- Despite a small draw and lack of historical context, Tapwrit's late surge provided all the drama the Belmont Stakes needed.
ELMONT, N.Y. — Tapwrit found enough push late in Saturday’s edition of the Belmont Stakes to sneak by favorite Irish War Cry and emerge victorious in the final moments. The Belmont may be a two-and-a-half minute sprint, but in the fast-paced world of horse racing it can feel like an agonizing marathon; often the horse that can strike late in the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown emerges victorious. Tapwrit did just that Saturday, digging up the last of the sun-caked earth between him and the Belmont Park finish line and leaving trainer Todd Pletcher exultant.
“It could not have unfolded any better,” said Pletcher, who took Triple Crown hopeful Always Dreaming into the Preakness this spring but saw the Kentucky Derby-winning horse falter and finish eighth. After Pimlico, it was a sweet victory for Pletcher. Jockey Jose Ortiz Jr. rode the gray colt, who finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness.
Always Dreaming’s loss to surprise winner Cloud Computing at the Preakness stripped this year’s Belmont of any Triple Crown drama. Despite a sparkling, summery June day at Belmont Park, the race drew an announced crowd of 57,729. It was the race’s smallest turnout since 2013 and a far cry from the 90,000 that watched American Pharoah end the sport’s 37-year Triple Crown drought two years ago.
“It’s still a big event, but, you know, it’s not the event,” said trainer Bob Baffert of this year’s Belmont after his horse Mor Spirit won the Metropolitan Handicap earlier in the day. Baffert knows the power of the Triple Crown: he trained American Pharoah in 2015. But he said even without one up for grabs, the Belmont is "still a classic, so the people that are in it are pretty excited.”
This year, the classic race’s field seemed to open wide. Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing both skipped the 149th running of the Belmont, and news broke Wednesday that would-be favorite Classic Empire could not make the race due to a hoof abscess. The already thin group of remaining horses lost another one of its favorites when Japan-based Epicharis failed the pre-race veterinary exam.
So Irish War Cry, who struggled his way to 10th at the Kentucky Derby and took the Preakness off, entered the race as the favorite in a hollowed-out field. Still, few seemed unduly confident about any single horse in the race.
Running in first from the start, Irish War Cry seemed to have a shot at holding onto his front-runner status through the race’s finish. The chestnut colt led through more than a mile, but the final quarter-mile belonged to Tapwrit, who won by two lengths.
If Irish War Cry’s jockey, Rajiv Maragh, was disappointed in coming up just short, he didn’t show it after the race. He said he felt good about his horse going into the post, and that his horse ran the race accordingly.
“I was a lot more disappointed after the Derby, because I know what the horse is capable of, and [he] didn’t show it on Derby day,” Maragh said. “So at least today he showed some of his true colors, so I’m really happy about that.”
Coming up in third behind Irish War Cry was another horse trained by Pletcher: Patch, the one-eyed horse who lost his left eye due to an infection. (His name is, ironically, not derived from the missing eye.) So if the Belmont belonged to anybody, it was Pletcher, who had won the race twice before. Pletcher won it in 2007 with Rags to Riches, Patch’s sire, and with Palace Malice in 2013.
Sure, Pletcher and the horse racing world came up short of a triple crown in 2017. But having won two out of the three legs and trained two of the top three finishers at the Belmont, Pletcher didn’t harp on the missed opportunity. “Each of these races individually stand on their own as major, major races and huge wins,” he said.
And while it may have been an anti-climatic Triple Crown, the finish to its final leg was anything but.