Front-running Irish War Cry finally shook off Meantime, the long shot who had pushed him hard for a mile, and Rajiv Maragh turned his 5-2 favorite loose. They drew clear by 1½ lengths at the top of the stretch, a quarter-mile from the wire in the 149th Belmont Stakes. Only one horse had a chance to catch them, but the way Tapwrit was moving meant danger.
Jose Ortiz had kept his gray colt in third, then fourth, along the inside all the way around, saving energy as well as ground behind the duel up front. Irish War Cry still led by a length at the eighth pole, but Tapwrit was coming hard.
Approaching the sixteenth pole, Tapwrit moved toward the middle of the track and took the lead. Irish War Cry couldn’t respond, and Tapwrit beat him by a widening 2 lengths before 57,729 fans Saturday at sunny Belmont Park.
“Tapwrit was getting a beautiful trip,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “It was everything we talked about in the paddock before the race. We were hoping he had enough left when it came to crunch time. It looked like Irish War Cry still had a little something left, but the last sixteenth of a mile, Tapwrit dug down deep.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better for us.”
It was the third Belmont victory for Pletcher, who lost by a nose with Destin last year. He also trains Patch, the one-eyed colt who finished third, 5 3/4 lengths behind Irish War Cry. For the first time, the sport’s all-time earnings leader took two-thirds of the Triple Crown. Pletcher’s Always Dreaming dominated the Kentucky Derby before fading to eighth in the Preakness.
“The Derby was awesome, but the last five weeks were the ultimate roller coaster for us,” Pletcher said. “We thought both of our horses were training well and had the right pedigrees to handle the distance.”
It was the first Triple Crown trophy for Ortiz, a 23-year-old Puerto Rican whose brother, Irad Ortiz Jr., also was 23 when he took last year’s Belmont on Creator. “It’s an unbelievable feeling that I can’t explain,” Jose Ortiz said. “The distance, I was sure he could handle it. It was a great training job by Todd.”
Tapwrit thrived in the 1½-mile “Test of the Champion” despite never having won beyond 1 1/16 miles. Since dominating the Tampa Bay Derby on March 11 he had struggled, running fifth as the 2-1 favorite in the Blue Grass before coming in sixth in the Kentucky Derby. It was the fifth consecutive time Ortiz rode him.
“I always liked him,” Ortiz said, “and we always had a lot of faith in him. Today he showed up.”
There was a four-legged family connection, too. For the third time in four years, a son of Tapit, the world’s leading sire, won the Belmont. Only 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah interrupted the streak. There’s a Long Island link to Tapwrit, too. He was bred in Kentucky by My Meadowview Farm LLC, located on the East End in Water Mill and owned by Leonard Riggio, founder of the Barnes & Noble bookstore chain.
Tapwrit paid $12.60 for his fourth win in eight starts after being timed in 2:30.02. He earned $800,000 of the $1.5 million purse, raising his total to $1,143,902 for Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta. It was the second Belmont triumph for LaPenta, whose Da’ Tara knocked off Triple Crown hopeful Big Brown in 2008.
Behind the first three were Gormley, Senior Investment, Twisted Tom, Lookin At Lee, Meantime, J Boys Echo and Multiplier. Hollywood Handsome’s rider, Florent Geroux, lost his stirrups entering the first turn, and the colt bolted and did not complete the course. He was vanned off with what veterinarian Dr. Keith Latson called a minor leg laceration.
Pletcher credited the home course and “fresh horse” angles. For the 11th time in the past 12 Belmonts, the winner skipped the Preakness, and Pletcher trained three of them.
“Belmont’s our home base, and I think that’s always an advantage,” he said. “With the five weeks in between the Derby and the Belmont, and with the way Tapwrit had trained, we felt like we had a legitimate chance.’’
AT THE WIRE
PLACE7-Irish War Cry
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