By: David Grening
ELMONT, N.Y. – For the bettors who pounded him to 2-5 favoritism, that was too close for Comfort.
Comfort, with John Velazquez aboard, gets up just in time to win the Seattle Slew Stakes on Saturday.
Comfort needed every inch of the 1,097-foot Belmont Park stretch to get up, ultimately running past Touchofstarquality in the final jump to win Saturday’s $100,000 Seattle Slew Stakes by a nose at steamy Belmont Park.
The win was the third in as many tries at Belmont for Comfort and probably earned him a spot in the starting gate for the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup here on Oct. 8.
“That’d be high on the radar,” said Byron Hughes, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher.
The Seattle Slew result was the same as the State Dinner here on July 4, but the races were run differently.
In the State Dinner, Touchofstarquality made all the pace but was passed inside the eighth pole by a settled Comfort, who won that race by 3 1/4 lengths.
On Saturday, it was Baccelo, the Grade 3 Philip Iselin winner, who set the pace, stalked by Touchofstarquality, with Comfort on the inside of Mylute. Baccelo, ridden by Javier Castellano, set solid fractions of 23.57 seconds for the quarter, 47.02 for the half-mile, and 1:10.90 for six furlongs.
Jockey John Velazquez had Comfort up close but said the horse was resenting getting dirt kicked into his face and began to back up leaving the three-eighths pole.
Coming to the quarter pole, Velazquez was able to get Comfort into the clear, but in the stretch, neither Baccelo nor Touchofstarquality, under Joel Rosario, was stopping. Inside the sixteenth pole, Touchofstarquality collared Baccelo, but Comfort, in the 5 path, kept persevering and was able to get up in the final stride.
Touchofstarquality was second by three-quarters of a length over Baccelo. Mylute and Tapin Mojo completed the order of finish.
Comfort, a son of Indian Charlie owned by Aron Wellman’s Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.28. He returned $2.90.
Velazquez said Comfort started backing up at the three-eighths pole when the dirt started hitting him in the face.
“I said, ‘No, buddy, this is not the time to back up; you got to go forward,’ ” Velazquez said. “Finally, when I got him to the outside, he started running, but now Joel’s horse is fresh, and it’s like I’m not going to get him, I’m not going to pass this horse. He was giving me everything he could, but I know [Touchofstarquality] is a tough horse, and I just barely got him. I’m very proud of him, but he had to work really hard down the lane.”
Michelle Nevin, the trainer of Touchofstarquality, said it wasn’t by design that her horse was not on the lead Saturday, but she had no problem with the trip – just the result.
“He still gave him a great ride, he had a good trip around there,” Nevin said. “Heartbreaker.”