Multiple Grade 2 winner Irish War Cry and Grade 1 hero Gormley each took a spin around the main track at Belmont Park on Thursday for the first time since arriving for Saturday’s 149th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1).
Irish War Cry, the 7-2 morning-line favorite, and stablemate Ascend, who is entered in Saturday’s $1 million Manhattan Stakes (G1), visited the main track a little after 7 a.m. (ET). The duo walked around the paddock before heading to the main track, where Irish War Cry galloped 1 1/2 miles with assistant trainer Alice Clapham aboard.
Irish War Cry arrived for the third jewel of the Triple Crown Wednesday afternoon from trainer Graham Motion’s Fair Hill Training Center base in Maryland.
“He looked good. Everything went very smoothly,” Motion said. “He was great. Alice said he was looking around a little bit, but he’s very sensible.”
Irish War Cry’s last start came as a 10th-place finish in the May 6 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs. The chestnut son of Curlin broke in that day, causing trouble for a number of his rivals, and faded from third to 10th on the wire over a sealed, wet-fast track.
“He’s not a complicated horse. He kind of takes things in stride, except for maybe Churchill where there was so much going on. It’s a lot quieter and more settled than it was at Churchill, when it was so busy,” Motion added. “I think it got him a little bit wound up at Churchill with all that was going on. It’s nice to be able to come into our own barn and do our own thing, and stay with the system.”
Irish War Cry inherited the role of favorite for the Belmont Stakes after champion, Kentucky Derby fourth-placer and Preakness Stakes (G1) runner-up Classic Empire developed a foot abscess and was removed from consideration Wednesday morning by trainer Mark Casse before the draw.
“I feel bad for Mark (Casse). Everyone says to you leading up to these races, ‘Are you excited?’ It’s hard to get excited when you know things like that can happen,” Motion said. “That’s a perfect example of what can happen, and it’s just a little thing but it just throws you out. It’s tough for those guys but that’s the nature of the beast, and we just happened to benefit from it.”
Irish War Cry drew post 7 in the Belmont Stakes and will be ridden by regular jockey Rajiva Maragh.
“I love it. I think it’s great. I wouldn’t have wanted to be outside of that,” Motion said. “I had said I’d like to be (post) eight or in, so that’s good. I think it’s a little tougher when you’re drawn on the outside here. I’m very happy with where we are. It’s a good spot.”
Santa Anita Derby (G1) victor Gormley finished one spot in front of Irish War Cry when last seen in the Kentucky Derby. He, too, skipped the Preakness Stakes but flew from trainer John Shirreff’s Southern California base to New York for a shot at the Belmont Stakes.
On Thursday, Gormley and exercise rider Sammy Jimenez galloped 1 1/2 miles over the main track at Big Sandy, one day after arriving as the last Belmont contender on the grounds.
“It went good. I thought he looked really good out there,” Shirreffs said. “Sammy said he was a little strong, then he relaxed, then when some breezers went by he got a little strong down the lane so he tried to slow him down a little. All in all, I thought it was OK.
“He went once around the main track. He came out through the paddock, stood, walked over to the turn and picked up the jog and galloped around,” the horseman added. “I said to everybody, especially his connections, that the big thing for us will be when the rider comes off the track and says if the horse liked it or not. I asked Sammy if he liked the surface and he said he did. I thought that was really important.”
Gormley, who gets his name from 66-year-old British sculptor Sir Antony Mark David Gormley, drew post 3 during Wednesday’s draw and was installed at 8-1 on the morning line. He keeps regular rider Victor Espinoza aboard for Saturday’s “Test of the Champion.”
“The three, I think that’s a good post position. I like it,” Shirreffs said. “It depends upon the horse. Because Gormley’s so quick out of the gate, it’s a good post position because from there Victor can decide what he wants to do. In the Derby, I think being on the outside was a little bit not the best because the inside seemed to play a little bit better. I think the weather determined what post position was good or bad there.”
In other Belmont Stakes news
Illinois Derby (G1) winner Multiplier will race with blinkers for the first time in the Belmont Stakes.
Trainer Brendan Walsh made the decision to include blinkers after the gray son of the Factor wore them during his final major breeze for the Belmont, recording a :48.60 half-mile on June 3 at Keeneland.
“He’s just so laid-back, it’ll just help him to focus a little bit more and maybe travel a little better early on in the race,” Walsh explained. “He broke his maiden without them, so I wasn’t going to change then. Then he won the Illinois Derby without them so I wasn’t going to change then either.
“I think now’s a good chance to do it. I galloped him myself a couple of days before he worked and he was so much more focused and then I worked him in them last week and you saw how he worked. I think they’ll really help him.”
Multiplier, who ran sixth in the Preakness Stakes following his Illinois Derby score, galloped 1 1/4 miles on Belmont’s main track Thursday with assistant trainer Tom Molloy in the irons. He’s scheduled to paddock school either before or during Friday’s races.
“He was very bright and fresh this morning. He settled right into his routine. He was moving great and came back in through the paddock, taking everything in stride. All good. All systems go,” Molloy said.
“He’s real easy and he’s enjoying it here. He likes the cooler weather at the moment, so he’s happy. That’s the reason he’s here, because everyone’s happy with the way he came out of the Preakness. Fingers are crossed, we’re very happy where we’re at with our horse. Touch wood, he stays sound and healthy into the race. We can’t be happier.”
The Brian Lynch-trained Meantime earned his shot at Belmont Stakes glory with a nice runner-up effort in the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) on May 13. The chestnut son of Shackleford drew post 9 for the third leg of the Triple Crown and gets Mike Smith in the irons.
“He’s trained up the race beautifully and we’re up to the part where it’s up to the racing gods,” Lynch said. “All the signs heading into the race have been very positive.
“We probably would have like to have drawn a little bit closer but it’s a nice long run to the first turn so tactically, he should be able to get himself in a good position going into that first turn. The post probably isn’t as relevant as they are in sprints. If someone goes early, you can sit off and stalk it rather than be pressured, so maybe the 9 isn’t the worst thing.”
Meantime has yet to finish worse than third in his four career starts, and has set the pace in all but one of those, with that one seeing him just behind the leader in second.
“As long as the pace doesn’t get too hot,” Lynch said about going to the front in the Belmont. “In our situation, you’d like to get left alone and dictate the terms. Hopefully they see us as a longshot and that we’re going to come back to them. The longer they leave us alone, the bigger chance we have.
“He’s never had the chance to run on a nice dry and fast track, so I hope that goes to his advantage,” Lynch added.