By Annie Ross
Tapwrit overtook favored Irish War Cry in the stretch to win by two lengths, giving trainer Todd Pletcher his third career victory in the Belmont Stakes.
He won in 2007 with filly Rags to Riches and in 2013 with Palace Malice.
The first four finishers all followed a well-worn path: run in the Derby, skip the Preakness and come back fresh for the Belmont. Five of the last nine Belmont winners did just that.
Tapwrit finished sixth in the 20-horse Derby after encountering traffic in what Pletcher described as “a sneaky good” race.
“We felt like with the five weeks in between, and with the way this horse had trained, that he had a legitimate chance,” said Pletcher, who is based at Belmont Park. “I think that’s always an advantage.”
Irish War Cry was 10th after pressing the early pace in the May 6 race.
Patch took third in the Belmont after being 14th in the Derby. Gormley, ninth in the Derby, finished fourth Saturday.
Tapwrit paid $12.60, $6.50 and $5 at 5-1 odds.
Irish War Cry returned $4.70 and $3.90 as the 5-2 favorite in front of 57,729 on an 82-degree day. Patch, the one-eyed horse trained by Pletcher, was another 5¾ lengths back in third and paid $6.50 to show.
Pletcher took two of the year’s three Triple Crown races, having saddled Always Dreaming to victory in the Derby.
“The Derby win was awesome,” he said. “The last five weeks have been the ultimate roller coaster. We felt really good coming in that both horses were doing very well. We felt like both horses suited the mile and a half distance. They had the right running styles and the right dispositions and the right pedigrees. Fortunately, it all fell into place.”
Tapwrit, a 3-year-old gray colt, was purchased for $1.2 million, making him the most expensive horse in the field.
He’s co-owned by John and Leslie Malone, who race as Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta, who won the 2008 Belmont when 70-1 shot Da’Tara spoiled Big Brown’s Triple Crown bid.
John Malone is chairman of Liberty Media Corp., whose holdings include Sirius XM radio and the Atlanta Braves.
The $1.5 million race took several hits before the starting gate opened.
It lacked Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing. Classic Empire, the expected favorite, dropped out Wednesday with a foot abscess.
Epicharis, the early 4-1 second choice, was scratched Saturday morning after failing a pre-race veterinary exam. The Japan-based colt had been treated for lameness in his right front hoof earlier in the week.
All that left it a wide-open race, and in the end it was Tapwrit that proved he was up to the grueling 1½-mile challenge.
“Tapwrit was getting a beautiful trip,” Pletcher said. “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 sixteenth, he dug down deep.”