by Brian Bohl
Something Special Racing's Hog Creek Hustle overtook favorite Honest Mischief and pacesetter Strike Silver in the final furlong and outkicked a charging Nitrous by a neck to capture the 35th running of the seven-furlong Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Off at 18-1, Hog Creek Hustle was the biggest longshot through the first eight races to win on Belmont Stakes Day, giving trainer Vickie Foley her first career Grade 1 victory and first graded stakes win since 2005.
Out of the gate, Strike Silver led the 11-horse field of 3-year-olds through an opening-quarter mile in 21.92 seconds, a half in 44.53 and three-quarters in 1:08.63 on the fast main track with Hog Creek Hustle, under jockey Corey Lanerie, tracking second-from-last.
In deep stretch from the four-path, Hog Creek Hustle, who saved ground nearing the turn, ran down the Chad Brown-trained Honest Mischief and Strike Silver as Nitrous, piloted by Ricardo Santana, Jr., made a late bid from his outside.
Hog Creek Hustle fended off the charge, hitting the wire in a sizzling 1:21.12 to mark his first graded stakes win in six attempts, which included a runner-up effort last out in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
After a steward's inquiry ruled he did not interfere with Mind Control, Foley recorded her first graded stakes win since She Says It Best won the Grade 2 Darley Alcibiades 14 years ago.
"I was nervous during the inquiry. We're from Kentucky and came to the Big Apple, so I was a little nervous. It went our way and I think they [stewards] did the right thing," Foley said. "This is my first Grade 1 win, and what a thrill. He was tough in the paddock, which he always is, and then with the inquiry, it was stressful. But I knew there would be blistering speed in this race, and I knew that's what we needed. We were going for and hoping for the speed coming back to us. That's why we thought we'd be perfect in this race and why we came. Corey gave him a good ride, too."
Hog Creek Hustle returned $39.80 on a $2 win bet. The Overanalyze colt nearly doubled his career earnings to $440,100.
"He didn't have any speed. I let him fall back and run his own race. When it was time to go I just went around everybody to where he could get some clean running room," Lanerie said. "When I turned for home and tried to switch leads, I had no intention of coming over on [Mind Control], but he does that when you try to grab the right rein, he tries to run away from it. I was lucky that they left him up because he was the best horse, but he needs to learn how to stay straight."
Nitrous, a 17-1 choice trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, finished three-quarters of a length in front of 15-1 Borracho for second.
"He ran good. That's what we expected," Santana, Jr. said. "He showed up today. I was happy with how he ran. He closed really well."
Added Asmussen: "Our horse ran a good race. We were concerned about the way the racetrack has been playing today but he's obviously a much better horse when he settles and then comes home. We'll see where he goes from here. This was a good step forward for him."
Strike Silver, Wendell Fong, Honest Mischief, Much Better, Mind Control, Landeskog, Lexitonian and Complexity completed the order of finish.