A relaxed and happy Todd Pletcher reported Sunday morning that Tapwrit, commanding winner of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, and third-place finisher Patch exited their efforts in Saturday's 1 ½-mile race in "excellent shape."
"I was really pleased with their energy level," said the trainer. "It was a great win for the whole team."
Pletcher said the difference for Tapwrit, who had finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Blue Grass and Kentucky Derby, on Saturday came at the very beginning of the race.
"It was all about the start," he said. "He broke great, unlike his previous two races. For a second, I even thought he was going to be on the lead. [But] that was exactly the trip we talked about in the paddock before the race."
Of winning jockey Jose Ortiz, Pletcher added: "Jose, it's obvious he's an up and coming superstar, if not there already. We felt he was a good fit for this horse. His riding style fits our training style. Even though [Tapwrit] didn't fire his best shot in the Blue Grass and was compromised at the start of the Derby, he maintained his confidence in the horse."
With his Derby winner Always Dreaming having skipped the Belmont to await a summer campaign, Pletcher appears to have a strong hand heading into the second half of the season.
"Any time you have a Derby and a Belmont winner it's awesome," said Pletcher. "We feel fortunate to have won two legs. It will be interesting to see how it develops down the road. Patch put himself in the thick of things. Coal Front, who is two-for-two and looked good winning [an allowance] here Thursday, is possible for the Dwyer, as well as [Grade 2 Wood Memorial runner-up] Battalion Runner. They're in the mix."
Pletcher said he was looking ahead to either the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy [July 29, Saratoga Race Course] or the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park the following day as a lead-in to the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers at the Spa on August 26 for his two Classic winners.
"We have options with Patch," he added. "He's still eligible for a one-other-than, and there's the Curlin [$100,000, July 28, Saratoga]."
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Isabelle de Tomaso's homebred Irish War Cry, a gutsy second as the favorite in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, exited the race in good order and will be pointed to the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational July 30 at Monmouth Park.
Graham Motion checked in on the multiple Grade 2 winner early Sunday morning before heading back to Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland, where the trainer is based. Irish War Cry will leave New York for Fair Hill on Monday.
"I wanted to just give him a day to get over it," Motion said. "He'll leave tomorrow morning and head back to Fair Hill, then we can get him back out in his round pen and kind of rest him up and get him ready for the Haskell. That's definitely what we'd like to do, so fingers crossed, that's where we'll be."
Motion was proud of the effort put in by Irish War Cry in the 1 ½-mile Belmont, the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown. He led the entire way, taking a one-length lead into the stretch before being overtaken past the sixteenth pole and wound up beaten two lengths, but nearly six ahead of third-place finisher Patch.
In doing so, Irish War Cry matched the finish of his Hall of Fame sire, Curlin, who was second by a nose to the filly Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont.
Irish War Cry entered the Belmont with stakes wins in the Marylander for 2-year-olds at Laurel Park and the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park and Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct from five previous starts. He was 10th in the Kentucky Derby and inherited the favorite's role Saturday following the defection of 2016 2-year-old champion Classic Empire with a foot abscess on the morning entries were taken.
"I'm pretty happy with him. He was a little stirred up last night after the race, I think just from the commotion and having a hard race," Motion said. "It took him a while to cool out. I was actually pleasantly surprised that he ate up last night. I wouldn't have expected him to. He seemed good.
"I think he ran the hardest race he's run," he added. "When he won those races, he kind of won for fun except perhaps the race at Laurel where he had to run really hard. The Holy Bull and the Wood were relatively comfortable wins for him. Yesterday he really had to lay it down and I was very proud of him."
Motion was also proud of Stone Farm and Madaket Stables' Ascend, who upset the Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan by 1 ¼ lengths at odds of 27-1 one race prior to the Belmont.
It was the third straight win and second consecutive stakes victory in his graded debut for Ascend, a 5-year-old gelding that captured the Henry S. Clark April 22 at Laurel in his season opener.
"That was really exciting. He's a lovely horse," Motion said. "That was very rewarding, I must say, especially for the connections."
The 1 ¼-mile Arlington Million on August 12 is a possibility for Ascend's next start, Motion said.
"I hadn't looked beyond this race so I need some time to think about it. I don't know what his best distance is going to be," Motion said. "My inclination is that he's more of a mile and a quarter horse than a mile and a half horse, which is going to make it a little tricky, but certainly a race like the Arlington Million would have to be on the radar.
