Aron Wellman watched Destin looking as if he was destined to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes. But Creator ruined it for Wellman, catching and edging out Destin for the victory.
“Nothing will take away the sting of that defeat,” said Wellman, the co-founder and president of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, one of Destin’s owners. “It’s still a classic. We came within a nose of winning last year . . . Fifty yards from the wire, I don’t think anybody in the building thought there was any way that horse was getting beat. But he did.”
Now it was a year later, Saturday at the Belmont Stakes, edition No. 149. Irish War Cry was on the lead at the top of the stretch. But there was Tapwrit trying to run the favorite down. And he did.
Tapwrit is owned by Eclipse Throughbred Partners, Bridlewood Farm and Robert LaPenta.
Wellman got to experience what was taken away last June, that thrill of winning this Triple Crown event at Belmont Park.
“Destin was a nasty loss last year, but we feel incredibly fortunate to be back here this year victorious,” said Wellman, a 39-year-old California native who’s the son of thoroughbred owners and breeders. “ . . . This is the type of horse, the caliber of horse, that we’re looking to buy, develop and manage for our partners.”
Besides Destin, the syndicate had Matterhorn in the 2014 race. The experience ended with an eighth place finish. But trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Jose Ortiz, it all worked out this time with Tapwrit. The son of Tapit, purchased for $1.2 million, won by two lengths after finishing sixth at the Kentucky Derby.
“This is a dream,” Wellman said.
LaPenta got into racing as an owner by partnering with now Louisville basketball coach, Rick Pitino, in 1998. LaPenta is originally from Yonkers. Now he’s the 71-year-old chairman, president and CEO of L-1 Identity Solutions. Tapwrit was his seventh horse to run in the Belmont Stakes and his second to win after Da’ Tara in 2008.
“This was much more difficult,” LaPenta said. “When we had Da’ Tara, he was 38-1 . . . No one really thought he would win, but I told my wife that morning that I thought we had a chance to finish second. Big Brown didn’t run [well] and we ended up winning the race. But we had no expectations of winning.
“My whole family, all my friends, hundreds of people, love this horse,” he added of Tapwrit. “It put a lot of pressure on everybody. We all felt confident he was going to run a good race. Todd did a phenomenal job . . . This was a wonderful win, good for New York, good for me, good for my family, good for the whole team.”
Wellman walked in the Belmont clubhouse and saw all the Belmont Stakes winner’s circle photos.
“To now know that we have some involvement in a horse that’s going to be etched in history,” Wellman said, “that’s what it’s all about, making history and providing these experiences for our partners.”