06/07/2017 2:10PM

Belmont Stakes: Lookin At Lee last one dancing

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Barbara D. Livingston
Lookin At Lee will be the only horse to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year.

NEW YORK – There were 22,905 registered foals in North America among the current crop of 3-year-olds, a small percentage of whom made up the 419 who were nominated to the Triple Crown in January, followed by another six in March. And of those 425, just one will run on Saturday in the Belmont Stakes after also competing in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Lookin At Lee is the lone horse who will make all three dances, a task whose difficulty was never more evident than on Wednesday, when Classic Empire – who also had run in both the Derby and Preakness and would have been the favorite in the Belmont – had to come out of the Belmont owing to an abscess in his right front foot.

Classic Empire flew to New York from Kentucky on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, “he wouldn’t put the foot down,” trainer Mark Casse said at his Belmont Park barn.

“He’ll be better as soon as it busts open – he’ll have instant relief – but he can’t run,” Casse said. “He’s been too good to us.”

The right front is the same foot that had an abscess after Classic Empire finished third in the Holy Bull Stakes in his first start of the year on Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park. He did not race again until April 15, when he won the Arkansas Derby, and he then was fourth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness.

Lookin At Lee thus provides the sliver of continuity to the Triple Crown in a year in which different horses won the Derby and Preakness but neither will run in the Belmont, a situation that last occurred in 2010. Lookin At Lee was second in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness. Trainer Steve Asmussen is proud that his colt has the constitution to handle the demands of the Triple Crown, and he’s obviously hoping to come away with a victory on Saturday at Belmont Park.

“He’s a unique horse in how strong he is, how he takes things, how he comes out of his races, how gritty he is, how durable he is,” Asmussen said of Lookin At Lee, who was fourth in the Arkansas Derby in his final Kentucky Derby prep and will be racing for the fourth time in eight weeks. “We realize how fortunate we are.”

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The defection of Classic Empire left a Belmont field of 12 and resulted in Irish War Cry being installed as the favorite for the 1 1/2-mile race on the lines of both Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, and Eric Donovan, who makes the morning line for Belmont Park. Watchmaker has Irish War Cry at 3-1, Donovan 7-2.

Lookin At Lee is 5-1 on both lines. He is the second choice on Watchmaker’s line but the third choice on Donovan’s line, behind the Japanese invader Epicharis, who is 4-1. Epicharis is the co-third choice on Watchmaker’s line with Senior Investment, with both at 6-1.

Irish War Cry landed post 7 and Lookin At Lee post 6 when posts were drawn on Wednesday at a luncheon at Rockefeller Center here. While posts should not matter in such a long race, it was interesting that Patch drew the outside post, just as he did in the Derby, which had a field of 20. The odds of that happening are 240-1.

Irish War Cry, who was 10th in the Derby, is one of five horses – including Gormley, J Boys Echo, Patch, and Tapwrit – who have awaited the Belmont after running in the Derby, an increasingly popular strategy that has produced eight Belmont winners in the last 17 runnings. J Boys Echo picked up a new co-owner on Wednesday, with celebrity chef Bobby Flay purchasing a minority interest. Flay did the same thing before last year’s Belmont with Creator, who won.

Multiplier and Senior Investment did not run in the Derby before finishing sixth and third in the Preakness.

Epicharis, who brings international flavor to this race, is one of four horses – including Hollywood Handsome, Meantime, and Twisted Tom – who did not run in either the Derby or Preakness. Epicharis can win a $1 million bonus if he prevails, an incentive offered by the New York Racing Association to attract horses from Japan.

To run in all three legs of the Triple Crown, a horse must compete in three races in five weeks at three different tracks in three different states at three different distances. Only 12 have won all three races, and that’s only happened once since 1978, when American Pharoah swept the series in 2015.

Rare, too, are the horses who run in all three without having their own Triple Crown bid on the line. There were two such runners last year, none to join American Pharoah in 2015, one in 2014, three in 2013, one in 2012, three in 2011, and one in 2010. Only twice since 2001 has a horse won the Belmont after racing in the Derby and Preakness, with Afleet Alex – who won the Preakness after finishing third in the Derby – in 2005 joining American Pharoah.

The recent trend indicates that it is becoming increasingly harder to run in all three races, with fewer horses trying it. From 1994 to 1996, for instance, all years in which there was not a Triple Crown on the line, the Belmont winner had competed in both the Derby and Preakness. The commonality there, though, is that all three were trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who always has embraced the concept of running in all three if you can. Editor’s Note, who won that 1996 Belmont, was one of five horses in that race who competed in all three Triple Crown races.

Since 1998, when Derby and Preakness runner-up Victory Gallop denied Real Quiet a Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont, just three horses – American Pharoah, Afleet Alex, and Point Given in 2001 – won the Belmont after starts in the Derby and Preakness.

The last time a horse won the Belmont after competing in the Derby and Preakness, and in a year where there was no Derby or Preakness winner in the Belmont, was 1970, with High Echelon.

