Updated on 06/11/2016 7:50PM

Creator beats Destin by a nose in Belmont Stakes

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Debra A. Roma
Creator (left) gets up just in time to beat Destin by a nose in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, giving trainer Steve Asmussen his first win in the classic.

ELMONT, N.Y. – It opened heaven and earth as soon as the 148th Belmont Stakes was over. That’s the kind of pull Creator had on Saturday.

Creator, a troubled 13th in the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago, just nosed out Destin at the end of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, providing trainer Steve Asmussen with the biggest win of the year for him in a campaign that is shaping up far more celebratory than two years ago.

You remember the Asmussen saga of 2014 – a deceitful piece of propaganda was put out by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals alleging he cruelly treated horses, some media outlets ran with the obviously distorted content, and Asmussen became public enemy No. 1 in racing. After exhaustive investigations by the states of Kentucky and an even longer one in New York, he largely was exonerated, save for being cited for a few minor transgressions in New York.

He stayed the course and now might have his strongest barn ever.

In the past nine months, Asmussen and, more significantly, his wife, Julie, dealt with a cancer diagnosis that she beat back.

And two months ago, Asmussen was voted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame after being taken off the ballot two years ago and kept off it last year. As gratifying as is that achievement, the rain that fell Saturday was like a final, welcomed cleanse, as Asmussen accepted congratulations for winning the biggest race in a state whose gaming board once held his fate.

“That’s going to look good on the plaque,” Asmussen said of his first Belmont win as the rain poured down.

Creator was purchased as a yearling by the WinStar Farm of Kenny Troutt, who is deeply religious, hence the spark of genius behind the name. Creator raced for WinStar for his first nine starts. Earlier this week, celebrity chef Bobby Flay bought a minority share in Creator, and a few days later, he cooked up a classic winner.

Flay said he wanted to have a horse to run on Belmont Day and had looked at several prospects – “not necessarily a Belmont horse,” he said – before Elliott Walden, the chief executive of WinStar, “told me I could get involved with Creator.”

After that, it was up to Creator and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. After starting from the far-outside post in the field of 13, Creator was largely able to get a ground-saving trip, but he needed every inch of the stretch run to get up and beat Destin by a nose. A 16-1 shot, Creator paid $34.80 for $2 to win and completed 1 1/2 miles on the fast main track in 2:28.51.

Lani, the Japanese-based colt, was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. He was followed by Governor Malibu, Stradivari, Brody’s Cause, Cherry Wine, Gettysburg, Suddenbreakingnews, Trojan Nation, Exaggerator, Seeking the Soul, and Forever d’Oro.

With Creator winning the Belmont, the Triple Crown races had three different winners; the last time that happened was 2013. Nyquist captured the Derby five weeks ago, was third in the Preakness, and did not run here. Exaggerator was second in the Derby, then won the Preakness, and was the 7-5 favorite in the Belmont. He beat only two longshots.

Kent Desormeaux, who rode Exaggerator, said there “was not a straw in his path.”

At the quarter pole, “there was nothing there,” Desormeaux said.

The Belmont was the sixth and final Grade 1 race on a sensational card that mirrored the Breeders’ Cup and featured high-class performances by the likes of Frosted in the Met Mile, Flintshire in the Manhattan, Cavorting in the Ogden Phipps, Carina Mia in the Acorn, and Celestine in the Just a Game.

It was a warm, muggy afternoon, but no rain materialized until just after the Belmont.

Gettysburg, owned by WinStar, provided the final piece to get Creator to the winner’s circle. Because the race was shaping up with little pace, there was concern that both Creator and Exaggerator – in whom WinStar has the breeding rights – would have a tough time unleashing their late runs. So, WinStar put him in the race as a rabbit.

Gettysburg, with Destin stalking him, set solid fractions under Paco Lopez of 24.09 seconds for the opening quarter, 48.48 seconds for a half, 1:13.28 for six furlongs, and 1:37.96 for a mile before yielding.

“We needed a fast pace up there, as much as we could get,” Troutt said. “Creator was able to run his race.”

After getting over into the first turn and racing in 10th, Creator steadily advanced while inside horses down the backside and was up to sixth with a quarter-mile to go, sitting in a pocket two paths off the rail, awaiting room.

Exaggerator first had him pinned down but could not go on and retreated. Ortiz then chose to knife between Stradivari and Governor Malibu and got through. He had 1 1/2 lengths to make up with a furlong to go and just got there.

“He gave him a perfect trip,” Asmussen said. “He saved yards and won by inches.”

The win was the first in a Triple Crown race for Ortiz.

“It’s important for me,” he said with emotion while being interview by NBC’s Donna Brothers. “I’m very happy.”

Creator was sent by WinStar to Asmussen owing to his success with offspring of Tapit. Even though Creator had won the Arkansas Derby just two starts ago, Asmussen said the Belmont “proved his worth” because it validated the Arkansas Derby.

Creator has now won three times in 10 starts. The first-prize money of $800,000 brought his career earnings to more than $1.5 million. By running in the Derby and then skipping the Preakness before winning the Belmont, Creator became the ninth winner in the last 17 Belmonts to run Derby weekend at Churchill Downs before waiting five weeks for the Belmont.

“Today was perfect for us, by inches,” Asmussen said.

So it shall be written.