UAE Derby runner-up Epicharis confirmed for Grade 1, $1.5M Belmont Stakes
Belmont to be first U.S. Triple Crown race available for Japanese wagering
Multiple stakes winner Epicharis, one of the top 3-year-olds in Japan, is confirmed to make his North American debut in the 149th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, the final jewel of U.S. racing's Triple Crown series, Saturday, June 10 at Belmont Park.
Owned by the U. Carrot Farm racing syndicate, Epicharis already had earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a three-quarter-length victory in the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse and a strong runner-up effort to Derby-bound Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby.
The syndicate elected to bypass to Kentucky Derby for an opportunity to run in the Belmont Stakes to allow the colt ample time to recover from the travel and racing demands of the UAE Derby, said trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara.
"I am very honored to participate in the Belmont Stakes," Hagiwara said. "Epicharis ran well at the UAE Derby and proved himself deserving of the Triple Crown challenge.
"When he arrived in Japan from Dubai, he was bit tired from traveling and we wanted to give him enough time, thus we had to pass on Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, though he was awarded [a spot in the] starting gate in Kentucky Derby as the winner of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby," he continued. "Now, he is completely recovered and he is doing well, so we decided to try the Belmont Stakes. He is bred to stay and, the way he races, I believe 1 ½ miles at Belmont suits him."
The Japanese-bred colt by Gold Allure, a son of the legendary 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Sunday Silence, was undefeated as a 2-year-old in his homeland, winning his first three starts in Japan by a combined 25 lengths. As a 3-year-old, Epicharis stamped himself a legitimate Triple Crown contender with a three-quarter-length victory in the Hyacinth at Tokyo in February and suffered the only loss of his budding career with a hard-fought second to Thunder Snow in the March 25 UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse.
Hagiwara trains the colt for U. Carrot Farm, a large Japan-based syndicate that made history in 2005 when Cesario won the American Oaks at Hollywood Park to become the first Japanese Grade 1 winner in the United States. Christophe Lemaire has been aboard for all five of Epicharis' starts and is expected to retain the mount for the 1 ½-mile "Test of the Champion."
Epicharis is poised to join Koji Maeda's Lani as the first back-to-back Japanese competitors in the Belmont's storied history. Lani generated international interest as he competed in all three legs of last year's Triple Crown and turned in his best showing with a late-closing third to Creator in the Belmont.
Epicharis is scheduled to arrive June 1 at Belmont Park, where he will complete his quarantine and isolation ahead of the race.
A start in the Belmont Stakes will make Epicharis eligible for NYRA's $1 million bonus offered to any Japan-based winner of New York's most prestigious race. Introduced for the 2017 Triple Crown season, the entire $1 million bonus would be awarded to the winning Japanese horse's connections in addition to the $800,000 winner's share of the purse for the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown.
"Since we met Mr. Martin Panza at Tokyo in February, he has been very helpful and we knew NYRA was dedicated to have him running," said Hagiwara. "It gave us much confidence to try for the 'Test of the Champion.' We really appreciate him. Epicharis is arriving in New York on June 1, via Anchorage and Chicago, and I will be in New York on June 2. I am very excited and am looking forward to the challenge."
Additionally, Epicharis' presence in the Belmont Stakes is widely expected to open the race for pari-mutuel wagering in Japan, making it the first U.S. Triple Crown race available for simulcast in the country and, following the 2016 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, only the second American stakes race ever offered for wagering in Japan.
Through an agreement reached between the New York Racing Association and the Japan Racing Association, pending final regulatory approval by the New York State Gaming Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan, Japanese wagering on the Belmont Stakes will be conducted through a separate, non-comingled pool.
To facilitate wagering on the Belmont, NYRA will provide a live simulcast in Japan, accessible through Green Channel, JRA's official racing cable network channel, as well as replays of the race at the JRA's on- and off-course facilities, JRA racing programs on Fuji Television Network and Television Tokyo, and on the JRA's website at www.jra.go.jp/sp.jra.jp, to be geo-filtered within Japan. Wagering will be available via JRA's internet betting platform, PAT.
"I'm very pleased to have a runner from Japan in the Belmont Stakes two years in a row," said Martin Panza, NYRA's Senior Vice-President of Racing Operations. "This is something we've been working on here at NYRA for the last couple of years and we've had a good response from Japanese horsemen and their fans. I was fortunate to be working at Hollywood Park when Cesario won the American Oaks, and we're excited that U. Carrot Farm will try for another Grade 1 win in America in the 2017 Belmont Stakes."
Post time for the Belmont Stakes is scheduled for 6:37 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 10 (7:37 a.m. JST on Sunday, June 11).
The post position draw for the Belmont Stakes will take place Wednesday, June 7 at the iconic Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. Tickets for the three-day 2017 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, beginning Thursday, June 8 and continuing through Belmont Stakes Day, are currently available. Please visit belmontstakes.com for additional information.
About The New York Racing Association
The New York Racing Association was founded in 1955 and is franchised to run thoroughbred racing at New York's three major tracks (Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course) through 2033. With a lineage of nearly 150 years, NYRA tracks are the cornerstone of New York State's thoroughbred industry, which contributes more than $2 billion annually to its urban, suburban and rural economy.