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Saturday December 16 2017
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Belmont Stakes: The Final Countdown

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The final leg of the Triple Crown in North American horse racing comes Saturday in the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes. Irish War Cry (7/2) and Lookin At Lee (5-1) stand as early favorites for the Grade-1 race in New York

Many took June 6, 2015 for granted.

For the select crowd of horse racing enthusiasts, it was a date to never forget.

American Pharaoh left the gate at Belmont Park and immediately grabbed the lead over rival Materiality.

The Bob Baffert trained colt took the sweeping turn of the Big Sandy like a true pro, leading the pack around the first quarter pole at :24.06, with soon-to-be Hall of Famer, Victor Espinoza not needing to ask much from the dark brown bay son of Pioneerof the Nile.

The rest was history.

The half pole at :48.83.  The mile at 1:37.99.  Goosebumps from the more than 50,000 in attendance growing into full blown pimples.  The legendary horse racing announcer, Larry Collmus and his unforgettable call down the stretch of the final furlong.  A 37-year gap finally closed. 

America got its first palpable taste of horse racing excellence in just under four decades when American Pharaoh lived up to his name, becoming the first to take down all three jewels of the Triple Crown since the epic 1973 reign of Secretariat.

Two years later, we won’t be served a plate of greatness to that magnitude, but the dining options in the 2017 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets are still palatable for the excitement-seeker.

The 149th running of the mile and a half race will highlight a race card that boasts six Grade-1 races, which are the most to be run at one track in a day this year outside of the Breeders’ Cup.

Frontrunner Classic Empire, who finished second to Cloud Computing in the Preakness, was pulled out of the race several weeks ago due to multiple reports of an abscess on his foot.  With Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming also out, many have looked at this Belmont lineup to be one of the more underwhelming in recent years.

As it is, six Kentucky Derby runners, including Lookin At Lee (6-1) and Irish War Cry (7-2), as well as Preakness runners, Multiplier (15-1) and third-place finisher Senior Investment will run in North America’s longest dirt race Saturday evening.

Here are several headlines to watch for prior to the big race.

“Hoof-gate”

Epicharis (Gold Allure), who bypassed the Kentucky Derby for Saturday’s race, has been under the most scrutiny in the lead up to the race, due to a right front hoof issue, which has kept the Japanese colt quarantined, and away from training for much of the week.

Scattered reports have circulated around the track over the last 48 hours, with Daily Racing Forum recently reporting that the horse was fitted with a glue-on shoe after being treated with Butazolidin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug for the short-term treatment of pain.

The Kiyoshi Hagiwara-trained colt is still active and on for the Belmont Stakes.  A runner-up in the U.A.B Derby, which was raced 11 weeks ago, and marked the last time the horse ran in competition, Epicharis stands as one of the favorites at 4-1 odds.  Despite just two races in his career, Epicharis, like Cloud Computing, who won the Preakness in May, has brief-but-promising highlights, with a solid start-to-finish consistent pace that makes for a perfect match in the arduous distance 12-furlong distance that the 12-horse field will be up against.

Despite the abundance of money that will be left on the table if he’s not raced, Epicharis will more than likely turn out to be a late scratch if there are no signs of improvement with his injury. 

Epicharis is best known for the epic finish in this year’s U.A.E Derby, in which Thunder Snow, a Kentucky Derby runner, edged the three-year-old, who carried a lead for much of the race, by a nose length. 

Pacesetting in abundance

While Epicharis has closing speed, he will certainly join the bevy of contenders in this race that will all have the same agenda: grab the pace and anchor the pack early.

Maybe the most well-known pacesetter in this race, Irish War Cry (Curlin) will certainly jump out early for a piece of the lead.  The New Jersey-bred horse will join the one-eyed underdog, Patch (Union Rags) as the fan-favorites coming into the race.  Finishing an underwhelming 10th in the Kentucky Derby, Irish War Cry fell victim to the turn and stretch at Churchill Downs, simply not carrying a consistent run to finish the mile and ¼ run, which the colt put up a brutal 79 Beyer speed rating.  The mile and a half extension will be no easier ride for Irish War Cry or Patch, who should expect to run at a faster opening pace on a fast track.

Chad Brown will look to pull another Preakness- Cloud Computing stunner with his pacesetting longshot, Twisted Tom (Creative Cause), who comes in at 20-1, and only earned his spot in Saturday’s field because of a $75,000 supplement fee, which is required for horses that failed to qualify for the stakes race.  Even with Javier Castellano aboard, Twisted Tom stands with Senior Investment and Hollywood Handsome (Tapizar) as big price dreamers.

Kentucky Derby: Part Deux

The most intriguing portion of this field is those that competed in Run for the Roses last May.

Gormley (Malibu Moon) and Lookin At Lee (Lookin At Lucky) highlight the crop that dueled at Churchill Downs.  The most competitive seems to be that of the latter, who finished a clean second behind Derby champ, Always Dreaming, and held his own in a fourth-place finish at the Preakness in a race filled with underrated talent.  The waterlogged course at Churchill Downs, and a surgical, rail-hugging run made for the perfect elixir to success in the Derby for Lookin At Lee, who will find himself a beneficiary to the horde of pacesetters that should push a solid pace for the ultimate closer of the field to execute his best run at the stretch.  Irad Oritz Jr. will pick up the mount this time in Corey Lanerie’s stead.  Despite his consistent stretch of landing on the board, Lookin At Lee has not won a race in eight starts, but will be the only horse to have run in all three legs of the 2017 Triple Crown.

