By Steve Ginsburg
ELMONT, New York (Reuters) - Birdstone caught Smarty Jones in an explosive stretch drive Saturday to ruin Smarty Jones's attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner in more than 25 years.
Ridden by Edgar Prado, Birdstone caught race leader Smarty Jones inside the sixteenth pole and won going away, giving trainer Nick Zito his first Belmont Stakes victory.
Birdstone, who finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, paid $74 for a $2 win ticket. The son of Grindstone paid $14 to place and $8.60 to show.
Smarty Jones, an overwhelming 1-5 favorite ridden by Stewart Elliott, finished a length behind Birdstone, while Royal Assault, with Pat Day in the saddle, was third.
The winning time in the nine-horse race was 2:27.5 over a fast track, well off Secretariat's Belmont Stakes record of 2:24 in 1973, the year he won the Triple Crown.
Jockey Elliott said: "He ran. The other horse just came and got him. That's horse racing. A mile and a half just got to him. He never got a break the whole race."
Smarty Jones grabbed the lead at the top of the backstretch and battled on courageously only to be outdone by Birdstone's dramatic stretch drive.
"I'm very sorry for (Smarty Jones's trainer) John Servis and Smarty Jones," said Prado. "But I had to do my job. This is the business. I'm very sorry it had to be me."
Smarty Jones, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, was trying to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed captured the three-race series in 1978.
"I said if we got beat I want it to be fair-and-square," said the 39-year-old Elliott. "And it was. I have no complaints."
Said Zito: "Smarty Jones will always be one of the most famous horses."
The loss was Smarty Jones's first in nine career races.
"We are disappointed. The better horse won today," said the horse's owner Patricia Chapman. "I am disappointed for the fans and for us too."