ELMONT, N.Y. — The image of Drosselmeyer crossing the finish line first at Belmont Park on Saturday was the one WinStar Farm's owners have had in mind since day one.
From the moment the son of Distorted Humor arrived at Saratoga last summer, the people at WinStar could sense there was something exceptional about him.
Even as the chestnut colt came up short in test after test, his connections have said they never doubted his potential.
As the 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes came to a close in front of 45,243, the Versailles farm was once again rewarded for its loyalty.
Five weeks after celebrating its first Kentucky Derby triumph with homebred Super Saver, Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt's WinStar Farm received another bit of validation when Drosselmeyer wore down pace setter First Dude in deep stretch and withstood a late run by Fly Down to capture the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes by three-quarters of a length.
WinStar always had considered the $600,000 purchase at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale to be one of the farm's better runners.
He had underachieved prior to Saturday, winning just two of eight starts with no stakes victories.
What the copper-colored colt lacked in explosiveness he made up for in steady, grind-it-out ability. On Saturday, his rhythmic strides owned Belmont's sweeping oval as he not only gave WinStar its second Triple Crown win, but gave his Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his first victory in a Triple Crown race.
"This horse I think has really fulfilled the hope we had for him all along," said Casner, who watched the race from his home in Texas. "We've always felt this horse was, if not the best 3-year-old we had, certainly one of the top two and we really thought early on he was perhaps our best opportunity to run well in the Derby.
"It was disappointing when he got in trouble in his races and we couldn't get the earnings to go in the Derby. But to have a son of Distorted Humor — our stallion — win a classic is just tremendous. And gosh to do it for (Mott), that just makes it more special."
When it was announced neither Super Saver nor Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky would contest the final leg of the Triple Crown, many wrote this year's Belmont off.
Instead, Drosselmeyer came through with another dramatic story line.
Following the colt's second-place effort behind Fly Down in the Grade II Dwyer Stakes at Belmont on May 8, the decision was made to replace regular rider Kent Desormeaux — who had won the 2009 Belmont Stakes on Summer Bird — with fellow Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who came in sporting an 0-for-12 record in the "Test of the Champion."
"It was no reflection on Kent. We just felt like in this certain situation something needed to change a bit," said WinStar Farm racing manager Elliott Walden, who trained 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop.
In addition to the jockey switch, there also were some questions surrounding Drosselmeyer's feet. He had some minor bruising because of the abrasive surface at Belmont.
Neither proved to be an problem, however, as Drosselmeyer and Smith broke from post seven and settled midpack in the 12-horse field on the outside, rating about 6 lengths off Preakness Stakes runner-up First Dude through an easy half-mile in :49.19.
The long-striding colt had been plagued by traffic trouble in previous races, most notably during his third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, but Smith was able to keep Drosselmeyer clear in this race.
"The race of his that kept sticking in my mind was his race at Churchill (a maiden win last Nov. 18) where he had a nice clean trip," Smith said. "He stayed nice and comfortable and, as soon as I asked him, he kicked in.
"(The win) means everything in my career. I feel complete."
With about 3 furlongs to go, Drosselmeyer circled his rivals five wide and set his sights on the pacesetter with Game On Dude to his inside.
First Dude gamely held on to his advantage in midstretch but finally gave way to the motoring Drosselmeyer inside the final sixteenth as the latter covered the distance in 2:31.57 over a fast track.
Fly Down rallied for second with First Dude hanging on for third.
"Some things are meant to be and this is one of them," said Mott, who was 0-for-4 in the Belmont, 0-for-2 in the Preakness and 0-for-7 in the Kentucky Derby. "This horse didn't frustrate me ... he just didn't have the racing luck maybe that he needed to win. Today, it all came around."
One of the disappointments of the race was Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box, who sent off as the 9-to-5 favorite. The son of Pulpit was hindered by the slow fractions and never put in a serious run to finish ninth.
"Fly Down ran great but I'm disappointed in Ice Box," said trainer Nick Zito, who saddled both horses. "He certainly didn't run, that's for sure. He's much better than that."
Uptowncharlybrown crossed the wire in fifth but was disqualified and placed last for losing an eight-pound lead weight pad on the backstretch.
After months of enduring disappointments himself, there were no setbacks for Drosselmeyer on his biggest stage.
"Today was a redeeming race for him," Walden said. "It's gratifying with this horse to have him run the kind of race he's capable of."