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Belmont Stakes Preview and Analysis: Irish War Cry Morning Line Favorite

20 June 2017

He started on the road to the Triple Crown with a 3 3/4-length victory in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2), ran seventh by 21 3/4 lengths in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth (G2), won the Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets (G2) by 3 1/2 lengths, and came in 10th in the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Derby victor Always Dreaming and Preakness Stakes victor Cloud Computing were not in the field. A field of 12 is set to run the 1½-mile race, with Irish War Cry as the early 7-2 favorite. They won the 2016 Belmont with Creator.

The 149th running of the Belmont Stakes will begin tonight at 6:47 p.m. ET without the surrounding buzz of recent years.

Irish War Cry was 10th in the Derby while Belmont third-placed Patch, the one-eyed horse also trained by Pletcher, ran 14th.

There was a time, not that long ago, when thoroughbred racing started and ended in NY, or at least that's what most East Coast race fans, trainers and owners thought. Two of those involved oh-so-close photo finishes, when Commissioner missed by a head against Tonalist in 2014 and Destin was nipped by nothing more than Creator's nose previous year.

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"I think he ran a sneaky good race in the Derby", Pletcher said of Tapwrit.

Last year's 3-year-old champion, Arrogate, is now the best horse in the world and his first graded stake was in last year's Travers, so anything can happen as we head into the summer months. Tapwrit had a rough start in the Kentucky Derby and found himself farther off the pace than usual before rallying down the homestretch.

Irish War Cry and Meantime were in front for the first half of the race before Tapwrit made a move past Meantime. "I'm very happy right now". Aqueduct, New York's base for winter racing, was a place to go between meets at Belmont and Saratoga.

Ultimately, it was the patience of Tapwrit that gave him and jockey Jose Ortiz the victory. "It's an unbelievable feeling that I can't explain", said the winning rider.

Thomas said it's a "second-rate" field, but a good betting race.

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So this grand Long Island racetrack, the site of Triple Crown coronations for immortal horses like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and, most recently, American Pharoah, was more or less an audition stage for a bunch of unproven 3-year-olds, any one of whom might evolve into a future powerhouse.

"Tapwrit was getting a lovely trip", said Pletcher.

Another horse likely to be in the frame is Lookin at Lee, which was second at Churchill Downs and fourth in the Preakness Stakes.

"We felt like with the five weeks in between and the way this horse had trained, we felt like we had a legitimate chance".

"It looked like Irish War Cry still had something left (but Tapwrit) really dug down deep". He was among the favorites in the Kentucky Derby, but faded in the final furlongs to cede his position to Always Dreaming.

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Hoppert: This second-place finisher in the Peter Pan at Belmont Park should go straight to the lead in the Belmont. Tapwrit's sire, Tapit, produced two of the last three Belmont Stakes winners, which suggests that he might have the stamina needed to compete in the Test of Champions. Preakness victor Cloud Computing did the same. Early favorite Classic Empire had to withdraw because of injury, and then Japanese wild card Epicharis was scratched Saturday morning because of injury as well. Wagering in a separate, non-commingled pool in Japan continued despite Epicharis' absence. He was the second choice in the morning line at 4-1.