Commendable wins Belmont Stakes

Commendable, whose only previous victory was a maiden race last August, snapped a six-race losing streak and won the Belmont Stakes on a sweltering Saturday.

The victory was the fourth Belmont win for D. Wayne Lukas and the 13th victory in a Triple Crown race for the Hall of Fame trainer.

Commendable, ridden by Pat Day, who won the Belmont for the third time, took charge on the final turn and turned back all challengers.

Missing from the 11-horse field were Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus and Preakness winner Red Bullet owned by Frank Stronach of Newmarket, Ont.

It was the first time since 1970 that the Derby and Preakness winner both missed the Belmont.

"He'll need a career best to win," Lukas had said about Commendable, who had finished fourth in each of three stakes and was 17th in the Derby.

Commendable, owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, who missed Triple Crowns with Silver Charm in 1997 and Charismatic last year, finished 11/2 lengths in front of 9-5 favourite Aptitude, who also finished second in the Derby.

Another length back was Unshaded, who had been nominated for the Triple Crown races and was supplemented for $100,000 by James B. Pafel.

Commendable raced the 11/2 miles in 2:31 and paid $39.60, $12 and $6.30. Aptitude, ridden by Alex Solis, paid $3.80 and $2.80, while Unshaded, ridden by Shane Sellers, was $4.40 to show.

Completing the order of finish were Wheelaway, Impeachment, Appearing Now, Postponed, Hugh Hefner, Tahkohda Hills and Globalize. Curule was pulled up.

"It was a wonderful trip," Day said. "I talked to Mr. Lukas before the race and he said 'have an energy-saving ride.' He told me to get alongside Hugh Hefner and wait as long as I could. And that's what I did."

"I've won two Derbies and two Preaknesses and now the elusive Belmont is finally ours," Lewis said. "He had a five-week rest (after the Derby) and I was convinced the Kentucky Derby was not his race. He just didn't click."

Hugh Hefner, ridden by Jorge Chavez, broke on top and was followed by Commendable, Wheelaway, and Postponed into the clubhouse turn and onto the backstretch. Down the backstretch, Hugh Hefner and Commendable battled for the lead and Commendable might have taken it briefly.

Hugh Hefner was in the lead with a half-mile remaining with Commendable breathing down his neck. Wheelaway was third, Globalize fourth and Aptitude was starting to move up from last place.

Day then sent Commendable into the lead and he had a clear advantage at the quarter pole. He was not to be caught on this 35-degree day.

Lukas, like Lewis and his wife Beverly, was disappointed in last year's Belmont when Charismatic failed to win the Triple Crown after breaking a leg in the stretch and finishing third.

Now his 15th starter in the final race of the Triple Crown is his fourth Belmont winner. The others were Tabasco Cat in 1994, Thunder Gulch in 1995 and Editor's Note in 1996.

Aptitude was trying to win his first stakes, having only a maiden race in his win column. He earned his favourite's role by finishing third behind Fusaichi Pegasus and Red Bullet in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and finishing second to Fusaichi Pegasus in the Derby on May 6.

Trainer Bobby Frankel had said that even before the Triple Crown he thought the Belmont would be the best chance for victory by Aptitude, whose sire, A.P. Indy, won the Belmont in 1992 and whose paternal grandsire, Seattle Slew, won the Triple Crown in 1977.

By Ed Schuyler Jr.