ELMONT, NY – Multiple Grade 2 winner Irish War Cry, the 7-2 program favorite for Saturday’s 149th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, got his first tour of Belmont Park’s main track on a picture-perfect Thursday morning.
Joined by Graham Motion-trained stablemate Ascend, who will race in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan, Isabelle de Tomaso’s New Jersey homebred took a few turns around the paddock before stepping on to the track shortly after 7 a.m.
Irish War Cry galloped 1 1/2 miles under assistant trainer Alice Clapham on his first full morning in New York since arriving early Wednesday afternoon from Motion’s base at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland.
The 1 1/2-mile ‘Test of the Champion,’ the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown, will be the first race for Irish War Cry since his 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
“He looked good, everything went very smoothly,” Motion said. “He was great. Alice said he was looking around a little bit, but he’s very sensible. He’s not a complicated horse. He kind of takes things in stride, except for maybe Churchill, where there was so much going on.
“It’s a lot quieter and more settled than it was at Churchill, when it was so busy,” he added. “I think it got him a little bit wound up at Churchill, with all that was going on. It’s nice to be able to come into our own barn and do our own thing and stay with the system.”
Irish War Cry, winner of the Grade 2 Wood Memorial on April 8 at Aqueduct in his only previous trip to New York, inherited the favorite’s role when 2016 juvenile champion Classic Empire was scratched from the race Wednesday morning by trainer Mark Casse with a foot abscess.
“It’s pretty extraordinary,” Motion said. “It’s very odd, to be honest. I feel bad for Mark. Everyone says to you leading up to these races, ‘Are you excited?’ It’s hard to get excited when you know things like that can happen. That’s a perfect example of what can happen, and it’s just a little thing, but it just throws you out. It’s tough for those guys but that’s the nature of the beast, and we just happened to benefit from it.”
Motion was pleased having drawn post 7 of 12 in the Belmont with regular rider Rajiv Maragh. They are flanked by Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee to his inside and longshot Senior Investment. All horses will carry 126 pounds.
“I love it,” Motion said. “I think it’s great. I wouldn’t have wanted to be outside of that. I had said I’d like to be (post) eight or in, so that’s good. I think it’s a little tougher when you’re drawn on the outside here. I’m very happy with where we are. It’s a good spot.”
This will be the fourth Belmont for Motion, having finished sixth with Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in 2011, eighth with Icabad Crane in 2008, and sixth with Chilito in 1998.
Irish War Cry’s sire, Hall of Famer Curlin, was second to filly Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont. He is out of the Polish Numbers mare Irish Sovereign, whose three wins from 13 career starts each came at six furlongs.
“The Curlin would say the distance wouldn’t be a problem, but the dam’s side is a little suspect, so I don’t think anyone really knows,” Motion said. “Any of us are purely going on speculation or gut instinct on whether a horse can handle it or not. None of us really know.”
Epicharis Lameness Update
Carrot Farm’s Belmont Stakes contender Epicharis skipped his planned training session on Thursday morning at Belmont after being treated Wednesday afternoon for lameness. He was scheduled to resume training early this morning, said trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara.
He was treated with two grams of phenylbutazone administered by IV, according to New York State Gaming Commission records, after his connections noticed that the Japanese-bred son of Gold Allure was off in his right front.
“He looked a little different favoring his right front yesterday afternoon, so we treated his hoof and gave him bute,” said Hagiwara via Japan Racing Association interpreter. “It looks like it is getting better and I think there is no problem with him running in the race. We still have time so we will give him the best care we can.”
Epicharis breezed 5 furlongs in 1:06.06 on Tuesday morning, his final work ahead of Saturday’s Belmont, and had a scheduled walk day Wednesday.
— Saratoga Slim (@SaratogaSlim) June 9, 2017
G3 Winner Multiplier to Wear Blinkers in Saturday’s Belmont
Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner Multiplier, most recently sixth in the Preakness, will race for the first time with blinkers in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
Trainer Brendan Walsh decided to make the equipment change after Multiplier wore them for a sharp 1/2-mile work in :48.60 on June 3 at Keeneland, his final pre-Belmont breeze.
“He’s just so laid-back, it’ll just help him to focus a little bit more and maybe travel a little better early on in the race,” Walsh said. “He broke his maiden without them, so I wasn’t going to change then. Then he won the Illinois Derby without them, so I wasn’t going to change then, either.
“I think now’s a good chance to do it,” he added. “I galloped him myself a couple of days before he worked, and he was so much more focused, and then I worked him in them last week, and you saw how he worked. I think they’ll really help him.”
For the second straight morning since arriving from Kentucky on Tuesday, Multiplier galloped 1 1/4 miles over the main track on Thursday under assistant trainer Tom Molloy. The son of The Factor will school in the paddock either before or during today’s races.
