NEW YORK (AP) – Race after race, the unbeatens and defending champions stumbled Saturday. First Samurai, Lost in the Fog, Ashado, Shakespeare.

Then came the Breeders’ Cup Classic – and Saint Liam set everything right at Belmont Park, barreling to victory in America’s richest race and likely clinching Horse of the Year honors.

“We have the best horse around,” boasted winning trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who also won the $1 million Sprint with Silver Train, with Lost in the Fog back in the pack in seventh. “Anybody left standing, they were here today and we beat them. We didn’t duck any kind of horse in any race.”

Some of racing’s top stars missed the $4.68 million Classic, including Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex, 04 Classic winner Ghostzapper and Dubai World Cup winner Roses in May.

But Saint Liam can make a strong claim for racing’s top prize – the 5-year-old son of Saint Ballado now has four Grade 1 victories – the Woodward, the Stephen Foster Handicap and the Donn Handicap are the others.

Owner William K. Warren said after the race that Saint Liam had raced for the last time and would be retired to Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky. Later, though, he and Dutrow discussed whether Afleet Alex might deserve Horse of the Year. A crowd of 54,289 showed up on a crisp, fall day at Belmont, and the Classic was well worth waiting for after seven Breeders’ Cup races.

Taking the lead at the top of the stretch, Saint Liam held off Flower Alley by a length and gave Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey his fifth win in the Classic and 15th victory in the Breeders’ Cup.

Sent off as the 2-1 favorite in a field of 13, Saint Liam bided his time behind leaders Sun King and Suave until the field reached the far turn. And that’s when Bailey sent his horse four-wide to take command.

“We just got lucky,” Dutrow said. “I just couldn’t be happier.”

Saint Liam broke from post No. 13 and covered the 1 1/4-mile Classic in 2:01.49, becoming the second straight favorite to win the centerpiece of the eight-race, $15 million-plus Breeders’ Cup. Ghostzapper won it last year and was voted Horse of the Year.

Saint Liam returned $6.80 to win and earned $2,433,600, boosting his career bankroll to $3,696,960.

Earlier, Stevie Wonderboy handed First Samurai his first loss by winning the $1.6 million Juvenile by 1 1/4 lengths over Henny Hughes. First Samurai, 4-for-4 going in, finished third.

In the Sprint, Lost in the Fog’s bid for an 11th straight win and Horse of the Year honors faded in the stretch of the six-furlong dash.

In the $2 million Distaff, 30-1 long shot Pleasant Home won by 9 1/4 lengths over Society Selection, with Ashado third in her attempt to repeat in the final race of her stellar career.

Shakespeare, 5-for-5 entering the $2.28 million Turf, was 12th in the 13-horse field – Shirocco beat Ace by 1 3/4 lengths.

Ashado wasn’t the only defending champ to fall short: Singletary was eighth in the Mile, Ouija Board was second in the Filly & Mare Turf and Better Talk Now was seventh in the Turf.

Leroidesanimaux, riding an eight-race winning streak, finished second in the Mile.

In the winner’s circle after the Classic, family and friends of the owners, wearing Saint Liam baseball caps, swamped Bailey, and the rider was also congratulated by New York Yankees manager Joe Torre.

Bailey, 0-for-6 on the day entering the Classic, came up big in the nick of time. The jockey has been considering retirement and this could be his last Breeders’ Cup race.

“I’ll ride through Thanksgiving and think about it,” Bailey said.

Distaff

The Shug McGaughey-trained Pleasant Home beat Society Selection by 9 1/4 lengths and returned $63.50 for the win, the highest payoff ever in the 1 1/8-mile Distaff. Winning time for the race was 1:48.34.

A first- or second-place finish by Ashado and the 4-year-old filly would have topped Azeri to become the leading money earner among fillies and mares. Azeri earned $4,079,820; Ashado finished with $3,931,440.

Sprint

Silver Train, ridden by Edgar Prado, won the six-furlong Sprint by a head after surviving an objection by jockey Garrett Gomez, who was aboard runner-up Taste of Paradise.

It was a disappointing result for Lost in the Fog, who had been so brilliant in rolling to a perfect record, winning by an average of nearly seven lengths and traveling cross-country six times to perform at seven tracks in eight races this year.

“He didn’t have it in him today, and you know I don’t see any apparent reason,” Lost in the Fog trainer Greg Gilchrist said.

Silver Train covered the six furlongs in 1:08.86 and returned $25.80, the second-highest payout in Sprint history.

Juvenile

Stevie Wonderboy put owner and TV impresario Merv Griffin on the road to the Kentucky Derby with the victory.

The colt named for singer Stevie Wonder stormed into the lead down the stretch and won for the fourth time in five starts.

The win likely clinched the 2-year-old male championship for Stevie Wonderboy, but the colt will have a jinx to overcome on the first Saturday in May: No Juvenile winner has won the Derby the following year since the Breeders’ Cup began in 1984. An exuberant Griffin predicted his colt would end the jinx.

The win was most rewarding for Gomez, who was out of riding for nearly two years because of drug and alcohol problems. He even went to jail for 40 days for possession of narcotics in 2003, and spent six months in rehab.

Now he’s a leading rider on the West Coast and his first Breeders’ Cup win was a dream come true.

“This is icing on the cake,” said Gomez, who also won aboard Artie Schiller in the Mile. “I couldn’t ask for anything more. I feel like crying right now.”

Winning time for the 1 1-16 miles was 1:41.64. Stevie Wonderboy returned $11 to win.

Juvenile Fillies

Folklore gave trainer D. Wayne Lukas his fifth win in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies with a 1 1/4-length victory over Wild Fit. Prado ended an 0-for-41 record in Breeders’ Cup races before wining the Sprint.

Folklore, who paid $6.70, likely clinched the 2-year-old filly championship. Lukas now boasts 18 Breeders’ Cup winners – the most of any trainer.

Filly & Mare Turf

Intercontinental led gate-to-wire and beat Ouija Board by 1 1/4 lengths, giving jockey Rafael Bejarano his first Breeders’ Cup win. Intercontinental, trained by Bobby Frankel, returned $32.20, the highest payout in the history of the race.

Mile

Artie Schiller, the badly beaten favorite last year, came back and won the Mile this time. The 4-year-old colt, with Gomez subbing for the injured Richard Migliore, won for the third time in seven starts and earned $1,053,000. Artie Schiller paid $13.20.

AP-ES-10-29-05 1955EDT


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