Friday, June 9, 2017
EPICHARIS - Epicharis was reportedly "walking sound" Friday morning and is still on target for the Belmont Stakes, according to NYRA officials.
Epicharis, installed as the 4-1 second choice in the Belmont, was equipped with a glue-on shoe on his right front hoof. Trained by Kiyoshi Hagiwara, the Gold Allure colt was examined by NYRA Chief Examining Veterinarian Dr. Anthony Verderosa at 8 a.m. and walked the shedrow with his exercise rider aboard shortly afterward.
He was to undergo another examination around 3:00 or 3:30 p.m. Friday, said Martin Panza, NYRA's Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, speaking on behalf of the connections.
"He appeared fine this morning," Panza said. "He's walked with a rider up on his back and they're happy with the way he's progressing. He's not going to come out, they're going to work on him this afternoon with ice. They feel confident they can make the race tomorrow, but they're still going to monitor the horse. Obviously, the horse comes first and if there's any problems, then they'll reevaluate."
On Wednesday afternoon, Epicharis was treated for lameness in his right front, according to New York State Gaming Commission records, after his connections noticed that the Grade 2 UAE Derby runner-up was favoring that foot.
"He was off just a little bit two days ago and that happens occasionally," said Panza. "He was walking sound yesterday and he continues to walk sound today, so they're pretty confident that he's OK...certainly, the horse comes first and there's always going to be another race."
Epicharis' most recent training session was on Tuesday, when he breezed five furlongs in 1:06.06, his final work ahead of Saturday's Belmont. He had a scheduled walk day Wednesday.
GORMLEY - Though eight of the dozen horses entered for Saturday's Belmont Stakes have grade 1 experience, only Gormley is a grade 1 winner. Gormley has actually won a pair of grade 1 races - the 1 1/16-mile FrontRunner last fall as a 2-year-old and the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby April 8, both at Santa Anita Park, where trainer John Shirreffs is based.
It will be the third Belmont Stakes for the 71-year-old Shirreffs, a first-time nominee for induction to the racing Hall of Fame this spring, who ran seventh with 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and third with Giacomo's half-brother, Tiago, in 2007.
"I think most people look at the race as if their horse runs his race, they're going to be happy. It doesn't matter who's in the race, as long as they run their race they're going to be happy," Shirreffs said.
"For as talented a horse like Gormley, the 3-year-old year is significant because it's the Classics. They only get one chance at it," he added. "As we well know, horses step up and win Classics unexpectedly. There's that one chance for stardom, so you like to give horses that opportunity."
Gormley went out for a 1 1/2-mile gallop early Friday morning under exercise rider Sammy Jimenez for the second straight day following his cross-country trip from California with two-time champion filly Songbird, the heavy favorite for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Ogden Phipps for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
"He was very good today, no issues at all. He went around there nicely," Shirreffs said. "About the three-quarter pole he was joined by another horse and they came down the stretch together before he went on. I really liked the way he went today."
Shirreffs has felt both sides of upsets on some of racing's biggest stages including Giacomo's 50-1 shocker that produced the second-highest payout in Derby history ($102.60). He also trained Hall of Fame mare Zenyatta to 19 consecutive victories before a heartbreaking head loss to Blame in the 2010 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic in her career finale.
Reflecting on both races, Shirreffs referenced the 1956 book 'Boots and Saddles,' written by Commander J.K.L. Ross about his family's history in thoroughbred racing that included owning the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, in 1919.
"His son was 12 or something like that and his father is teaching him about racing. They bet on this one horse that was the favorite and something happened in the race and the winner should have been disqualified and the horse they bet on should have won," Shirreffs said. "Back then, they bet a lot. It was a healthy bet. The son was lamenting to his father and his father said, first of all you have to accept the decision of the stewards, the judges. That's part of racing. You accept their decisions.
"And number two - and this is the quote I love - he said, 'You have to accept the glorious inconsistencies of racing.' It's the unpredictability of racing that is so fascinating to everybody. If all the time horses ran strictly to form, where's the fascination? I thought that expresses it so well. I'm so happy I read that."