“He was very bright and fresh this morning,” Molloy said. “He settled right into his routine. He was moving great and came back in through the paddock, taking everything in stride. All good. All systems go. He’s real easy and he’s enjoying it here. He likes the cooler weather at the moment, so he’s happy. That’s the reason he’s here, because everyone’s happy with the way he came out of the Preakness. Fingers are crossed, we’re very happy where we’re at with our horse. Touch wood, he stays sound and healthy into the race. We can’t be happier.”
Gormley Gallops 1 1/2 Thursday Morning for Belmont
Another Belmont Stakes horse getting his first look at the main track Thursday morning was Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby winner Gormley, who galloped 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Sammy Jimenez for California-based trainer John Shirreffs.
“It went good, I thought he looked really good out there,” Shirreffs said. “Sammy said he was a little strong, then he relaxed, then when some breezers went by, he got a little strong down the lane, so he tried to slow him down a little. All in all, I thought it was OK.
“He went once around the main track,” he added. “He came out through the paddock, stood, walked over to the turn and picked up the jog and galloped around. I said to everybody, especially his connections, that the big thing for us will be when the rider comes off the track and says if the horse liked it or not. I asked Sammy if he liked the surface, and he said he did. I thought that was really important.”
Gormley, who gets his name from 66-year-old British sculptor Sir Antony Gormley, arrived from Santa Anita mid-afternoon Wednesday on the same flight and van as two-time champion filly Songbird, making her return in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Ogden Phipps. Gormley was a late addition to the Belmont field and the last contender on the grounds.
Hall of Fame-elect jockey Victor Espinoza, aboard for all seven of Gormley’s starts, will ride in his first Belmont since sweeping the 2015 Triple Crown with American Pharoah. They will break from post position 3.
Gormley had post 18 of 20 in the Kentucky Derby and raced in the first flight of horses before fading to ninth, beaten 14 1/4 lengths by Always Dreaming. He is one of five horses to run in the Derby, skip the Preakness, and come back in the Belmont, along with favorite Irish War Cry, J Boys Echo, Patch, and Tapwrit.
“The three, I think that’s a good post position. I like it,” Shirreffs said. “It depends upon the horse. Because Gormley’s so quick out of the gate, it’s a good post position because from there Victor can decide what he wants to do. In the Derby, I think being on the outside was a little bit not the best because the inside seemed to play a little bit better. I think the weather determined what post position was good or bad there.”
G1 Ogden Phipps Star Songbird Gets Acquainted with Belmont Surface
Fox Hill Farm’s two-time champion Songbird got her first tour of Belmont Park on Thursday morning as she makes her final preparations for the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
The 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, installed as the 1-2 favorite in the Phipps, jogged a mile and schooled in the starting gate for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer. The Phipps will mark Songbird’s first race in more than seven months after being handed the only defeat of her career by three-time champion mare Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last November.
Songbird reeled off 11 consecutive wins at 2 and 3, punctuated by seven Grade 1 victories, including a 5 1/4-length score in the Coaching Club American Oaks and a 7-length domination in the Alabama at Saratoga Race Course, en route to year-end honors in 2015 and 2016.
“We’ve been very conservative with bringing her back off her layoff,” said Hollendorfer. “Mr. (Rick) Porter (of Fox Hill) told me to take my time with her, and I did. We had a nice, conservative program for her, and so she’s been brought along slowly but surely. She came in fine, settled in really fast, and went to the track this morning. She’s bigger and stronger, and I think she’s a horse that can make the transition from 3 to 4. We’ll find out soon enough on Saturday.”
Meantime Ready to be Pacesetter in Belmont
Silverton Hill’s Meantime is in fine racing form more than 48 hours ahead of the Belmont Stakes, trainer Brian Lynch said Thursday morning.
“He’s trained up the race beautifully and we’re up to the part where it’s up to the racing gods,” Lynch said with a laugh outside of his barn. “All the signs heading into the race have been very positive.”
Meantime drew post 9 in the 12-horse Belmont field, which will be just the second career stakes start and first since a runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Peter Pan on May 13. Ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, the chestnut colt is 15-1 on the morning line.
“We probably would have liked to have drawn a little bit closer, but it’s a nice long run to the first turn, so tactically, he should be able to get himself in a good position going into that first turn,” Lynch said. “The post probably isn’t as relevant as they are in sprints. If someone goes early, you can sit off and stalk it rather than be pressured, so maybe the 9 isn’t the worst thing.”
Meantime has surged to the front in his last two races, bolstering his reputation as a pacesetter while going 1-2-1 in his four career starts.
“As long as the pace doesn’t get too hot,” Lynch said about going to the front in the 1 1/2-mile ‘Test of the Champion.’ “In our situation, you’d like to get left alone and dictate the terms. Hopefully, they see us as a longshot and that we’re going to come back to them. The longer they leave us alone, the bigger chance we have.”
With temperatures in Elmont expected to be in the low 80s on Saturday, Lynch said that the conditions could also play in the son of Shackleford’s favor.
“He’s never had the chance to run on a nice dry and fast track, so I hope that goes to his advantage,” Lynch said.