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ELMONT, NY – Tapwrit handed trainer Todd Pletcher his third career victory in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, taking aim on front-running favorite Irish War Cry at the top of the stretch and then surging into the lead in the final yards to win by 2 lengths in the 149th edition of the ‘Test of the Champion’ at Belmont Park.
Expertly handled by Jose Ortiz (whose older brother, Irad Ortiz, Jr., won last year’s Belmont aboard Creator) Tapwrit enjoyed a ground-saving trip in third as jockey Rajiv Maragh sent Irish War Cry through moderate fractions of :23.88, :48.66, 1:14.01, 1:38.95, and 2:04.10.
Irish War Cry appeared to have the race in hand turning for home and held a length advantage over Tapwrit in the upper stretch, but under left-handed urging from Ortiz, Tapwrit kicked into high gear to wrest control with 100 yards left and ran on for victory.
“Tapwrit was getting a beautiful trip,” said Pletcher. “It was everything we talked about in the paddock before the race. We were hoping he had enough when it came to crunch time. It looked like Irish War Cry still had a little something left, but the last 1/16, he dug down deep.”
Tapwrit’s winning time for 1 1/2 miles was 2:30.02.
It was the second victory in five starts this year for the gray son of Tapit, who took the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in March in impressive fashion but subsequently finished fifth in the Grade 2 Blue Grass and then sixth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. Pletcher held the colt out of the Preakness, the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown, a move that resulted in Tapwrit becoming the fourth Belmont winner in the past six years to take that path.
“(Belmont Park) is our home base, and I think that’s always an advantage,” said Pletcher, who won the Belmont in 2007 with the filly Rags to Riches and in 2013 with Palace Malice, as well as getting narrowly beaten with Destin in last year’s edition. “We felt like, with the five weeks in between and with the way this horse had trained, that he had a legitimate chance.”
Irish War Cry held on to finish 5 3/4 lengths head of Patch – also trained by Pletcher – with Gormley along for fourth.
“It actually wasn’t our plan to be on the lead,” said Graham Motion, trainer of the beaten favorite. “We kind of hoped that somebody else would go for it, but he had to go to Plan B, and Rajiv did a great job. At the 1/8 pole, I thought we might be home free, but it’s the Belmont. It’s a tough race.”
Sent off as the 5-1 second choice in the field of 11, Tapwrit earned $800,000 for his owners, Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Robert LaPenta. With a record of 4-1-0 from eight starts, he’s earned $1,143,902, almost as much as his purchase price of $1.2 million at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton yearling sales in Saratoga Springs, New York.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling that I can’t explain,” said Ortiz, the leading rider on the New York Racing Association circuit in 2016. “The distance, I was sure he could handle it. It was a great training job by Todd. I always liked him, and we always had a lot of faith in him. Today, he showed up. I’m very happy.”
Completing the order of finish were Senior Investment, Twisted Tom, Lookin At Lee – the only horse to have competed in all three legs of racing’s Triple Crown – Meantime, J Boys Echo, Multiplier, and Hollywood Handsome, who was eased halfway through the race after his jockey, Florent Geroux, lost the stirrups. Hollywood Handsome was vanned off as a precaution, but early reports indicate that he returned sound. Epicharis was scratched Saturday morning due to continuing inflammation in his right front hoof.
Tapwrit returned $12.60, $6.50, and $5. Irish War Cry brought back $4.70 and $3.90, while Patch paid $6.50 to show.
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Jockey Jose Ortiz, Tapwrit: “I’m very happy right now. I’m happy for the owners and for Todd (Pletcher) for giving me the opportunity.”
Trainer Graham Motion, Irish War Cry: “I’m very proud of how he ran. I thought he ran a very game race. Yes, it’s very vindicating – for the horse and for me and the owners and everyone. I thought he ran very game, honestly.”
Jockey Rajiv Maragh, Irish War Cry: “He ran a real good race. He tried hard to the end. When I straightened up, I had horse left, and I knew it was going to take a really big run from another hose to catch me. I was pretty confident turning for home. I saw the other horse coming, and obviously, a race of this magnitude I’m going to ride hard to the wire, and even when I was ahead, you know they’re going to be coming at you, but my horse never really gave up. He ran hard to the end, he just got a little bit overpowered late in the race, but I’m proud of his effort.
“I was more disappointed in the Kentucky Derby, but I felt like I had a good shot at winning turning for home. I didn’t want to get any emotions come and cloud my judgement, so I kind of just rode my race. It was a little bittersweet. When you get that close to winning the Belmont Stakes, and finishing second, but the horse came back and showed his true colors, and I’m glad he showed up and ran this race today. He ran hard.”
Jockey John Velazquez, Patch: “He ran a very good race, good trip. The whole race, that’s where we broke, and where we were, I thought he ran a good race. He finished up really well. He can run with a good kick.”
Trainer John Shirreffs, Gormley: “I thought he ran really well. I’m pleased with the effort he made. He bobbled a little out of the gate, but he recovered nicely. I thought he ran a very creditable race. Victor (Espinoza) said he started looking around a little bit, so we probably can improve on that. This is the first time he’s gone the mile and a 1/2, and they are young 3-year-olds. I didn’t think the distance was a problem for him. When the horse came back, he wasn’t breathing all that hard. We’ll take him back to California, and we may come back east with him. It depends upon how things are going. If they’re going well, there’s a possibility of Saratoga.”
Jockey Victor Espinoza, Gormley: “I think he ran a great race. He missed the break. He stumbled a little bit because he was moving around, and the other two horses (next to him) squeezed me just a little, but he’s quick, so I thought I could get out of that mess and sit just off the speed. I had an excellent trip, but down the lane, he was still just a little immature. He really didn’t help me to go forward. I have to believe that blinkers would help him. As he gets older, I believe that he’s going to improve.”
Jockey Florent Geroux, Hollywood Handsome: “I got squeezed pretty hard coming into the first turn. My horse clipped heels. I almost went down and I lost my stirrup. He was bleeding underneath his leg, it looked like.”
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