NEW YORK — The finish was dramatic, even without a Triple Crown on the line.
Creator found an opening in the stretch and ran down Destin in the final stride to win the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday by a nose, the closest possible margin of victory.
"Today was perfect for us by inches," said trainer Steve Asmussen, who will be inducted into racing's Hall of Fame this summer. "Being the victor of the Belmont Stakes will look good on that plaque."
Asmussen has won more than 7,300 races, including the Preakness with Curlin in 2007 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009. He was taken off the Hall of Fame ballot last year because of allegations made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals about the way he treated his horses. He was later cleared by racing authorities in Kentucky and New York.
The 11/2-mile Belmont wrapped up the Triple Crown series a year after American Pharoah became the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. A different horse won each leg this year. Nyquist took the Derby, and Exaggerator won the Preakness.
This was Creator's day, a hot, sticky one at Belmont Park with temperatures in the mid 80s. Exaggerator, the 7-5 favorite in the field of 13, raced well back in the pack, then appeared to make it into contention but didn't have his usual finishing kick. He finished 11th.
A 3-year-old gray colt ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., Creator came flying down the stretch as Destin tried to hang on to the lead. He almost made it but settled for second, with Japan-based Lani a closing third.
"I'm glad to see him put that number up; they came to the wire together," Asmussen said of the Creator-Destin showdown. "Irad gave him a dream trip. The horse ran super."
Creator, sent off 16-1, returned $34.80, $14.60 and $9.40. Destin, trained by Tampa Bay Downs regular Todd Pletcher, returned $9.40 and $6.20. Lani paid $6.60. The winning time was 2:28.51.
Creator was one of several closers in the field, and the race set up perfectly for him. With Ortiz urging him on, Creator stormed into contention after running near the back of the pack for his third win in 10 career starts. Ortiz, one of the nation's leading riders, won his first Triple Crown race.
"He was calm, and I just waited for somewhere to go," Ortiz said. "When he got clear, he started running."