The road to the winner’s circle in the Belmont Stakes ran through the Kentucky Derby, even if the Derby and Preakness winners skipped the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Tapwrit overtook the favoured Irish War Cry in the straight to win by two lengths on Saturday (Sunday AEST), giving trainer Todd Pletcher his third victory in the Belmont after Rags to Riches (2007) and Palace Malice (2013).
The first four all followed a well-worn path – run in the Derby, miss the Preakness and come back fresh for the Belmont. Five of the past nine Belmont winners did just that.
Tapwrit finished sixth in the 20-horse Derby after encountering traffic.
“We felt like with the five weeks in between, and with the way this horse had trained, that he had a legitimate chance,” Pletcher said.
Irish War Cry was 10th in the Derby while Belmont third-placed Patch, the one-eyed horse also trained by Pletcher, ran 14th.
Pletcher took two of the year’s three Triple Crown races, having saddled Always Dreaming to victory in the Derby.
“The Derby win was awesome,” he said.
“The last five weeks have been the ultimate roller coaster. We felt really good coming in that both horses were doing very well. We felt like both horses suited the mile-and-a-half (2400m) distance.
“They had the right running styles and the right dispositions and the right pedigrees. Fortunately, it all fell into place.”
Tapwrit is co-owned by John and Leslie Malone, who race as Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta, who won the 2008 Belmont when 70-1 shot Da’Tara spoiled Big Brown’s Triple Crown bid.
The $1.5 million race took several hits before the starting gate opened.
It lacked Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing. Classic Empire, the expected favourite, dropped out on Wednesday with a foot abscess.
Epicharis, the early 4-1 second choice, was scratched on race morning after failing to recover from a hoof problem.