"I think he's really improved this year and grown up a lot," he added. "He's just got a really cool disposition and takes everything in his stride. He's just very talented to boot. I think the Arlington Million is going to end up being our summer goal. That's what would make sense to me, anyway."
On Friday, the Motion-trained Quidura ran second by a length to Hawksmoor in the Grade 2, $500,000 New York, while Sagamore Farm's He Hate Me was an impressive winner of the $150,000 Tremont. All three horses are stabled at Fair Hill; Hawksmoor with Arnaud Delacour and He Hate Me with Horacio DePaz.
"What a weekend for Maryland and Fair Hill horses and Sagamore," Motion said. "It's amazing really."
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One day removed from setting the North American and World record, sprinting six furlongs on the turf in 1:05.67, Disco Partner came out of his half-length victory in the Grade 3 Jaipur in good shape along with stablemate and fourth-place finisher Pure Sensation, trainer Christophe Clement reported.
"Yesterday's race was a great race. Very exciting," said Clement. "Where we go next, I don't know, but we'll enjoy this win for a few days and we'll go from there. I don't think he's just a six-furlong horse. I think he's a bit more versatile than that. I thought Pure Sensation ran good as well.
"Unfortunately, he ended up in a speed duel which cost him the last eighth of a mile but if you look at the race he ran well," he added. "He opened up at the quarter-pole and just got tired cause the 43 seconds [for the opening half-mile] took something out of him, but I'm not disappointed in him at all."
Governor Malibu, who ran fourth in Saturday's Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational off a third-place finish in the Commentator on May 29 also came out of the race well, but Clement wasn't sure where to run next.
"I thought he ran a touch flat," said Clement. "I ran him back a bit quick coming back from his last race, which I knew, we just took a shot."
On multiple graded stakes winner Celestine, Clement said he would look to regroup after she ran fifth in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game.
"She's a bit of puzzle for me," he said. "I thought she looked well and was training well coming into the race. I thought she ran bit off form and I don't have an explanation as to why right now but we'll work on it.
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Meantime came out of the Belmont Stakes in good order, trainer Brian Lynch said. Breaking from post 9, Meantime stayed just off pacesetter Irish War Cry through the opening mile before fading late, finishing eighth in the 1 ½-mile 'Test of the Champion.'
"He seemed to come out of it fine," Lynch said by phone Sunday morning. "He got himself a little bit wound up and excited before the race and used up a bit of energy. He's probably a bit suspect at the distance. Other than that, he looks like he's in good shape."
Throughout the week, Lynch said he thought Meantime would be on the lead with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. But Irish War Cry, who finished second, surged to the lead and held that position until Tapwrit made his winning move.
"It surprised me and I tipped my hat to Irish War Cry; he hung in there tough," Lynch said. "We ended up pressing him."
Meantime, who made his Grade 1 debut, could have some time off after finishing second in the Grade 3 Peter Pan on May 13. Since making his debut on February 18, the son of Shackleford has raced five times.
"It was a big test for him in his fifth start, so I'll let him get some [rest] and regroup," he said. "I haven't got anything on the horizon yet."
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Chad Brown, Javier Castello and Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence earned top honors in the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival Championship presented by NYRA Bets for best overall performance by a trainer, jockey and owner, respectively, during the three-day event at Belmont Park.
The competition, based on a 5-3-2-1 point basis, began with the first race on Thursday, June 8 and continued through the 12th race on Belmont Stakes Day, Saturday, June 10, one race after Tapwrit surged to a commanding victory over favored Irish War Cry in the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets. The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival featured 19 stakes races and nearly $10 million in total purses.
The category for the "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons Award for Outstanding Trainer saw Brown, NYRA's top conditioner of 2016 and last year's BSRF winner, atop the leaderboard with 48 points. Among Brown's major wins over the three-day span were Antonoe's victory in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game and New Money Honey and Fifty Five's first and second in the Grade 3 Wonder Again. Brown also had seven runner-up finishes, including Time Test in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan and Paid Up Subscriber, second to Songbird in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps.
Castellano edged Belmont Stakes winning rider Jose Ortiz by a single point, 50-49, to win the Eddie Arcaro Award. Among his victories were the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game with Antonoe, the Grade 2 Brooklyn with War Story, New Money Honey in the Grade 3 Wonder Again and I Still Miss You's win the Astoria.
Earning the August Belmont II trophy were Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence with 15 points.