That is the history Lookin At Lee will be facing on Saturday, history that Classic Empire on Wednesday morning was denied the chance to make.

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2017 BELMONT STAKES FIELD
POST HORSE/SIRE TRACK ODDS WATCHMAKER ODDS BEST BEYER DERBY FINISH, BEYER PREAKNESS FINISH, BEYER JAY PRIVMAN AND MIKE WATCHMAKER COMMENTS
- designates Keeneland Sales grad
1 Twisted Tom 20-1 20-1 78 ** ** JP: Admire the sportsmanship to put up $75,000 supplement but think he's not quite this good yet.
  by Creative Cause           MW: If he weren't a Brown/Castellano production, he'd probably be 3 or 4 times the price he will be.
  Owner: Cobra Farm; Trainer: Chad Brown; Jockey: Javier Castellano
               
2 Tapwrit 6-1 8-1 96 6th, 88 ** JP: Bothered at start in Derby, but was fortunate to split rivals on far turn before rallying up gold rail.
  by Tapit           MW: Gold rail on Oaks Day, but Jay and I disagree about the Derby bias. His Tampa form hasn't held.
  Owner: Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred & Robert LaPenta; Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: Jose Ortiz
               
3 Gormley  8-1 10-1 94 9th, 82 ** JP: SA Derby winner certainly capable on his best day, but never quite know what to expect from him.
  by Malibu Moon           MW: At least he did some running in the Derby before tiring, in line for a good trip, intriguing sort.
  Owner: Mr. & Mrs. Jerome Moss; Trainer: John Shirreffs; Jockey: Victor Espinoza
               
4 J Boys Echo  15-1 15-1 102 15th, 71 ** JP: Shuffled back early and lost position, but never picked up feet at any point. Reunited with Albarado.
  by Mineshaft           MW: Hasn't run back to his perfect setup win over Preakness winner Cloud Computing in the Gotham.
  Owner: Albaugh Family Stable, Bobby Flay; Trainer: Dale Romans; Jockey: Robby Albarado
               
5 Hollywood Handsome 30-1 30-1 88 ** ** JP: Beat elders in allowance race last time while earning career-best fig. Not impossible at big number.
  by Tapizar           MW: Jay must see something in him that I don't, but I won't knock him as he'll be a very big price here.
  Owner: Mark & Nancy Stanley; Trainer: Dallas Stewart; Jockey: Florent Geroux
               
6 Lookin At Lee  5-1 5-1 98 2nd, 98 4th, 94 JP: Closer needs contested pace for his best chance. Cashes many checks, winless in last eight tries.
  by Lookin At Lucky           MW: Got a good pace in Preakness but was outfinished; had a dream trip in Derby, looking elsewhere.
  Owner: L and N Racing; Trainer: Steve Asmussen; Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
               
7 Irish War Cry 7-2 3-1 101 10th, 79 ** JP: Looked like he was going best of all three furlongs out in Derby, but folded while against inside bias.
  by Curlin           MW: Disagree on the bias. Had no excuse in the Derby, but when on his game, he's as good as any 3yo.
  Owner: Isabelle de Tomaso; Trainer: Graham Motion; Jockey: Rajiv Maragh
               
8 Senior Investment  12-1 6-1 95 ** 3rd, 95 JP: Think his long, loping stride will be well suited to Belmont. Definitely has improved in recent starts.
  by Discreetly Mine           MW: His Beyers have improved, but was lucky to win Lexington and just clunked up in the Preakness.
  Owner: Fern Circle Stables; Trainer: Kenny McPeek; Jockey: Channing Hill
               
9 Meantime  15-1 15-1 91 ** ** JP: Think he moves up on off track, which he got last two starts. Should be part of a contested pace.
  by Shackleford           MW: He likes a wet track, but I don't agree he moves up on it. Either way, this is an ambitious spot.
  Owner: Silverton Hill; Trainer: Brian Lynch; Jockey: Mike Smith
               
10 Multiplier  15-1 15-1 94 ** 6th, 94 JP: Thought he had a gorgeous trip in Preakness and simply wasn't good enough against this caliber.
  by The Factor           MW: Not only does he look in deep against even these, he's also sprint-bred top and bottom. Pass.
  Owner: Gary Barber, Adam Wachtel & George Kerr; Trainer: Brendan Walsh; Jockey: Joel Rosario
               
11 Epicharis 4-1 6-1 94 ** ** JP: Made much of the running in UAE Derby before losing narrowly, but question quality of that field.
  by Gold Allure           MW: Didn't deserve to lose in UAE Derby, but that was 11 weeks ago and there's other speed here.
  Owner: U. Carrot Farm; Trainer: Kiyoshi Hagiwara; Jockey: Christophe Lemaire
               
12 Patch 12-1 12-1 89 14th, 74 ** JP: Despite wide Derby post, had fairly clean trip until traffic problems on far turn while being outrun.
  by Union Rags           MW: He figures to absolutely adore the distance. The question is whether he's good or fast enough.
  Owner: Calumet Farm; Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: John Velazquez