For a second year in a row, horseracing’s Triple Crown will see three different thoroughbreds in the winner’s circle.
The 149th running of the Belmont Stakes this Saturday won’t include the Kentucky Derby (Always Dreaming) or Preakness (Cloud Computing) winners but could attract its largest field since a record 15 broke from the starting gate in 1983.
While neither of the first two Triple Crown race winners will compete in the 1-½ mile “Test of the Champion,” marking the first such case since 2010, Derby and Preakness runners-up, Lookin At Lee and Classic Empire, respectively, are set to go along with Epicharis, J Boys Echo, Meantime, Multiplier, Senior Investment, Tapwrit, True Timber and Twisted Tom. Other potential starters include Conquest Mo Money, Gormley, Irish War Cry and Patch.
Japanese invader Epicharis, one of the top 3-year-olds in Japan, is confirmed to make his North American debut in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, the highlight of a 13-race card that includes seven Grade 1’s.
Owned by the U. Carrot Farm racing syndicate, Epicharis already had earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a three-quarter-length victory in the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse and a strong runner-up effort to Derby-bound Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby. The syndicate elected to bypass the Derby for an opportunity to run in the Belmont to allow the colt ample time to recover from the travel and racing demands of the UAE Derby, said trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara.
“I am very honored to participate in the Belmont Stakes,” Hagiwara said. “Epicharis ran well at the UAE Derby and proved himself deserving of the Triple Crown challenge.
“When he arrived in Japan from Dubai, he was bit tired from traveling and we wanted to give him enough time, thus we had to pass on Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes,” he added. “Now, he is completely recovered and he is doing well, so we decided to try the Belmont Stakes. He is bred to stay and, the way he races, I believe 1 ½ miles at Belmont suits him.”
Additionally, Epicharis' presence in the Belmont Stakes is widely expected to open the race for pari-mutuel wagering in Japan, making it the first U.S. Triple Crown race available for simulcast in the country.
Classic Empire, nipped in the final strides by Cloud Computing in the Preakness after a troubled-trip fourth in the Derby, is ranked atop the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) 3-year-old poll and the likely Belmont favorite.
Lookin At Lee is fourth in the NTRA poll and will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr, who steered Creator to a thrilling win from off the pace in last year’s Belmont by a nose over Destin.
Tapwrit, winner of the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in March and sixth in the Kentucky Derby last time out, and trained by Todd Pletcher, worked five furlongs in 1:02.25 at Belmont on May 27 under regular jockey Jose Ortiz. “I thought Tapwrit worked well; he's not an overzealous workhorse but we got a good solid five-eighths into him on what I'd describe as a relatively slow training track,” Pletcher said.
Gormley (9th in the Derby), Irish War Cry (10th), Patch (14th), J Boys Echo (15th), Senior Investment (3rd in Preakness), Multiplier (6th) and Conquest Mo Money (7th) could all make their second Triple Crown start.
For tickets and more information, visit www.belmontstakes.com.