Classic Causeway came into the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational as an afterthought, the “other” horse in Kenny McPeek’s barn. The “other” horse making his turf debut a mere two weeks after finishing third in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby.

Classic Causeway winning Belmont Derby
Classic Causeway held off heralded European turf runners Nations Pride and Stone Age to win the Grade 1 Belmont Derby at 26/1. It was his first race on grass in his nine-race career. (Image: NYRA Photo)

He came out of it a Grade 1 winner, a millionaire and a potential turf terror in waiting.

As a 26/1 afterthought, Classic Causeway captured Saturday’s Belmont Derby in gate-to-wire fashion. He held off Irish-bred, 2/1 favorite Nations Pride by three-quarters of a length. Fellow Irish-bred Stone Age (5/2) finished a head behind Nations Pride in third.

Those horseplayers who bypassed McPeek’s more-heralded Tiz the Bomb – who finished ninth at 5/1 – for his turf rookie stablemate were amply rewarded. Classic Causeway paid $55.50, $19.80 and $9.90 for a $2 wager. The $2 exacta paid $408 and the $2 trifecta, $1,876. Throwing Todd Pletcher’s Grand Sonata at 32/1 on the back end of a 10 cent superfecta brought you $1,671.70.

Say hello to a new millionaire

The victory and $535,000 payday, meanwhile, brought Classic Causeway’s career earnings to $1.12 million. He’s now 4-1-2 in nine starts, with three of the victories coming in graded stakes. But this was the son of Giant’s Causeway’s first Grade 1 score.

And it came in impressive fashion. In his typical front-running fashion, Classic Causeway broke out to an early lead. Only Royal Patronage pressed him, which allowed jockey Julien Leparoux to settle the colt into a nice rhythm. That rhythm produced splits of 23.55 seconds (quarter mile), 48.02 (half) and 1:12.33 (three-quarters).

“The plan was to go on the lead. The only time I was a little worried was in the first turn when Joel (Rosario aboard Royal Patronage) was kind of head-to-head with me,” Leparoux told the New York Racing Association’s Brian Bohl. “When he took back, my horse got to cruising and happy to be on the lead. I was getting him to relax nicely and switch off. It was a good run for him.”

This is what being the lone speed produces

Coming out of the turn, Nations Pride made his move, going outside and opening up under Frankie Dettori. But Leparoux had plenty of horse in reserve. He answered Dettori’s push, holding him off by a head at the wire. Classic Causeway stopped the clock in an impressive 1:59.99 for the 1 ¼ miles.

“We knew he was pretty much the speed in the race,” co-owner Patrick O’Keefe said after the race. “He’s like a 14-year-old kid that can throw a baseball 100 miles per hour. Now, he’s slowed down a little to 90 miles per hour and can hit the plate. (McPeek) is amazing. To me, he’s a life send. I have someone who really knows the breeding and knows where to put them. I loved it (running him on turf).”

O’Keefe and fellow owner Clarke Cooper moved Classic Causeway from Brian Lynch to McPeek’s barn after the colt finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby and last in the Florida Derby. The move initially surprised the conditioner, but he rolled up his sleeves and put Classic Causeway in the Ohio Derby. There, he finished third to fellow Kentucky Derby alums Tawny Port and White Abarrio.

Classic Causeway brought a healthy appetite to turf

O’Keefe didn’t blink when McPeek suggested putting Classic Causeway on grass. Nor did he flinch when the trainer suggested rolling him back on two weeks rest.

“He came back good and was eating the bottom out of the feedbag. What Kenny says, I do,” O’Keefe said.

“It was Kenny’s idea to wheel him right back on the grass, and it paid off today for sure,” Leparoux said.

Anchoring the penultimate day of Belmont Park’s Spring/Summer Meet, the Belmont Derby is the first leg of NYRA’s Turf Triple series. The next leg is the 1 3/16-mile Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Invitational Aug. 6. The series wraps up with the 1 ½-mile Grade 3 Jockey Club Derby Invitational during Belmont Park’s Fall Meet.