Shirreffs said he had yet to decide whether to give Gormley some light training Saturday.
"There's a possibility he'll jog," he said. "I haven't' really made up my mind yet but it's a long day and there's a lot of activity so maybe getting him out and jogging a little will just take the edge off."
HOLLYOOD HANDSOME - Dallas Stewart has been training horses since 1985, and his charges have earned checks in excess of $37 million. Although he's been second with longshots twice in the Kentucky Derby and in the Preakness, he's fared no better than fourth (Dollar Bill, 2001) in the Belmont.
This year he's trying again with longshot Hollywood Handsome, who steps up from an allowance win against older horses last out.
"He shipped in good, he trained hard and he's eating good, so we'll see. He came back good from that race, so we're going to give it a shot and it's great to have this shot. Why not?" he said.
While an assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Stewart often savored the sweet taste of Triple Crown success.
"When I worked for Wayne, we won six Triple Crown races in a row with three different horses [Tabasco Cat, Thunder Gulch and Editor's Note]. Now I'm just trying to get my first one," he said.
Hollywood Handsome is owned by Mark and Nancy Stanley, who have been in the game for many years and are seeking their first Classic victory as well. The couple has sent horses to Stewart "off and on" during the years.
"I've got just this one for them. He's just the right one," said Stewart, who believes the son of Tapizar has the goods to get it done Saturday.
"It takes a very hard, strategic horse with stamina to win this race. It's got to set up right," he said. "I'm ready for it. It's one of the three races we think about all year. It starts with these three. Now let's go get it."
IRISH WAR CRY - During her eight years working for trainer Graham Motion, assistant Alice Clapham has had the privilege of getting aboard such talented horses as Animal Kingdom, Better Talk Now, Bullsbay and Miss Temple City - all grade 1 winners.
Since their arrival in New York from the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland early Wednesday afternoon, Clapham's assignment has been Irish War Cry.
"I just get on him here. He has a rider at Fair Hill," Clapham said Friday morning. "It's amazing. I'm always very grateful and lucky that I work for someone to be able to ride some lovely horses like this. They all have their own personalities to them, but he's definitely up there with all the other horses I've been fortunate to ride."
As he did on his first morning here, Irish War Cry galloped one lap around Belmont's 1 ½-mile main track Friday shortly after 7 on a sunny and unseasonably cool morning.
"He was good. He was a little more awake, but he was very well-behaved. I was very happy with him," Clapham said. "I thought when we first went out there it looked a little busy but when we were galloping it was just like yesterday, nice and quiet and peaceful."
Clapham was impressed how Irish War Cry is getting accustomed to the track.
"He seems to be galloping across it great. Today he felt a lot more comfortable and he was more focused," she said. "In galloping yesterday he was having a little look around because it was his first day on a new track but today it was like, 'OK, I know where I am.' This track is so big and so wide, but he's taking to it well. He's taking it all in stride."
Clapham expected Irish War Cry would have some light exercise on race day. The main track closes for training at 8 a.m., with an 11:35 a.m. first post.
"We'll do a little bit with him, gallop him a mile or something and then just put him away and let him spend the rest of the day quiet and relaxed," she said. "Graham generally trains all of his horses the day of the race. That's just something that we do."
J BOYS EHCO - Dale Romans said J Boys Echo is still in good order one week after putting in his final breeze before the Belmont Stakes.
"He has done well, Saturday was the best work he has ever had," Romans said. "Anyone who has watched him work over his entire career knows he is not a real work horse. Anyone can win this race. I think you will see a good horse emerge from this race. It's been wide open all year. I think he'll get the distance. And throw the Derby out. That was the worst start I have ever seen in the Kentucky Derby," Romans said.
J Boys Echo drew post 4 in the 12-horse field with morning-line odds of 15-1. Jockey Robby Albarado will have the call.
"Romans said, "It has been wide open all year. It's an odd race when you don't have the Derby or Preakness winner in it. Automatically, you are going to figure if you don't have the two best 3-year-olds, you are going to knock the race. But let's wait six months and then look back and see if that is completely correct."
