Breaking from post 3, King Kreesa shot to the front under Jose Ortiz and moved comfortably on the lead as jockey Luis Saez and Heart to Heart were content to sit in second.
Towing the field through three-quarters, King Kreesa moved sweetly into the stretch but was soon confronted by a host of pursuers.
After the 6-year-old son of King Cugat repelled a challenge from Heart to Heart at the top of the stretch, Chilean sensation Il Campione loomed on his outside with Todd Pletcher’s All Included ready to pounce on the inside
Multiple graded stakes winner Vyjack, who was making his turf debut and first start for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, rallied widest and fastest of all, but King Kreesa remained resilient, keeping his foes at bay to prevail by three-quarters of a length and complete a mile on the Widener grass course.
“I was surprised to get the lead early,” said Ortiz. “I think a mile is his best distance, maybe he could stretch out a little bit, but a mile is perfect.”
King Kreesa, trained by David Donk for Gerald and Susan Kresa, won the 2013 edition of the Poker, but seemed to take a step back in 2014, when he recorded one win from only three starts.
The dark bay gelding didn’t seem to pick it up much in his first two starts of 2015, finishing sixth in the Elusive Quality and third in the Kingston, but bounced back to his best form on Saturday.
“He did great,” said Gerald Kresa. “Once he can relax, he has all kinds of energy at the end and he can open up on them. He held everyone off with no problem.”
Kresa indicated that his star turf runner, who increased his earnings to $985,370, could make his next start on July 11 at Belmont in the $150,000 Forbidden Apple as a possible prep for the Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap on August 15 at Saratoga Race Course.
(Sean Morris) TRACK NOTES
• The party returns to New York’s Triple Crown headquarters on Friday, June 19, with the seasonal debut of the annual “Party at the Park” summer series at Belmont Park.
Running for three consecutive Fridays and featuring a special first race post time of 3 p.m., the fun continues at the conclusion of live racing with special, post-race concerts in Belmont’s spacious backyard.
The twilight racing cards on “Party at the Park” Fridays are set to each feature nine races highlighted by the second running of the $100,000 Perfect Sting on July 3. Post time for the ninth and final race is scheduled for 7:08 p.m.
Kicking off the live musical acts for Belmont’s summer series on June 19 is America’s number one Elton John tribute band, Bobby and the Jets, followed by Sound Image band on June 26 performing today’s hits and classics from the past.
Closing out the “Party at the Park” series on July 3 is Bruce Springsteen tribute band, The B Street Band.
In addition to live racing and entertainment for the standard Belmont admission price of $5, food and drink specials will be offered for guests at the summer series.
* Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Three Diamonds Farm took top honors in the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival Championship for best overall performance by a trainer, jockey and owner, respectively, during the inaugural three-day event at Belmont Park.
The competition, based on a 5-3-2-1 point basis, began with the first race on Thursday, June 4 and continued through the final race on Belmont Stakes Day on Saturday, June 6, two races after American Pharoah become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and the first in 37 years.
The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival presented by DraftKings featured 17 graded stakes races and more than $10 million in total purses.
The category for the “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons Award for Outstanding Trainer mirrored the regular standings on the New York circuit with perennial leading conditioner Pletcher atop the leader board with 44 points, eight more than Chad Brown in second-place with 36.
Pletcher saddled 27 horses over the three days resulting in six wins, including a Grade 1 score with Curalina in the Acorn and a pair of Grade 2s with Rock Fall’s 3 ¾-length win in the True North and Coach Inge’s victory over V. E. Day in the Brooklyn Invitational.
The race for the other awards, were much closer, however, and the battle for the Eddie Arcaro trophy for outstanding jockey came down to the wire. Ortiz and Javier Castellano traded spots at the top into Saturday’s card.
Castellano took the lead briefly following Honor Code’s thrilling victory in the Grade 1 Met Mile. Ortiz fired back one race later in the Grade 1 Knob Creek Manhattan aboard Slumber to clinch the title.
Ortiz rode six winners in 22 mounts which, in addition to the Manhattan, included a win in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens with March and Belmont Gold Cup Invitational for a total of 46 points, two more than Castellano.
Earning the August Belmont II trophy is Three Diamonds Farm, who sent three horses to the starting gate on Thursday and made as many trips to the winners’ circle following wins by Comandante, Roman Approval and Southern Gem.