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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

No stretch to call Todd Pletcher a New Yorker

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 10: Trainer Todd Pletcher

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 10: Trainer Todd Pletcher celebrates his horse Tapwrit winning the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 10, 2017 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Nicole Bello/Getty Images) Photo Credit: Getty Images / Nicole Bello

If you think getting around the 1 ½-mile Belmont track ahead of a bunch of other world-class horses is tough, which of course it is, you don’t know half of the Pletcher family drama yesterday. Try winning the state high school Class B girls lacrosse title in Cortland in the morning and making it all the way back to Long Island by 6:37 p.m.

That is what Todd Pletcher’s son’s girlfriend did. “They got here just in time for the race,” said the trainer who had just seen his horse, Tapwrit, win the Belmont Stakes with a thrilling stretch run.

The point is, Pletcher’s life is full of local flavor now. The horse racing legend is from Texas but he has become all Long Island. “This is where we live, this is where my children go to high school. This is home. So this is extra special,” he said at a news conference following a victory news conference.

Pletcher is the biggest money winner in the track’s history. Three times, he has won the place’s crown jewel, the Stakes, with Tapwrit joining Rags to Riches (2007) and Palace Malice (2013). It goes beyond, that, though. He is part of the landscape here, just like the sandy Belmont soil or the “New York, New York” chorus that serenades the horses as they enter. When students return to Garden City High tomorrow, they will celebrate Tapwrit as well as the lacrosse title.

Someday, people might be cheering for Pletcher’s achievements at a hockey rink next door to his favorite track. Wouldn’t that be quite cool.

The winning trainer is among the people who make Belmont a special place and the Stakes a worthwhile occasion even when there is no horse going for a Triple Crown (or, in this case, a second classic win). Pletcher himself presented the only continuity in this year’s three big races, having sent Always Dreaming to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle.

He recalled having a conversation with Dreaming’s co-owner Vinnie Viola before the Preakness in which Viola asked if Pletcher would race any other horse in the Belmont if Always Dreaming were going for the Triple Crown. “I said, `It depends on how much you’ll pay for Tapwrit,’ ” the trainer said yesterday.

It turned out that Always Dreaming did not enter the Belmont and that Tapwrit’s finish was priceless. “Well it could not have unfolded any better,” the trainer said. “You know, we got exactly the position that we had talked about, which was 8, prior to the race.”

As for the magic he finds in the air and the dirt here, he added, “We’ve been very fortunate to win three and we’ve taken a couple of tough beats, too. But it seems, for whatever reason, it kind of does suit our style well. Maybe it’s the way we train and the foundation these horses have over a long period of time.”

One-hundred-forty-nine runnings of the Belmont Stakes have proven that the place is a terrific venue. Why not go for a second sport?

Eddie Olczyk, the former Ranger and horse owner/enthusiast, who announces the Stanley Cup playoffs and Triple Crown races for NBC, said, “I’d better not make any comments on that.”

But you can get the idea it would not exactly break his heart if the Islanders built a home on the grounds. He brought the Stanley Cup to Belmont in 1994. “Obviously there’s a lot of room here,” Olczyk said. “Look, whatever is going to be best for the Islanders. For me, to have a hockey rink right next to the track? I know I would do more Islander games.”

At least one prominent Long Islander would have no problem with seeing the Islanders share space with the track. Pletcher grinned and shrugged when the idea was pitched to him after he completed what is effectively a career hat trick at Belmont. “I’m for anything,” he said, “that will help horse racing.”

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