LOOKIN AT LEE - Lookin At Lucky, the lone entrant in this year's edition to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown, has finished in the money in seven of 11 starts while taking on the top of the current 3-year-old class. Since winning his first stakes race August 6 at Ellis Park, the bay colt has contested only graded stakes, including five grade 1's, one grade 2, and two grade 3 tests to earn his conditioner's respect.
"Respect is the proper word for it. When you can say that he's the first horse since Risen Star in 1988 to and run in the top three in the Derby (from post 1), I think that sorts him out from a lot of them. Nothing would be better than to see him win a race with the prestige of the Belmont so that he can get the adoration that we feel that he deserves," said Asmussen. "He's doing very well. He deserved this chance."
Lookin At Lee has danced every dance, but Asmussen said that he hasn't altered his training.
"I think he's put the foundation in at the beginning of this year to be in this position," Asmussen said. " think that the reason that he has continuously inched forward from a speed figures standpoint as the year goes on is because of his consistency in training. He's very steady. I think that has put us in this position."
Asmussen is in the position to be the first trainer to win back-to-back Belmonts since fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas did it with Editor's Note in 1996 and Thunder Gulch in 1995.
"There is less pressure this year, by far," Asmussen said. "Being in a race you've won previously feels a lot better. You're not defending anything because you're not running the same horse. But you know that a scenario can work out that yields success," he said.
While the trainer isn't running the same horse, he is riding with the same jockey. Irad Ortiz, Jr., who also won his first Belmont with Creator, will be partnered with Lookin At Lee for the first time.
"I think that Lookin At Lee is a horse that will go wherever you want him to go. You've just got to know where you want to be," said Asmussen, who reported that all systems are go with one more day left to go before the "Test of the Champion."
Once the gates spring open, the race is anybody's guess even though what figures to be a solid pace sets up to favor Lookin At Lee's closing kick.
"I am very concerned that being capable of going fast and being fast in the Belmont are two different things. I was in a Belmont that had Hard Spun run three-quarters in 1:15," said Asmussen, who trained second-place finisher and eventual Horse of the Year Curlin in that edition. "Once the gates open, it's completely out of our hands."
MEANTIME - Meantime has a high energy level and looks ready to go in the Belmont Stakes, trainer Brian Lynch said from his barn Friday morning.
"He's trained lovely leading up to race and schooled at the gate today," Lynch said. "He was strong. He has the energy of a horse who is programmed, so I'm looking forward to running him."
Less than 30 hours before the 'Test of the Champion,' Lynch said the son of Shackleford is expected to be part of the pace scenario. Unraced since his runner-up effort in his stakes debut in the Peter Pan on May 13 at Belmont, Lynch said Meantime will be well-rested.
"He's run good over the track and the Peter Pan is a good stepping stone to the Belmont, so that's the route we took," Lynch said. "We dodged all the heavy hitters in the Triple Crown races and we're here in the last leg with a fresh horse. I think he has a lot of upside to him.
"I think I'm the speed of the race," he added. "I can't see them trying to kill their horse trying to chase us. Our horse has a big cruising speed, so if he gets left alone long enough, I think he'll have some finish to him."
Meantime drew post 9 with odds at 15-1.
"He has a big, free-going stride about him and has a high cruising speed," he said. "I think they all can get a mile and a half. It's just a matter of who they can get it with. It's a competitive group with no American Pharoahs among them."
Hall of Famer Mike Smith will be in the irons on Meantime, who is 1-2-1 in four career starts.
"He's shown again and again he's a big-race rider and shows up on big days, so it's a big plus to have him," Lynch said. "He handles the pressure well and has a great clock."
MULTIPLIER - Six years ago, when he worked as an assistant to trainer Eddie Kenneally, Brendan Walsh got his first Belmont Stakes experience looking after Santiva in the week leading up to the race, in which he finished eighth.
This year Walsh is back at Belmont Park with his own Belmont Stakes contender. The Irish-born trainer spent his first morning on the backstretch Friday, putting Illinois Derby winner Multiplier through a 1 1/8-mile gallop on the main track.
