Updated on 09/17/2011 10:54AM

Strong Hope hangs on in Dwyer

Strong Hope ($7) scores a neck victory over the hard-charging Nacheezmo in the Grade 2, $150,000 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park on Sunday.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Todd Pletcher always knew Strong Hope had speed. Sunday, he found out the 3-year-old Grand Slam colt has guts too.

Strong Hope used both attributes Sunday to score a neck victory over the hard-charging Nacheezmo in the Grade 2, $150,000 before 8,755 at Belmont Park. It was three lengths back to Sky Mesa, the previously undefeated colt and 3-2 Dwyer favorite, who make his first start in 274 days.

Private City, Best Minister, Go Rockin' Robin and Albaaz completed the order of finish. Colita was scratched due to a minor stifle injury.

After Albaaz broke on top, Strong Hope, under John Velazquez, took the lead coming out of the chute with Sky Mesa and Albaaz in pursuit after a half-mile run in 45.73 seconds. Strong Hope extended his lead to 1 1/2 lengths after running three quarters in 1:09.60, but at that point Pletcher could see Nacheezmo revving up for a late run.

In mid-stretch, Strong Hope had a 2 1/2-length lead, but Nacheezmo was closing with every stride under Jorge Chavez, only to fall a neck short at the wire. Strong Hope, who won for the fourth straight time, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.76 and returned $7 as the second choice.

``Obviously, we knew he was going to show speed, we wanted to slow him down as much as we could which obviously today wasn't a whole lot,' said Pletcher, who trains Strong Hope for Eugene Melnyk. ``He broke pretty relaxed and the first quarter was decent, and it was a pretty strong second quarter, and the three quarter time was exceptional. It looked to me like the middle of the turn you could see Nacheezmo revving up pretty strong. It was a pretty big effort to hold him off.'

Velazquez, who admitted to having a difficult time choosing between Strong Hope and Nacheezmo, worried the fast early fractions would hurt Strong Hope.

``We started rolling very early and I said this is not a good sign, but she showed a lot of courage,' Velazquez said.

Despite suffering his first career defeat, Sky Mesa ran well. He was 1 1/2 lengths off a hot early pace, but still finished to be third.

``You could see that [three quarters in 1:09.60] was a little bit more than he wanted to do but he sucked it back and finished,' trainer John Ward said. ``For his first race back, I was totally happy.'

The top three finishers will be pointed to either the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park or the $500,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga. Both races are run on Aug. 3.