Updated on 06/12/2017 11:32AM

Tapwrit gives Pletcher third Belmont Stakes victory

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Debra A. Roma
Tapwrit, ridden by Jose Ortiz, wins the Belmont Stakes by two lengths over the favored Irish War Cry.

ELMONT, N.Y. – A Triple Crown season that produced three different race winners and ended with a Belmont Stakes that did not include the winners of the Kentucky Derby or Preakness featured one constant, that being the impressive run in the Belmont for trainer Todd Pletcher over the past decade.

Pletcher on Saturday won the Belmont for the third time in the last 11 runnings, this time with Tapwrit, a victory that put bookends for him on this year’s Triple Crown, as Pletcher won the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago with Always Dreaming.

Pletcher thus became the first trainer since D. Wayne Lukas in 1996 to win the Derby and Belmont in the same year with different horses.

Always Dreaming was eighth in the Preakness, after which he got off the Triple Crown trail. Tapwrit, sixth in the Derby, was kept out of the Preakness to point for the Belmont, a schedule that has now produced the winners of nine of the last 18 Belmonts.

That number would increase to 10 for 18 if including Rags to Riches, the filly who 10 years ago captured the Belmont five weeks and a day after winning the Kentucky Oaks. She was Pletcher’s first Belmont winner, and he won his second in 2013 with Palace Malice, who was 12th in his Derby before awaiting the Belmont. Pletcher also has finished second in the Belmont five times.

“It’s our home base, and I think that’s always an advantage,” Pletcher, who has his main stable here at Belmont Park, said of the reason for his success in the race. “We felt like with the five weeks in between, and with the way this horse had trained, he had a legitimate chance.”

Tapwrit ($12.60), the second choice in a field of 11, reeled in the favored Irish War Cry in the final furlong to win by two lengths before a crowd of 57,729. Irish War Cry was second by 5 3/4 lengths over Patch, Pletcher’s other entrant, giving the trainer the first- and third-place finishers in the race.

Gormley was fourth, meaning that of the five horses who ran in the Belmont exiting the Derby, four swept the superfecta. Senior Investment was fifth and was followed by Twisted Tom, Lookin At Lee, Meantime, J Boys Echo, and Multiplier. Hollywood Handsome was eased after an incident on the first turn in which he checked badly in traffic, causing jockey Florent Geroux to lose both irons.

Keith Latson, the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said Hollywood Handsome had a laceration behind his left knee that was through the skin. He said the wound would require surgical staples but described the injury as minor.

Epicharis, the Japanese invader who had been treated since Wednesday for an injury to his right front hoof, was scratched the morning of the race after failing to pass the prerace veterinary exam.

Tapwrit completed 1 1/2 miles on the fast main track in 2:30.02. The win was his fourth in eight starts, with his only prior graded stakes victory the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. He earned $800,000 from the gross purse of $1.5 million to bring his career earnings to more than $1.1 million.

As a son of the wildly popular stallion Tapit, though, Tapwrit’s residual value just skyrocketed. Tapwrit was purchased as a yearling for $1.2 million by a partnership that includes John Malone’s Bridlewood Farm, Robert LaPenta, and the Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners syndicate run by Aron Wellman.

The Belmont was the final stakes on a day that largely belonged to California-based runners. Trainer Bob Baffert won four stakes, including the Met Mile with Mor Spirit and the Acorn with Abel Tasman, and jockey Mike Smith won five stakes, including the Met Mile, Acorn, and the Phipps with the two-time champion filly Songbird.

But the home team got the marquee race of the day.

Pletcher was confident that both Tapwrit and Patch would fire their best shots. Tapwrit, he said, “ran a sneaky-good race in the Derby” after being compromised at the start when Irish War Cry veered in sharply.

“A lot was made of the start of the Derby. He got it as bad as anyone,” Pletcher said. “He ran on well. He was closing at the end of the Derby.”

Tapwrit broke from post 2 and drafted in right behind Irish War Cry, who led through fractions of 23.88 seconds for the quarter, 48.66 for the half, 1:14.01 for six furlongs, and 1:38.95 for a mile.

Jose Ortiz, aboard Tapwrit, was able to get a clear lane nearing the quarter pole and move out several paths from the rail while Irish War Cry hugged the inside under Rajiv Maragh. Tapwrit, perhaps racing in the better footing, proved best late, extracting a measure of revenge on the colt who cost him his best chance at the start of the Derby.

The Belmont win was the first for Ortiz in a Triple Crown race and came one year after his brother, Irad, won his first Triple Crown race in the Belmont with Creator.

Irish War Cry led for the first 11 of the race’s 12 furlongs but could not last.

“I’m very proud of how he ran,” said trainer Graham Motion. “We hadn’t intended to be on the lead. Rajiv kind of went to Plan B. He did a great job. He slowed it down. About the eighth pole, I felt pretty good. But it’s a long way, the Belmont. He ran a very game race. He certainly showed that he’s legit.

“But it’s tough to get run down like that. The Haskell,” Motion said, referring to the major 3-year-old race at Monmouth named for the father of owner Isabelle de Tomaso, “has always been our goal, and I think it will still be our goal.”

Pletcher and Wellman had suffered a similar, even more excruciating loss in last year’s Belmont, where Destin – whom Eclipse owns in partnership – droped a nose decision to Creator.

A year later, they were on top in the Belmont. For Pletcher, the past five weeks alone provided similar highs and lows, with classic wins in the Derby and Belmont surrounding Always Dreaming’s poor performance in the Preakness.

“Each stands on its own as a major, major race,” Pletcher said of winning the Derby and Belmont in the same year. “The Derby win was awesome. The ebbs and flows of the game are well documented, and the last five weeks have been the ultimate roller coaster.”

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch