The 2017 Belmont Stakes lost a bit of steam when both the Kentucky Derby winner, Always Dreaming, and the Preakness Stakes winner, Cloud Computing, pulled out of the final leg of the Triple Crown. Without them, the 2016 Juvenile Champion, Classic Empire, was to be the favorite for Saturday’s Belmont at 2-1 odds, but trainer Mark Casse told Alicia Wincze Hughes of Blood Horse on Wednesday that Classic Empire also will not run because of an abscess in his right front hoof, an affliction that has hampered the horse since the Holy Bull Stakes in February. That makes Irish War Cry the morning-line favorite at 7-2 odds.
Being the post-time favorite for the 1 1/2 mile lap around Belmont’s oval hasn’t always translated to success: Over the past 20 years just two favorites, Point Given (2001) and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015), have won the Belmont Stakes. In fact, American Pharoah is the only horse since 2008 to cross the wire first at odds shorter than 12-1.
Japan’s Epicharis, the second choice at 4-1, was looking to be the first international runner since Go And Go (1990) to win the last leg of the Triple Crown, but on Saturday morning he was scratched after his prerace exam.
NYRA's Martin Panza at the quarantine barn says Epicharis is out of he Belmont. Vet scratch. "He still wasn't quite ready."
— Jeremy Balan (@BH_JBalan) June 10, 2017
Getting some rest at some point during the Triple Crown helps, too. American Pharoah is one of three horses this century to win the Belmont Stakes after racing in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, casting doubt on Lookin at Lee’s chances for redemption. Compare that to eight out of the past 17 Belmont winners skipping the Preakness following a start in the Kentucky Derby and it is easy to see fresh horses with a five-week layoff tend to be better bets than those trying to compete in all phases of the Triple Crown. Irish War Cry, J Boys Echo, Patch and Tapwrit are all fresh for Saturday.
In addition to rest, post position could play a key role in determining the outcome. The starting gate at Belmont is positioned just three-sixteenths of a mile from the clubhouse turn, giving the Belmont Stakes the shortest run into the first turn of any of the three Triple Crown races. As a result, horses breaking from inside posts are more likely to be in trouble early, costing them their chance at victory. Nine of the 16 Belmont Stakes winners from 2001 to 2016 broke from posts 7 and beyond. Technically, you could add American Pharoah to that list — he broke from post No. 5, but in an eight-horse field, that was the outside half of the starting gate.
That sets up nicely for Irish War Cry, who, if still the favorite by the time the race is underway, should buck the trend and hit the wire first at a short price.
Here’s a look at his chances plus analysis on the 11 horses who hope to beat him to the winner’s circle.
Post Time: Saturday, 6:50 p.m. Eastern, NBC
No. 1 Twisted Tom (20-1 morning-line odds)
Owner: Cobra Farm
Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Javier Castellano
New York-bred colt has won three in a row but none against graded stakes competition.
No. 2 Tapwrit (6-1)
Owner: Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Had a horrible trip in the Kentucky Derby and broke badly in the Blue Grass Stakes. Needs to stay out of trouble here to win.
No. 3 Gormley (8-1)
Owner: Jerry and Ann Moss
Trainer: John Shirreffs
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
Endurance is key in the Belmont Stakes, but his speed figures have declined in each race since he won the Sham Stakes (Grade III) at Santa Anita in January.
No. 4 J Boys Echo (15-1)
Owner: Albaugh Family Stable
Trainer: Dale Romans
Jockey: Robby Albarado
His closing style will require a pace meltdown to be successful.
No. 5 Hollywood Handsome (30-1)
Owner: Mark and Nancy Stanley
Trainer: Dallas Stewart
Jockey: Florent Geroux
Outclassed here: His two career wins have come against maidens and allowance company.
No. 6 Lookin at Lee (5-1)
Owner: L and N Racing
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Running style isn’t ideal to win, but the Asmussen-trained colt should be used in exotics.
No. 7 Irish War Cry (7-2)
Owner: Isabelle de Tomaso
Trainer: Graham Motion
Jockey: Rajiv Maragh
This son of Curlin should rate off the pace with enough speed and stamina to wear down his opponents. A deserving favorite.
No. 8 Senior Investment (12-1)
Owner: Fern Circle Stables
Trainer: Ken McPeek
Jockey: Channing Hill
Trainer McPeek has seen his colt improve in every race, but running style may keep him too far behind the pack.
No. 9 Meantime (15-1)
Owner: Silverton Hill LLC
Trainer: Brian Lynch
Jockey: Mike Smith
Tons of early speed, but other than American Pharoah in 2015, the last horse to go wire to wire in the Belmont was Da’ Tara in 2008.
No. 10 Multiplier (15-1)
Owner: Gary Barber, Adam Wachtel and George Kerr
Trainer: Brendan Walsh
Jockey: Joel Rosario
A non-factor in the Preakness, he also has pedigree concerns: Both his sire The Factor and his broodmare sire Trippi were sprinters.
No. 12 Patch (12-1)
Owner: Calumet Farm
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: John Velazquez
The lovable underdog’s sire, Union Rags, won the 2012 Belmont Stakes after running in the Kentucky Derby and skipping the Preakness. Like father, like son?