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Belmont Stakes: Irish War Cry favorite with Classic Empire out

Irish War Cry runs on the track during

Irish War Cry runs on the track during morning training prior to the 143rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. Credit: Getty Images / Michael Reaves

When he woke up Wednesday, trainer Graham Motion had no idea that his colt Irish War Cry would be the morning-line favorite for Saturday’s 149th Belmont Stakes.

Classic Empire would have filled that role, but a recurrence of a foot abscess that sidelined him in February will keep him out of the Triple Crown finale.

“This morning his foot was really bugging him,” trainer Mark Casse said. “When we came in, he could hardly get around.”

The Preakness runner-up will be pointed for the Haskell Invitational July 30 at Monmouth Park.

Casse announced the 2016 2-year-old champion’s withdrawal four hours before Irish War Cry drew post 7 in a field of 12 and was made the 7-2 favorite. Japanese shipper Epicharis (post 11) is the 4-1 second choice, with Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee (post 6) at 5-1. Next are Tapwrit (post 2, 6-1) and Gormley (post 3, 8-1).

After winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Irish War Cry pressed the pace at Churchill Downs before backpedaling to 10th. Shocked and disappointed, Motion planned to give the New Jersey-bred son of Curlin a long rest. He didn’t commit to the Belmont until Sunday.

“I can honestly say that this was not my original plan,” Motion said after the draw at Rockefeller Center. “When he ran so badly in the Derby, I just wanted to go home and forget about the Triple Crown. That’s what the Derby does to you when you don’t win it.”

Irish War Cry has tactical speed, and rider Rajiv Maragh said he expects him to be forwardly placed.

“He’s a very maneuverable horse, very easy to handle,” Maragh said. “He can do what I want him to do. I just want him to show what Irish War Cry can do with his best race.”


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