Ruler On Ice (24-1), a well-traveled gelding trained at by Tinton Falls resident Kelly Breen, charged to a stunning victory past an elite field of young thoroughbreds in the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes Saturday.
Excluded from the Kentucky Derby for not having enough graded earnings, Ruler On Ice was able to get an early jump on Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who nearly bucked jockey John Velazquez out of the gate. Ruler On Ice stalked the pace behind Preakness victor Shackleford for much of the race before Peruvian jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr. turned on the nitrous to blast past Stay Thirsty in the final stretch of the one and a half mile dirt course.
"I'm feeling like I've got a lot of horse underneath me," Valdivia told NBC Sports after the race. "We hit the far turn and still have a half mile to go and you get into your zone where everything stops and and I'm a couple yards from the wire thinking 'oh my God, oh my God, I'm going to win the Belmont'!"
Valdivia, who picked up his first Belmont win in his first attempt, was quick to acknowledge owners George and Lori Hall, along with trainer Breen, all New Jersey residents.
"Mr. George and Mrs. Lori Hall believed in me, believed in this horse," said Valdivia.
It was Breen's idea to put blinkers on Ruler On Ice, said Valdivia, thinking it might cause the horse to break harder down the stretch.
"Today we figured the way the track was playing, [Breen] said 'what do you have to lose?' You've got a great post, come out of there running, see where Shackleford is and play it as [you] may," said Valdivia.
In undoubtedly one of the most difficult sports to coach, somehow the wily Ruler On Ice did exactly as Breen and Valdivia intended.
"I've watched the last dozen Belmonts and the horses that have been in the top four win it and [I said] I really want you to be up close, and that's what Jose did," said Breen.
H. Robb Levinsky, who heads Kenwood Racing, a Neptune-based group of local horse owners, watched the race at Monmouth Park Saturday, and said he enjoyed watching George and Lori Hall's horse finish first out of an elite field of three year olds.
"It was nice to see a local owner win such a great race, they run a very professional operation," said Levinsky.
The Halls took home $600,000 of the $1 million race's purse, with the remaining $400,000 going to owners of second place Stay Thirsty (16-1), third place Brilliant Speed (10-1), then the field on a sliding scale.
"What a horse race," said Steve Duncker, chairman of the New York Racing Association as he presented the large silver trophy to George and Lori Hall. "What an incredible, spiffy ride, an all guts and all heart win. Your colt didn't look at the odds board, he just ran his race. Congratulations, your horse just passed the test of a champion."
By George Hall's estimation, at least a thousand friends and family watched the race. Lori Hall was held speechless, content with leading Ruler On Ice to the Winner's Circle wearing a pink floral dress and smiling ear to ear in disbelief.
Oceanport Councilman Joseph Irace and daughter Samantha (who sported a 'Ruler On Ice' pin to support the local horse) also found themselves wrapt with excitement after watching the simulcast at Monmouth Park.
"Kind of makes you feel like part of the action when you see a Monmouth Park horse, trained by Kelly Breen of Tinton Falls, announced by Larry Collmus, the Monmouth Park track announcer, win one of the most prestigious horse races in the world," said Councilman Irace.
At a slow 2:30.88 due to wet conditions, Ruler On Ice finished ahead of Stay Thirsty (16-1), Brilliant Speed (10-1), and Nehro (9-2).
A $2 bet on Ruler On Ice to win pays $51.50, $26 to show, and $13.60 to place.
Taking Ruler On Ice in a $2 exacta with Stay Thirsty nets $928, a $2 trifecta with Brilliant Speed grabs $8,268, and a $2 superfecta with Nehro is good for a car or two at $74,052.
In case you missed the race, you can head to the NBC Sports website for a replay.