NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ruler On Ice plowed his way through the mud to score an upset win in the 143rd running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday after the Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom almost threw his rider at the start.
Perfectly ridden by Peru-born jockey Jose Valdivia, Ruler On Ice outstayed his more favored rivals to win the one and a half mile classic and claim the third jewel of American racing’s Triple Crown after missing the first two legs.
“With a half-mile remaining, I still felt like I had a lot of horse beneath me,” Valdivia said.
“Turning for home, everything started going in slow motion. At the sixteenth pole, I thought ‘this is the true test of a champion.'”
Stay Thirsty, another longshot, finished second by three quarters of a length after hugging the rail down the stretch while Brilliant Speed grabbed third, one a half lengths behind the runner up, after a late charge down the center of a sloppy Belmont Park track.
Animal Kingdom, which started favorite after winning last month’s Kentucky Derby and finishing a close second in the Preakness Stakes, finished sixth after the colt blew his chances at the start.
John Velazquez only just managed to stay in the saddle after Animal Kingdom nearly tossed him when the 12-horse field broke from the gate and was last for most of the trip.
As with the two previous legs, the Preakness winner Shackleford jumped to the front and tried to lead all the way. He was still in the lead when he turned for home but faded to finished fifth.
Ruler On Ice went off as a 24-1 chance, and paid $51.50 for a $2 win bet, after failing to get a start in last month’s Kentucky Derby and opting to skip the Preakness.
The gelding was second behind Shackleford for most of the way but showed too much stamina in the final straight to earn the first prize of $600,000 and the traditional winner’s garland of white carnations.
“I have to give credit to the winner,” said Javier Castellano, rider of Stay Thirsty. “He was impressive, he never gave up.”
Editing by Rex Gowar