By Kevin Martin
On Wednesday morning it was announced that the expected favorite for this Saturday's Belmont Stakes, Classic Empire, would miss the race due to a foot abscess. He is expected to return to the races this summer but the talented colt will miss his last chance to add a Triple Crown race to his resume. Even with his defection, the race remains an important and potentially career defining moment for the field of twelve talented colts.
Of the expected entries, the Japanese import Epicharis stands as the most intriguing of the bunch. After four-straight wins in his native Japan, he last raced in the UAE Derby at Meydan where he finished second by a nose behind winner Thunder Snow. Thunder Snow went on to have a terrible Kentucky Derby where his bad behavior out of the starting gate forced his jockey to pull him up and out of the race. Since his Derby debacle, Thunder Snow finished second in the prestigious Irish 2000 Guineas. Thunder Snow's most recent performance further flatters Epicharis' already formidable career resume. If Epicharis wins the Belmont Stakes, he'd become the first colt that has raced in Japan to win an American Triple Crown race.
Irish War Cry was among the favorites in the Kentucky Derby but weakened in the stretch and finished a distant 10th. After the race, his trainer Graham Motion said his runner would likely skip the remaining Triple Crown races and rest for a summer campaign. That plan changed when his colt's eagerness in morning workouts convinced Motion to take a shot in the Belmont. Earlier in the year, this son of the mighty Curlin, beat eventual Preakness winner Cloud Computing in the Wood Memorial in New York. When Irish War Cry runs to his potential he is among the best of this year's 3-year-olds, but when he runs poorly, as he has twice now this year, he is awful. The mystery is which horse will show up on Saturday. He is a major contender and a likely winner if the right Irish War Cry shows up.
Lookin At Lee is the only entry that will race in all three 2017 Triple Crown races. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby and followed that with a fourth in the Preakness. Lookin at Lee has cashed some big checks in major races for his owners but he has raced eleven times with just two wins and hasn't crossed the wire first since last August. He could very well score another top four finish, but he is unlikely to find himself in the winner's circle in New York.
Tapwrit, Patch, and J Boys Echo are the three runners that competed in the Derby but skipped the Preakness. Of the trio, Tapwrit ran best finishing sixth with traffic trouble that hindered his chances for a better finish. He is trained by Todd Pletcher who won the Kentucky Derby with Always Dreaming. Tapwrit has the best bloodlines in the field, boasts a graded stakes win on his past performances, and would not surprise should he give his trainer another win in the 2017 Triple Crown series.
Of the potential longshots, Twisted Tom is worth considering. His trainer Chad Brown is arguably the best trainer in the country and added to his already impressive resume when he won this year's Preakness with Cloud Computing. While Twisted Tom's career so far doesn't inspire confidence he can win a Grade 1 race, trainer Brown told the Bloodhorse Magazine that the Belmont Stakes has been his target since the colt won the Tesio Stakes in Baltimore last month. Twisted Tom does not run particularly fast but he has the steady, even-paced running style that sometimes wins the Belmont through attrition. He doesn't look like much on paper but he is an interesting player at a potentially big price.
The Belmont Stakes headlines a huge day of major races at the historic track in Elmont, New York on Saturday. Post time for the Belmont is 6:37 PM ET.
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