Graham Motion looked set for his first Belmont Stakes win when his 11/4 favorite Irish War Cry turned for home under Rajiv Maragh but the long stretch gave the strong-finishing Tapwrit (5/1) time to overcome him.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, the winning grey Tapwrit galloped relentlessly all the way to the wire and won fairly easily by two lengths for Jose Ortiz. Tapwrit’s one-eyed stablemate Patch (12/1) also proved that he had the stamina for the Belmont’s mile and a half distance and kept on well under John Velazquez to take third, beaten just under eight lengths. Patch had been drawn wide from gate 11 and, although he seemed to lack the pace of the first two, he would probably have finished closer to them with a kinder draw.
Gormley, the 9/1 shot trained by John Shirreffs, took fourth from stall three followed by Kenny McPeek’s Senior Investment who started at 8/1 after his promising third place in the Preakness. Steve Asmussen’s Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee (6/1) finished half a length behind Senior Investment in the Preakness but could only finish seventh from gate six, nearly 30 lengths behind the winner. Lookin At Lee had probably felt the effects of lining up for all three legs of the Triple Crown and was far from disgraced. He finished less than a length behind the sixth placed 9/1 shot, Twisted Tom.
An exciting race for final leg of Triple Crown
There was plenty of action from the moment the stalls opened at Belmont Park. Gormley stumbled badly out of gate three under Victor Espinoza and bumped into J Boys Echo (11/1) who broke from stall four. Irish War Cry and Tapwrit both broke very well. Meantime (13/1) was soon prominent too.
As the pack rounded the first turn Irish War Cry took the lead on the rail with Meantime right beside him under Mike Smith. At the other end of the field the 23/1 outsider, Hollywood Handsome ridden by Florent Geroux, was last of all and ran into the rear end of Twisted Tom close to the rail, clipping heels.
Geroux lost both his irons as his colt stumbled and understandably suffered from severe brake failure in his new lower riding position. Luckily the steering still worked and Geroux was able to angle Hollywood Handsome out wide and circle the field without any additional collisions. Geroux looked like a bareback rider on a runaway as a 48.66 half mile was posted by the leaders. Geroux was not far behind them on the wide outside but he finally managed to ease Hollywood Handsome once he got over the initial shock of a new riding style.
Irish War Cry and Meantime retained their positions at the head of affairs while Ortiz followed them, hugging the rail with Gormley on his outside and Patch running three wide in fifth. J Boys Echo was in sight of the lead while Senior Investment raced towards the back of the pack with Multiplier (14/1) whilst Lookin At Lee was dead last.
The first three quarters of a mile was covered in a time of 1:14.01 with the positions at the head of the pack unchanged. As they made their way towards the far turn J Boys Echo was one of the first horses under pressure and was urged to maintain his position by Robby Alvarado but failed to respond. Irish War Cry had managed to get a length ahead of the tiring Meantime but was closely followed by Gormley and Tapwrit.
As they turned for home Irish War Cry had a lead of two lengths over Tapwrit. Meantime had weakened into the pursuing pack and Gormley was struggling, allowing Patch to close. With a furlong left to run Tapwrit overcame Irish War Cry at the same moment that Patch went past Gormley. Running to the wire Patch was closing on the tiring leading pair and finished in the manner of a horse who would probably benefit from a slightly longer distance.
Another beaten Belmont Stakes favorite
A beaten favorite is a very familiar scenario in the Belmont Stakes, history shows that they are rarely successful in the final leg of the Triple Crown. Why? Often because it is very difficult for colts to step up in trip after a strong recent show although that was not the scenario here.
Motion had done the right thing for his colt and skipped the Preakness, but many bettors were understandably disappointed while the US online betting sites were relieved. It was a great result for Pletcher, especially as his top three-year-old, the Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, was resting at home after his disappointing performance in the Preakness. Pletcher admitted that Always Dreaming was his best horse but was impressed with the toughness of Tapwrit who had been bumped and had a nightmare run in the Kentucky Derby but still managed to finish sixth, beaten ten lengths by the winner.
The importance of bringing a fresh horse to the racetrack was demonstrated by the Belmont result. The first four horses home had been given a decent break since their most recent start and not lined up in the Preakness.
Potential stars failed to show
The one time Belmont favorite, Mark Casse’s star juvenile Classic Empire, had finished second to Cloud Computing in the Preakness but was ruled out of the Belmont on the Wednesday before the race. Casse spotted that the colt was suffering from hoof problems again.
There was considerable confidence behind the Japanese challenger Epicharis, who had finished a short head second to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby. Trained by Kiyoshi Hagiwara, this colt went lame on his right front leg and needed banned drugs to make him comfortable.
Breeding counts in the Belmont
This year’s renewal reinforced the indication that horses need to be bred for the Belmont. In 2016 Creator, another son of Tapit, took the Belmont. Creator was a 16/1 shot trained by Steve Asmussen who managed to win by a sensationally small margin. Patch’s sire, Union Rags took the 2012 Belmont for Michael Matz. Patch’s dam, Windyindy, was by the 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy who also took the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Irish War Cry filled the same runner-up Belmont position as his superstar sire Curlin, another Asmussen trainee, who was beaten a head by Rags To Riches, another son of A.P. Indy. in 2007 at Belmont Park.
A stamina-laden pedigree is obviously important for the Belmont Stakes but it appears that certain trainers are worth following too. Tapwrit provided Pletcher with his third win in the race whilst Motion has never scored.