There was more than one surprise at Saturday’s running of the Belmont Stakes.
Sure, there was Sir Winston – that unexpected winner, and No. 2 on the depth chart of Mark Casse horses in the race – but there was also another strong finisher who ended up typifying this unexpected afternoon at Belmont: Cheap speed that turned out to be anything but.
Joevia, the 21-1 long shot who was expected to set the pace early but then tire down the stretch, instead shocked bettors and spectators with a third-place finish, one behind Tacticus.
“I didn’t think he’d cave with those [slow] fractions,” said trainer Gregory Sacco, in his first Belmont Stakes starter [he's won 695 races total]. “He showed a lot of tenacity. Maybe about the eighth pole, I think my blood pressure went up.”
Jockey Jose Lezcano said the Joevia broke well, and he did what all good jockeys do: He listened to the horse.
“I let him go to the lead because the inside felt very good to me, especially today,” Lezcano said. “He tried hard. I think he’s become a very nice colt. He’s coming around.”
Joevia was the first horse by the top of the opening bend and took control before eventually losing ground shortly after stepping into the stretch. It was, in many ways, a sort of redemption for a horse who was disqualified at the Wood Memorial. He won at the Long Branch Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths, and it was a coming of age of sorts - conquering a messy track over a five-furlong sprint. Sacco's father, William Sacco, won the trainer's title at Monmouth Park in 1962.
“That was quite a thrill,” Sacco said. “He’s a really talented cold. We knew Wood wasn’t any indication of his ability. He’s a 3-year-old improving at the right time of the year . . . We knew he had to improve. We thought he would. Of course, training is one thing, but he put it all together last time in the Long Branch. It was in lesser company, but he did it effortlessly. He had to step up to the plate today and he did."