Vagabond shoes were replaced by clogs, as Tapwrit danced into the Belmont Stakes winner’s circle to give trainer Todd Pletcher his third victory in the “Test of the Champion” and sire Tapit his second consecutive win in this American classic.
Tapwrit had finished sixth to his stablemate Always Dreaming in the Kentucky Derby (G1) five weeks earlier, and raced forwardly in the Belmont, tracking the pace of Irish War Cry through 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.10 before overtaking that foe inside the sixteenth pole and drawing away to a two-length win in 2:30.02 for the 1 1/2 miles. The final time was the slowest since 2013 when Palace Malice—the second of Pletcher’s three Belmont winners—won in 2:30.70.
“Tapwrit was getting a beautiful trip; it was everything we talked about in the paddock before the race,” Pletcher said. “We were hoping he had enough when it came to crunch time. It looked like Irish War Cry still had a little something left, but the last sixteenth [Tapwrit] dug down deep.”
Irish War Cry led until about the final half-furlong of the race in an attempt to join such luminous names as Triple Crown winner American Pharoah as a gate-to-wire winner of America’s longest classic.
“It actually wasn’t our plan to be on the lead; we kind of hoped that somebody else would go for it, but we had to go to plan ‘B’, and jockey Rajiv Maragh did a great job,” Irish War Cry’s trainer Graham Motion said. “At the eighth pole, I thought we might be home free, but it’s the Belmont; it’s a tough race.”
Irish War Cry did put away Meantime, who pressed the pace under jockey Mike Smith but backed out of it at about the half-mile pole. That’s when Tapwrit started to make his winning move.
Patch and Gormley were somewhat middling in battling for third and fourth, a decision that ultimately went to Patch to give Pletcher the first- and third-place finishers. He’s the first trainer to have at two horses place in a classic since Bob Baffert had American Pharoah and Dortmund in the 2015 Kentucky Derby. Pletcher won the Belmont in 2007 with Rags to Riches and in 2013 with the aforementioned Palace Malice.
“[Belmont Park] is our home base, and I think that’s always an advantage,” Pletcher said. “We felt like with the five weeks in between, and with the way [Tapwrit] horse had trainer, that he had a legitimate chance.”
All three of Pletcher Belmont winners had run their previous race Kentucky Derby week at Churchill Downs. Rags To Riches won the 2007 Kentucky Oaks.
The win marked the second in a row for an Ortiz brother as well as for sire Tapwrit, as Jose Ortiz’s brother, Irad, won last year aboard Creator.
The only real drama in the race outside of Tapwrit’s winning move in the fifth quarter of the race came into the first turn when jockey Florent Geroux lost the irons on Hollywood Handsome.
“I got squeezed pretty hard coming into the first turn,” Geroux said. “My horse clipped heels. I almost went down, and I lost my stirrup.”