05/22/2017 2:30PM

Belmont Doings: Classic Empire, Japanese invader Epicharis likely to run

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Mathea Kelley/Dubai Racing Club
Epicharis (right), finishing second to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby at Meydan, will come from Japan for the Belmont Stakes.

There will be no Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes, and it’s likely that the race won’t have the Kentucky Derby or Preakness winner. But what it will have is the unluckiest horse in this year’s Triple Crown, Classic Empire, as well as international intrigue with the Japanese invader Epicharis, as part of a card whose Breeders’ Cup-style quality will serve Belmont Park well this year without the marquee attraction of having a Triple Crown on the line.

There’s no doubt a Triple Crown attempt would have been the preferred scenario for the New York Racing Association, but the eighth-place finish in the Preakness Stakes by Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming ended that hope on Saturday. This, though, will be a year when the consolidation of top-class races like the Met Mile, Manhattan, Ogden Phipps, and Just a Game to the Belmont Stakes card will make the June 10 program a compelling day of racing regardless.

As of Monday, there were 13 3-year-olds who were being considered for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. Neither Always Dreaming nor Cloud Computing, the Preakness winner, are on that list, and though they haven’t been officially ruled out, indications are that neither will run, hence their absence from Daily Racing Form’s accompanying list of prospective runners.

The last time different horses won the Derby and Preakness and neither competed in the Belmont was 2010. The last time the Belmont did not have a Derby or Preakness winner was 2012, when I’ll Have Another was scratched with a career-ending injury the day before he would have bid for the Triple Crown.

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Cloud Computing returned to Belmont Park on Sunday, less than 24 hours after his Preakness victory. The Preakness was only his fourth start and came off a six-week break. Trainer Chad Brown said he’d wait until the end of the week to decide on the Belmont in consultation with owners Seth Klarman and William Lawrence. It seemed most likely, though, that Cloud Computing would be pointed for the Travers, with a prep in something like the Jim Dandy, both of those races at Saratoga.

As a result, Classic Empire, last year’s champion 2-year-old male, would be the likely favorite in the Belmont. He was fourth in the Derby after getting clobbered at the start, then was a gallant second in the Preakness, getting nailed late by Cloud Computing after putting away Always Dreaming.

“The Preakness was easier on him than the Derby,” said his trainer, Mark Casse, adding that he won’t “have to do a whole lot” with Classic Empire in the three weeks between races since he’s fit from the recent races.

Lookin At Lee, who was fourth in the Preakness after running second in the Derby, would join Classic Empire as the only two horses in this year’s Triple Crown to run in all three races.

“You don’t get a tremendous amount of variables from him,” said his trainer, Steve Asmussen. “The only variables are things out of his control, like track condition and the pace scenario.”

The presence of Epicharis will give the Belmont some added spark. Based in Japan, Epicharis is scheduled to arrive in New York on June 1, with the Belmont his first start since he was second in the United Arab Emirates Derby nearly two months ago. He can pick up a $1 million bonus if he wins the Belmont, an alluring enticement from NYRA, which has seen increasingly successful recruitment of international raiders under the leadership of Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations.

Both Brown and Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Always Dreaming, still are expected to have runners in the race. Brown is looking seriously at the Belmont with Twisted Tom, the winner of the Federico Tesio Stakes.

“He wants a mile and a half,” Brown said.

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Twisted Tom was not nominated to the Triple Crown, so it would cost $75,000 to supplement him to the race. Brown said the owners would be amenable to taking on partners, either for the Belmont alone or long term.

As for Pletcher, Tapwrit is a likely starter, and Patch is under consideration, too. Both ran in the Derby – Tapwrit was sixth, Patch 14th – and then skipped the Preakness, the same schedule used by potential Belmont runners Gormley (ninth in the Derby), Irap (18th), and J Boys Echo (15th). Pletcher got both of his Belmont Stakes wins – with Rags to Riches and Palace Malice – with horses who came into the race off five-week breaks.

Others being considered for the Belmont include Conquest Mo Money, Multiplier, and Senior Investment, who did not run in the Derby and then were seventh, sixth, and third in the Preakness, and Meantime, who was second in the Peter Pan and did not run in either the Derby or Preakness.

Many of the Belmont riding assignments are unconfirmed, with John Velazquez and Javier Castellano, who won the Derby and Preakness, respectively, looking as though they’ll need new mounts for the Belmont.

– additional reporting by David Grening

POSSIBLE BELMONT STAKES CONTENDERS
HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY LAST RACE/FINISH
Classic Empire  Mark Casse Julien Leparoux Preakness, 2nd
Conquest Mo Money Miguel Hernandez undecided Preakness, 7th
Epicharis Kiyoshi Hagiwara Christophe Lemaire UAE Derby, 2nd
Gormley John Shirreffs Victor Espinoza Ky. Derby, 9th
Irap Doug O’Neill Mario Gutierrez Ky. Derby, 18th
J Boys Echo Dale Romans undecided Ky. Derby, 15th
Lookin At Lee Steve Asmussen undecided Preakness, 4th
Meantime Brian Lynch undecided Peter Pan, 2nd
Multiplier Brendan Walsh undecided Preakness, 6th
Patch Todd Pletcher undecided Ky. Derby, 14th
Senior Investment Kenny McPeek Channing Hill Preakness, 3rd
Tapwrit Todd Pletcher Jose Ortiz Ky. Derby, 6th
Twisted Tom Chad Brown undecided Tesio, 1st