saddled Victory Gallop for Walden that day because Walden was on crutches from a basketball injury, but Drosselmeyer represented Mott's first winner in any of the Triple Crown races.
An exuberant Mott was on his way into the winner's circle when he was congratulated by fellow trainer Bob Baffert, who has won nine Triple Crown races.
"It's old hat for you, but not to me," Mott said.
And make no mistake about it, Drosselmeyer required a training job. Beautifully bred (by the successful sire Distorted Humor, he was a $600,000 yearling purchase) and creatively named (for a character in "The Nutcracker Suite;" his dam is Golden Ballet), the spectacularly handsome chestnut was vanned to Saratoga Springs last summer to begin his training with Mott. It's a good thing the trailer didn't get lost on the Thruway, since a fellow passenger was Super Saver, en route to Todd Pletcher's barn.
Started on the turf, Drosselmeyer needed four tries to break his maiden, which he finally did on dirt at Churchill Downs in a race that was originally carded for the grass. In his first start as a 3-year-old this year, at Gulfstream Park, he scored an impressive six-length win to start the Derby dream machine rolling.
But Drosselmeyer could never put the pieces together in his subsequent stakes tries, either breaking late or running into traffic, and lacked the earnings to qualify for the Derby. Rather than try to force another race into him in hopes of making the Derby field, Mott and WinStar backed off and awaited the May 8 Dwyer at Belmont Park.
That race proved to be the key. Drosselmeyer had a poor start -- a development that would lead to Mott switching from rider Kent Desormeaux to Smith for a change of luck -- and finished second to Fly Down. The results were flip-flopped at the Belmont wire Saturday. The pace-setting First Dude, who was second in the Preakness, again ran a very game race and held on for third over Baffert's Game On Dude.
Drosselmeyer also battled foot problems that required him to train in aluminum bar shoes, but Mott knew he was past those issues when his colt worked a sharp five furlongs in :59 3/5 on Monday.
For Smith, the Belmont proved you can go home again. After riding most of his career in New York, Smith moved his tack full-time to California in 2007. He had been 0-12 in the Belmont, coming closest when he was second on Thirty Six Red in 1990 on his first attempt.
"Fourteen years in New York, and I was blessed to win just about everything there is here except [the Belmont]," said Smith, who is the regular rider of the champion mare Zenyatta. "When I got the phone call and Bill asked if I'd be interested in riding [Drosselmeyer], the first thing I thought was, 'I'm going to win the Belmont.' I got up and ran four miles this morning, I felt so good."
It was 2½ more than Drosselmeyer would need to carry him. For Mott and Smith, who are both in the Racing Hall of Fame, it was a special victory.
"It's nice to kind of join up with an old friend that you had a lot of success with in the past," Mott said. "We both came to New York about the same time and cut our teeth here. It's nice to join up in the Belmont and get it done together. It's special for a lot of reasons, but that's a big reason it will be special."
NOTES: Nick Zito had mixed emotions after Fly Down's placing behind Drosselmeyer gave him top three finishes in all three Triple Crown races (Ice Box was second in the Derby, Jackson Bend third in the Preakness). "Fly Down ran great," Zito said. "Obviously I'm disappointed about Ice Box. He didn't deal with the heat today." ... First Dude nearly stole the race on the front end as he nearly did in the Preakness, and trainer Dale Romans wasn't let down. "We had a perfect trip and everything went like we planned. We just couldn't hold it together." ... Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family -- First Dude was named for her husband, Todd -- attended the races. ... In addition to the Belmont, Mott and Smith teamed to win the $400,000 Just a Game with Proviso ($4.20). ... In a rare occurrence, sentimental favorite Uptowncharlybrown had the lead weights slip out of his saddle pad during the running of the Belmont and did not finish carrying the requisite 126 pounds. He finished fifth, but was disqualified to last in the field of 12.
Sherry Ross is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com