Sometimes how a horse looks on paper isn’t the key, even if he lost his last four races by a combined 46 lengths. Firenze Fire is trained by America’s hottest horseman, Jason Servis, which was all that mattered Saturday at Belmont Park.
Firenze Fire hadn’t run since plodding in 11th, 23½ lengths behind Justify, in the Kentucky Derby. The way he ran in the mile Dwyer Stakes made you wonder how he could have gone winless since January. He swept four-wide into the stretch and blasted clear to a nine-length runaway under Irad Ortiz Jr.
Seven Trumpets took second by a half-length over 3-2 favorite Mendelssohn, making his first start since finishing last in the Derby. The Irish shipper dueled early with Noble Indy, who faded to a distant last of seven.
“I expected my horse to run a big race,” Ortiz said, “but I didn’t think he would gallop out like that.”
If you were watching the tote board, it was no shock that Firenze Fire ran big. A flood of late money — very late money — knocked down his odds from 5-1 when the gates opened to 5-2 after a furlong. Check the replay. On the stretch turn, the money talked loudly.
It was Servis’ 17th win in 35 races, an insane percentage of 48.6, at the Belmont meeting. “That was great,” Servis said. “I’ve been just dying to cut him back in distance. We thought he’d run good.
“We got on the Derby trail, like you’re supposed to do. Do we think he’s a mile-and-a-quarter horse? Probably not. But now we’re getting him where he needs to be, a mile or seven- eighths, where he might even be a tad sharper.”
That might be impossible.
Firenze Fire was timed in 1:33.74, paid $7.50 for his fifth win in 11 starts and earned $165,000 for Mr. Amore Stables. “It was so easy,” owner Ron Lombardi said. “It’s just amazing.”
Mendelssohn was a buzz horse before the Derby, in which he was banged around, hated the slop and backpedaled to 73¼ lengths behind Justify. T.J. Comerford, assistant trainer to Aidan O’Brien, saw positives in his Dwyer. “It was a good race for him to start back,” he said. “We can build on it.”
The big disappointment was Noble Indy, trying to rebound from a rough trip in the Belmont Stakes, when he was last, 54 lengths back. It was his first start since Long Islander Mike Repole bought him from former co-owner WinStar Farm. He reared up in the paddock and never got comfortable.
“I give him absolutely no excuse,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He misbehaved before the race again, and Johnny [Velazquez] said he never relaxed. We got to the position we wanted but couldn’t maintain it.”
Notes & quotes: Front-running Diversify ($14) dominated the 1¼-mile Suburban by 6½ lengths in a swift 1:59.84 . . . On the turf, O’Brien’s filly Athena ($22.80) took the Grade I Belmont Oaks, and Catholic Boy ($12.20) beat Analyze It by a head in the Grade I Belmont Derby.