ELMONT, N.Y. — The road to the winner’s circle in the Belmont Stakes ran through the Kentucky Derby, even if the Derby and Preakness Stakes winners skipped the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Tapwrit overtook favored Irish War Cry in the stretch to win by two lengths Saturday, giving trainer Todd Pletcher his third career victory in the Belmont. He also won in 2007 with filly Rags to Riches and in 2013 with Palace Malice.
The first four finishers all followed a well-worn path: Run in the Derby, skip the Preakness and come back fresh for the Belmont. Five of the last nine Belmont winners did just that.
Tapwrit finished sixth in the 20-horse Derby after encountering traffic in what Pletcher described as ‘‘a sneaky-good race.’’
‘‘We felt like with the five weeks in between and with the way this horse had trained that he had a legitimate chance,’’ said Pletcher, who is based at Belmont Park. ‘‘I think that’s always an advantage.’’
Irish War Cry was second after finishing 10th in the Derby, Patch took third after being 14th in the Derby and Gormley was fourth
after finishing ninth in the Derby.
Ridden by Jose Ortiz, Tapwrit ran 1½ miles in 2 minutes, 30.02 seconds on his home track.
‘‘The distance, I was sure he could handle it,’’ Ortiz said.
Tapwrit paid $12.60, $6.50 and $5 at 5-1 odds. Irish War Cry returned $4.70 and $3.90 as the 5-2 favorite. Patch, the one-eyed horse trained by Pletcher, paid $6.50 to show.
Pletcher won two of the Triple Crown races, having saddled Always Dreaming to victory in the Derby.
‘‘The Derby win was awesome,’’ he said. ‘‘The last five weeks have been the ultimate roller coaster. We felt really good coming in that [Tapwrit and Patch] were doing very well. We felt like both horses suited the 1½-mile distance. They had the right running styles and the right dispositions and the right pedigrees. Fortunately, it all fell into place.’’
Tapwrit, a 3-year-old gray colt, was purchased for $1.2 million, making him the most expensive horse in the field. He’s co-owned by John and Leslie Malone, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta, who won the 2008 Belmont when 70-1 shot Da’Tara spoiled Big Brown’s Triple Crown bid.
The race took several hits before the starting gate even opened. It lacked Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing, and expected favorite Classic Empire dropped out Wednesday because of a foot abscess.
Epicharis, the early 4-1 second choice, was scratched early Saturday after failing a pre-race veterinary exam. The Japan-based colt had been treated for lameness in his right front hoof earlier in the week.
All that left it a wide-open race, and Tapwrit proved he was up to the grueling challenge.
‘‘Tapwrit was getting a beautiful trip,’’ Pletcher said. ‘‘It was everything we talked about in the paddock before the race. 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 [Tapwrit] dug down deep in the last sixteenth.’’
Hollywood Handsome was pulled up after clipping heels with the horse in front of him, causing jockey Florent Geroux to lose his stirrups in the first turn. He guided the colt to the outside until he could be stopped.
The on-call veterinarian said that Hollywood Handsome suffered a cut behind his left knee and that it would be closed with staples.
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