ELMONT, New York — A little of the pace and a lot of international interest were taken out of the Belmont Stakes early Saturday when Epicharis was scratched from an already crumbling field left to contest the finale to this year’s Triple Crown.
The UAE Derby runner-up from Japan was diagnosed with what was called “possible lameness” in his right front foot Wednesday. After treatment late this week provided only mild improvement, Epicharis was declared unfit Saturday morning by a New York Racing Association veterinarian.
“This was a minor issue, but the team has done a great job to care for the horse over the past few days,” trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara said through a translator. “While we are greatly disappointed for the fans of Epicharis, we have to face the fact that he is not able to compete.”
Before he was scratched Epicharis was a 12-1 long shot in the early betting here at Belmont Park, no doubt reflecting the questions already raised about his fitness. Before his foot trouble Epicharis was the second favorite on the morning line and closed at 7-2 in the future book at Westgate Las Vegas.
With 11 horses left to race for the $1.5 million purse, Irish War Cry was a 4-1 favorite at 11 a.m. EDT, followed by Lookin At Lee and Tapwrit at 5-1.
“He looked good,” trainer Graham Motion said Thursday after Irish War Cry’s gallop over the same 1½ miles that he and his rivals will race in the Belmont. “Everything went very smoothly. He kind of takes things in stride, except for maybe Churchill (Downs) where there was so much going on.”
Motion was talking about the Kentucky Derby, where his colt sired by two-time horse of the year Curlin finished a tired 10th. Motion said all the noise that comes with the Derby contributed to the disappointment for a horse that went off at odds of 9-2.
“I think it got him a little bit wound up,” Motion said. “It’s nice to be able to come into our own barn and do our thing.”
The sudden but not altogether surprising exit of Epicharis means Irish War Cry may pose the only challenge to the early pace likely to be set by Meantime (14-1), the runner-up in a wet running of the Peter Pan Stakes last month here at Belmont. It also dilutes a feature race already watered down by this week’s injury to top-ranked 3-year-old Classic Empire and the earlier opt-outs of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing.
There may have been a feeling of déjà vu for Japanese racing fans when the grandson of 1989 U.S. champion Sunday Silence was declared out Saturday. The same course of events followed the Japanese horse Casino Drive before he was scratched with a bad foot on the morning of the Belmont in 2008, the year Big Brown’s bid for a Triple Crown ended with his being pulled up for reasons that remain a mystery.
Although this year’s Belmont is not what racing fans hoped it would be, Saturday’s race card is not lacking for quality. Five other Grade 1 races will be run, including two others worth at least $1 million. Trainer Bob Baffert’s three-time graded-stakes winner Mor Spirit is forecast to be the 5-2 choice to win the $1.2 million Met Mile. World Approval, the Mark Casse-trained winner of the Dixie Stakes on the Preakness undercard, is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the $1 million Manhattan Stakes for older turf horses.
But the horse of the day may take her bow early when Songbird races for the first time since her thrilling loss to Beholder in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She figures to be an odds-on favorite to win the $750,000 Ogden Phipps for older fillies and mares.
With a forecast high in the mid 80s on a sunny, humid day, the Phipps is scheduled to be run at 1:52 p.m. EDT, followed later by the Met Mile at 4:41 p.m., the Manhattan at 5:37 p.m. and the Belmont at 6:38 p.m.
These were the odds at 11 a.m. EDT to win the Belmont Stakes:
1. Twisted Tom 7-1
2. Tapwrit 5-1
3. Gormley 9-1
4. J Boys Echo 10-1
5. Hollywood Handsome 18-1
6. Lookin At Lee 5-1
7. Irish War Cry 4-1
8. Senior Investment 6-1
9. Meantime 14-1
10. Multiplier 14-1
11. Epicharis (scratched)
12. Patch 11-1