Gormley has been the most promising of an otherwise empty cupboard of west coast talent in the department of three-year-old colts.  The Santa Anita Derby winner had a miserable ninth-place run in the Derby.  The John Shirreffs-trained horse has put together a rollercoaster career on the track so far, with a first-place finish in the (G1) Frontrunner followed by a brutal seventh-place run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, to his (G1) Sham and Santa Anita Derby wins to his futile run at Churchill Downs.  With stalking pace, Gormley will sit behind the lead and look for a slingshot opportunity by the turn.  The question will be if he can handle the length, and if the pace will be the right tempo for the horse that needs it all to go right for success. 

Tapwrit (Tapit) finished a much better sixth-place in the Derby (even with a brutal start), but like Gormley, will need a good bit to go right to stalk the pace and hit the lead at the right time.  Trained by Todd Pletcher and saddled by Jose Ortiz, Tapwrit poses a big threat to this field, and may end up as a post-time favorite.  The (G2) Tampa Bay Derby winner might not have the Grade-1 credentials many wish to see at a time like this, but he has shown he can keep pace with the best of them in adverse conditions.  If he can get things to finally go right at the starting gate to the quarter pole, Tapwrit may just land in the winner’s circle.

Don’t let the big names, buzz talk fool you

I’m circling ‘big money’ Mike Smith when articulating this very crucial caveat to horse racing handicapping.  While the hall of fame jockey has been white-hot of recent, racing longshot Abel Tasman to a Kentucky Oaks stunner in May, his horse, Meantime (Shackleford) poses too many red flags to possibly trust with an investment in Saturday’s race.  With a sunny day expected in Elmont, the track will be fast and that will spell disaster for a horse who, like Exaggerator and Creator, last year’s Belmont Stakes champ, runs his best on an off-track.  Smith will surely tell you himself that there is only so much a jockey can do. 

Patch, who took everybody's heart by storm at the Kentucky Derby, certainly failed to put money in pockets.  The horse that lost his left eye due to a tumor is truly a great story; and is the one Pletcher horse that is truly America's underdog.  That being said, Patch is not the horse you would want to wager on in a mile and a half race where consistency for the horse has been left desired. 

J Boys Echo (Mineshaft) has been full of buzz talk, alongside Senior Investment (Discreetly Mine).  Dale Romans has expectedly flaunted his horse in J Boys Echo, and the breeze times—like they have been for most in this field—were worthy of promotion.  Don’t be tricked.  Both J Boys Echo and Senior Investment do not fare well against G1/G2 competition.  Sometimes trends are meant to be followed.  In the case for these horses, it applies.

The third-place finisher in the Preakness, Senior Investment is trained by Kenny McPeek, who saddled the 70-1 bomber Sarava to an upset win in the 2002 Belmont Stakes. 

Handicap time

The Belmont Stakes has always been the serendipitous wild ride due to the uncharted territory of length.  To hone in on one winner would be a difficult errand to run, and one many should not plan to follow.  Exotics are the way to go in a race like this.

Predictions

Exacta Box: Tapwrit, Epicharis

Trifecta Box: Tapwrit, Epicharis, Lookin At Lee.

*In the event Epicharis becomes a late scratch, Gormley should replace him on all tickets.

PP Horse Odds

1 Twisted Tom (20-1)

Owner: Cobra Farm

Trainer: Chad Brown

Jockey: Javier Castellano

No. 2 Tapwrit (6-1)

Owner: Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

No. 3 Gormley (8-1)

Owner: Jerry and Ann Moss

Trainer: John Shirreffs

Jockey: Victor Espinoza

No. 4 J Boys Echo (15-1)

Owner: Albaugh Family Stable

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: Robby Albarado

No. 5 Hollywood Handsome (30-1)

Owner: Mark and Nancy Stanley

Trainer: Dallas Stewart

Jockey: Florent Geroux

No. 6 Lookin at Lee (5-1)

Owner: L and N Racing

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

No. 7 Irish War Cry (7-2)

Owner: Isabelle de Tomaso

Trainer: Graham Motion

Jockey: Rajiv Maragh

No. 8 Senior Investment (12-1)

Owner: Fern Circle Stables

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Jockey: Channing Hill

9 Meantime (15-1)

Owner: Silverton Hill LLC

Trainer: Brian Lynch

Jockey: Mike Smith

10 Multiplier (15-1)

Owner: Gary Barber, Adam Wachtel and George Kerr

Trainer: Brendan Walsh

Jockey: Joel Rosario

11 Epicharis (4-1)

Owner: U Carrot Farm

Trainer: Kiyoshi Hagiwara

Jockey: Christophe Lemaire

12 Patch (12-1)

Owner: Calumet Farm

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: John Velazquez

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