The Belmont Stakes – the last leg of the annual Triple Crown series – is known throughout horse racing circles, both far and wide, as the “Test of the Champion.”
Maybe that has to do with the grueling 11/2-mile distance. Maybe that has to do with the fact that the great Secretariat has always set the standard for greatness since his record-setting, mind-boggling drubbing of his peers in 1973. Maybe that has to do with the race being held in New York. After all, everything is bigger in the Big Apple, right?
On Saturday, with the Kentucky Derby winner – Always Dreaming – and the Preakness Stakes winner – Cloud Computing – both cooling their heels and hoofs in their respective stalls along the Belmont Park backstretch, this year’s “Test of Champions” came down to 12 wannabes who have been cramming for this Final’s Week.
On Saturday evening, the 3-year-old division had one more candidate in the race for the mantle of greatness and the chase for greatness added a new name and contender — Tapwrit, who passed this “Test,” and then Irish War Cry with flying colors.
Tapwrit, a son of the great Tapit and the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, finally wore down Irish War cry in the final 1/16th of a mile to sweep past to the victory. Irish War Cry held on for second. Patch, ol’ one-eye, came on to grab third.
Tapwrit is now the third son of Tapit to win the Belmont Stakes in the last few years.
“They (rider Jose Ortiz and the colt Tapwrit) did everything we talked about in the paddock,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, won captured two-thirds of the Triple Crown this year. Pletcher was interviewed by NBC reporters immediately after the race concluded. His Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby – the first leg.
“I didn’t know if we could get by Irish War Cry. It looked like he had a lot of horse left there (at the end). But the last 1/16th, he (Tapwrit) really dug down deep. This is our home base and that is always to our advantage.”
The jockey, Jose Ortiz, hugged his brother, Irad Ortiz, Jr., on the way back to the winner’s circle.
“Unbelievable…I am very happy right now,” said Jose Ortiz, when interview immediately after the race by NBC on-track reporter Donna Brothers. “I am happy for the owners. I appreciate the opportunity to ride him.”
When asked what gave Tapwrit the edge in the marathon, Ortiz said:
“The distance. Great training job by Todd. Really liked him. Always liked him. Always had a lot of confidence in him. Great win today.”
The first part of the race was marred by a misstep by Hollywood Handsome, who got caught behind a wall of horses going into the first turn and bounced around until Geroux lost his irons. The horse ran loosely on the front end, with Geroux not in control. He was later pulled up with several superficial lacerations around the knee area, according to the track veterinarian. He should recover fully, though. The horse is owned by Mark Stanley, from Lexington, and trained by Louisville-based Dallas Stewart.
In the end, though, nothing was going to stop Tapwrit.