05/29/2017 1:46PM

Ortiz brings winning touch to Lookin At Lee

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Barbara D. Livingston
Irad Ortiz Jr. won last year's Belmont Stakes on Creator, and he takes over aboard Lookin At Lee (above) for this year's Belmont.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said it wasn’t easy to sit out the first two legs of this year’s Triple Crown. He had opportunities to ride the Kentucky Derby but turned them down to ride in New York that day and won two stakes. He did not have the opportunity to ride the Preakness, even though he had ridden Cloud Computing, the Preakness winner, in his previous start.

“It was a little hard; you want to be in those races,” Ortiz said Monday at Belmont Park. “You never know what’s going to happen. Any horse can win [the Derby], but at the end of day, we made the right decision.”

Ortiz will be back in the Triple Crown picture in the 149th Belmont Stakes when he rides Lookin At Lee, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, in the “Test of the Champion.”

The last time Ortiz rode in a Triple Crown race, he won last year’s Belmont aboard Creator, giving the Steve Asmussen-trained runner a sensational ride and catching Destin in the final jump. Ortiz picked up the mount on Creator after Asmussen opted to go with a locally based jockey rather than sticking with Ricardo Santana Jr., who had ridden him in the Kentucky Derby.

Ortiz is once again the benefactor of that thinking as Asmussen, the trainer of Lookin At Lee, has tabbed Ortiz to replace Corey Lanerie, who rode the horse in the Kentucky Derby and to a fourth-place finish in the Preakness.

“I’m so excited. I can’t wait to ride in the Belmont,” Ortiz said. “I watched the Derby and the Preakness. He’s an honest horse. He ran good both times, so hopefully he repeats and stays at the same level. Hopefully, we can do a good job with him, maybe improve. Who knows?”

Lookin At Lee has a running style similar to that of Creator, who was 10th early on in a 13-horse Belmont Stakes field before advancing along the inside down the backside, splitting horses in the stretch, and catching Destin at the wire.

A large field – possibly as many as 14 horses– is expected for this year’s Belmont. There figures to be speed, and Ortiz knows one thing about Lookin At Lee.

“He always comes running,” he said.

Lookin At Lee was originally scheduled to breeze at Belmont Park on Monday, but that workout was scrapped due to the wet tracks from morning rain. Asmussen, via text, said Lookin At Lee will now have just one workout leading up to the Belmont, presumably next Monday.

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In other Belmont Stakes news:

◗ In Japan on Monday, Epicharis worked five furlongs in 1:04.90 over a flat woodchip course at the Miho Training Center, where the 3-year-old is quarantined.

“He moved better than in his previous work, and everything is going as planned so far,” trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwari told Japanese officials. “He has been behaving well at the isolated quarantine. There is nothing much we can do here anymore. Vets will be traveling with him and monitoring him all the way, and my assistant will be at Belmont to prepare to receive him one day before [he arrives], so I have no worries.”

Epicharis is scheduled to arrive in New York on Thursday. His first day on the track likely will be Saturday.

◗ Owner Tom McKenna said Monday that Conquest Mo Money is being considered for both the Belmont Stakes and the Grade 2 Woody Stephens, a seven-furlong race on the same card.

McKenna said Conquest Mo Money is galloping at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland under the supervision of trainer Tres Abbott and that a decision will be made this week.

Conquest Mo Money, second to likely Belmont favorite Classic Empire in the Arkansas Derby, finished seventh in the Preakness.

◗ Hollywood Handsome and Irap have been removed from consideration for the Belmont Stakes and instead will run in the $500,000 Ohio Derby on June 24, according to their respective trainers, Dallas Stewart and Doug O’Neill.
– additional reporting
by Steve Andersen

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
Irish War Cry Graham Motion Rajiv Maragh Ky. Derby, 10th
J Boys Echo Dale Romans undecided Ky. Derby, 15th
Lookin At Lee Steve Asmussen Irad Ortiz, Jr. Preakness, 4th
Meantime Brian Lynch Mike Smith Peter Pan, 2nd
Multiplier Brendan Walsh Joel Rosario Preakness, 6th
Patch Todd Pletcher John Velazquez Ky. Derby, 14th
Senior Investment Kenny McPeek Channing Hill Preakness, 3rd
Tapwrit Todd Pletcher Jose Ortiz Ky. Derby, 6th
True Timber Kiaran McLaughlin undecided Sir Barton, 3rd
Twisted Tom Chad Brown Javier Castellano Tesio, 1st