Twelve Signed Up for Test of the Champion
First the Kentucky Derby winner was presumed out, and it was made official. Then the Preakness winner was out as well. Now the presumptive favorite is out too, rendering the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes about as wide open on paper as it gets.
The field of 12 includes one that competed in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, five that ran in the Derby only, two that entered the Triple Crown series in the Preakness, a Japanese horse to be ridden by a French jockey, and three other new shooters.
Post time for the Belmont Stakes, which will be broadcast by NBC, is 6:37 p.m. ET.
Irish War Cry, winner of the Wood Memorial and 10th in the Derby, inherited the role of morning-line favorite at 7-2 after Classic Empire was declared out of the race when to a foot abscess was discovered Wednesday morning.
Up close to the pace in the Derby, the son of Curlin raced three and four wide and wound up 10th, beaten 16 1/2 lengths. Trainer Graham Motion later said he took him back to his barn at Fair Hill Training Center with no thought of running in the Preakness or the Belmont, but now he says the horse has done so well he was convinced to bring him to New York.
"He's had a good couple of weeks," said Motion. "I can honestly say this was not my original plan. After the Derby, when he ran so disappointingly, I wanted to go home and just forget about the Triple Crown, which is what the Derby does to you when you don't run well.
"He breezed well last weekend, and I felt he needed to be here."
He will be ridden by Rajiv Maragh, a regular on the New York circuit, from post position 7.
Lending an international flair to the Belmont is the Japanese horse Epicharis, who was pointed toward the race following his narrow defeat in the UAE Derby. The leggy dark bay colt, who won his first four starts in Japan, including three stakes, was caught late over a track rated muddy at Meydan, losing to Thunder Snow by a nose.
He arrived at Belmont Park last week and on Tuesday had his final workout for Saturday's race, covering five furlongs in 1:06 over the training track while picking up the pace in the latter part of the work.
"He went good early," trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara said through interpreters. "He was good down the backstretch. I think it might be better to get some position behind some horses. He's recovered from the long flight well, better than Dubai. So, he's in good form."
As the second choice at 4-1 on the morning line, Epicharis drew post position 11 and will be ridden by regular rider Christophe Lemaire.
Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee, who with the withdrawal of Classic Empire will become the only Belmont horse to have run in all three Triple Crown races, was made the third choice at 5-1 on the morning line.
Fourth in the Preakness, the son of Lookin At Lucky has been competing at the highest level since his stakes score in the Ellis Park Juvenile last summer, including runner-up finishes in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and the Iroquois at Churchill Downs, a a fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and thirds in the Southwest Stakes and the Arkansas Derby.
He will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., who won last year's Belmont aboard Creator, from post position 6. Like Lookin at Lee, Creator was a closer and was trained by Steve Asmussen.
Celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who bought an interest in Creator just prior to his victory in last year's Belmont, is hoping to follow the same route after purchasing 25 percent of J Boys Echo Wednesday morning before the draw at Rock Center Café in Manhattan.
Trained by Dale Romans, J Boys Echo was 15th in the Derby after getting knocked around at the start but has been training forwardly since, including a five-furlong breeze in 1:00 on June 3 at Churchill Downs.
"If you watch the replay and the head-on, everybody got pushed but he actually got slammed into," said Romans. "But he came back and he's trained well. And it's a bad answer, but last Saturday was the best work he's ever put in in his life. It was the most energy he's showed and, today, he was bouncing and playing. The mile and a half should help him and hopefully we're going to see the best of him. He's got a good rhythm to the way he runs and I think that's important going that far."
Romans has finished third in the Belmont four times from eight starters, most recently with Keen Ice in 2015.
"It's why we play the game," he said. "This is a Classic. Whether it has the Derby winner or the Preakness winner, it's still one of the three greatest races that we have in this country. It's such a prestigious race. I've been here several times and I have a record of four thirds, and it's one of those things that, outside of the Kentucky Derby, we've won the Preakness, and the Belmont is the other box to check off. It's a great race with the greatest racing fans, the smartest racing fans. It's a race that I really, really want to get the trophy."
J Boys Echo, a son of Mineshaft, drew post position 4 at 15-1 and will be ridden by Robby Albarado. Albarado, the regular rider of J Boys Echo, missed the Kentucky Derby with a fractured leg bone.
J Boys Echo is one of five Belmont entries whose connections chose to skip the Preakness after running the Derby, a route taken last year by Creator; by Palace Malice in 2013; by Union Rags, the sire of the one-eyed horse Patch, in 2012; and by Summer Bird in 2009.
Other horses who will be making their first start since the Derby include Tapwrit (sixth), Gormley (ninth) and Patch (14th).
Tapwrit will be one of two horses representing trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the Belmont in 2007 with the filly Rags to Riches and with Palace Malice. Pletcher also will saddle Patch, who entered the Kentucky Derby off a solid second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby.
"The Derby was a tough assignment for (Patch), a lightly raced horse and draws the far outside post," said Pletcher. "He got a decent trip out of it, I don't think he relished the sloppy track. Union Rags, a Belmont winner, out of an A.P. Indy mare, there's a lot of pedigree there to suggest that he's bred to get the mile and a half, and I think his style should fit the race well. As for Tapwrit, I think he ran a sneaky good race in the Derby. I don't think it would be a surprise if either of them ran well."
Tapwrit, to be ridden by Jose Ortiz, was tabbed at 6-1 on the morning line and will leave from post position 2, while Patch, under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, was listed at 12-1. Patch will leave from post position 12, again drawing the far outside post in a Triple Crown race.
Gormley was due to arrive at Belmont Park late this afternoon after he was finally declared in the race on Monday. Connections said they wanted to confer with B. Wayne Hughes, whose Spendthrift Farm has bought stallion rights to Gormley, before making a decision. The Santa Anita Derby winner is the only California-based horse set to compete in the race. After working with blinkers last weekend, he'll continue to race without them.
New shooters include the Dallas Stewart-trained Hollywood Handsome (30-1), entering off an allowance win over older horses at Churchill Downs; Meantime, (15-1) second in the Peter Pan in May 13 at Belmont; and Twisted Tom (20-1), who enters off a three-race win streak including the Federico Tesio on April 22 at Laurel Park last time out.
"Obviously, it will be a big class test for him but I've been anxious to try him at 1 1/2 miles," trainer Chad Brown said of Twisted Tom.
Brown will give a leg up on Twisted Tom to Javier Castellano for the Belmont. The duo paired to win the Preakness with Cloud Computing.
Entered from the Preakness are Illinois Derby winner Multiplier (15-1), who was sixth in Baltimore, and Senior Investment (12-1), who closed to finish third.
"This thing is wide open, completely wide open," said Senior Investment's trainer, Ken McPeek, who upset the 2002 Belmont with 70-1 Sarava. "It will be interesting to see it unfold."
Edited NYRA release with additional content by Dick Downey