(Reuters) - Creator made a brilliant charge down the stretch to edge past Destin by a nose at the wire and win the 148th Belmont Stakes on Saturday, the final leg of U.S. racing's Triple Crown series for three-year-olds.
Joining in a thrilling finish was hard-charging, Japanese-based Lani, who finished third in the 1 1/2 mile (2.4 km) race, one lap around the massive Belmont Park track in Elmont, New York.
Creator, winner of the Arkansas Derby, came from 12th place in the 13-horse field, hugging the rail as jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. saved ground around the final turn before exploding through a tight gap and moving out in the straight to win the $1.5 million race.
"He was coming," Ortiz told NBC while still on the horse. "When he got clear, he started running. I know he passed the horse (Destin).
"It's an amazing feeling. It's very, very important for me," he said, pumping his fist and patting his heart as his voice broke with emotion.
Creator, a 16/1 chance, paid $34.80, $14.60, $9.40 for a $2 bet. Destin paid $9.40, $6.20, while Lani returned $6.60.
Exaggerator, the 6/5 favourite, faded down the stretch to finish 11th, 14 3/4 lengths back, as jockey Kent Desormeaux eased his horse once it became obvious his race was run.
The result meant three different winners in the Triple Crown series as Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby, and Derby runner-up Exaggerator triumphed in the Preakness Stakes.
The race was run on a fast track although the threatened rain on a hot, humid day began to fall after the start.
Speed horse Gettysburg set the pace before Destin overtook him on the turn for home.
The long final straight set up a heart-pounding finish as Creator ran down Destin with virtually the final stride to cover the distance in two minutes, 28.51 seconds, while Lani made an electric charge of his own as the three gray colts left the rest behind.
It was a first Belmont win for jockey Ortiz and trainer Steve Asmussen, who earlier this year won election to the racing Hall of Fame.
Asmussen praised Ortiz.
"I thought Irad gave him a dream trip," the trainer said. "Won it by inches, saved feet."
Creator rose to the occasion after a disappointing 13th in the 20-horse field in the Kentucky Derby, 18 lengths back.
"He proved his worth today," said Asmussen.
As the rain poured down during the trophy ceremony, celebrity chef Bobby Flay summed up the exuberant joy of Creator's connections, having bought a minority interest in the colt on Wednesday from owner Kenny Troutt.
"Creator created a miracle," said Flay as the rain washed over the victory party by the winner's circle.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Andrew Both)