Walsh had stayed behind tending to his 60 horses split between Keeneland and Churchill Downs in Kentucky, leaving Multiplier with assistant trainer Tom Molloy since their arrival in New York Tuesday afternoon.
"He felt super. I couldn't be happier with him," Walsh said. "It seems like he likes it, actually. Tom, my assistant who had been on him the last couple of days, said he was moving great, and he hadn't been on him for a long time. Sometimes you notice more of a difference."
Walsh won his first race as a trainer in 2012 and has seen improvement in wins and purses every year. He is on pace to do it again in 2017, already with 30 wins and nearly $1.7 million in earnings including three graded stakes victories.
"It's fantastic. You have to kind of pinch yourself, 'Is it actually really happening?' especially since I haven't been training that long," Walsh said. "Some really good trainers go all their careers and they don't so much as have a runner in a Classic for one reason or another. It's great to have him. It's a great experience.
"I've been to Belmont a bunch of times but it's different when it's your own horse," he added. "Obviously, it's a whole different ballgame when your name is next to them, but it's nice. It's what everybody dreams about. What I dreamed about when I was younger was coming and being live in races like this. It's great to be here."
Multiplier is a son of multiple grade 1-winning sprinter The Factor out of the mare Trippi Street, who was grade 3-placed at one mile. Even before Multiplier's sixth-place effort in the Grade 1 Preakness three weeks ago - where he was beaten less than a length for third - Walsh felt that the 1 ½-mile 'Test of the Champion' would suit his horse.
"I've always thought that this would be his race. We didn't want to not run him in between because him being who he is, he kind of needs to be kept racing or then you'd be worried about fitness issues," Walsh said. "The Preakness, we were going there to win but what I really wanted was for him to run a good enough race to justify coming here and I think he did.
"If you didn't show me his pedigree I would say he's crying out to go a mile and a half," he added. "People obviously have a doubt because they look at the pedigree but down further in his pedigree he's got some stamina. His temperament says he'll stay, and his running style says he'll stay."
Since Lucien Laurin with Amberoid in 1966, 17 trainers have won the Belmont in their first try. Michael Matz was the most recent in 2012 with Union Rags.
"It'd mean everything. It'd be unreal. I don't think you could actually know what it was like until it actually happened," Walsh said. "It would be definitely the highlight of my career, if not one of the highlights of my life."
Walsh said Multiplier will most likely just walk the shedrow on Saturday. Joel Rosario has the mount from post 10 of 12 in the Preakness.
SENIOR INVESTMENT - Senior Investment is ready for the Belmont Stakes according to trainer Ken McPeek.
"This horse can get the distance. That's not a problem," McPeek said between training sets. "He can run all day long. He's got to step up his speed figures, but he's still going to need the pace softening some of the better horses, and then he's got to time it right. He's doing fantastic. He's a good horse, gets what he's supposed to do. He's going to run. He'll give us a good race."
Channing Hill, who will be aboard Senior Investment for the fifth straight time on Saturday, brings familiarity, but will also need patience in the 1 1/2-mile classic.
"We had one misfire with him in the Louisiana Derby, Channing and I," said McPeek. "He moved on him too soon. He started knuckling on him at probably the five-eighths, four-and-a-half, four-furlong pole, and this horse does not want that. He's only got one spurt, and if you use it too soon, then you use it too soon. I liken it to a sling shot.
"You've got to wait until you see the whites of their eyes, and wait until you get really close, and then you let it go, but if you let it go too soon, then it falls short, right?" he continued. "He's got to continue to be extremely patient with him, and him staying on the horse is a big deal because this isn't a two-run horse. This isn't a horse that you make do something he doesn't want to do. He's a horse you have to sit still on, and let him do most of the work, and when you finally need him, you let him go. If the pace is modest, and he's laying close that's fine with me. If the pace is fast he's going to be back, but needs to ride his horse, and not ride the race. He needs to concentrate on the pace of the horse."
Edited notes from NYRA