One year ago, a gray Todd Pletcher-trained colt was the pursued. In 2017, Pletcher—and another gray—were in pursuit.
With an inside trip just off favored Irish War Cry most of the way, Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Robert LaPenta's Tapwrit angled out late in the final turn under jockey Jose Ortiz, as the top pair kicked well clear of the rest in the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1).
After setting pressured fractions of :23.88, :48.66, 1:14.01, and 1:38.95 through a mile, though, Irish War Cry had enough. The 5-2 favorite fought on for most of the stretch, but the final stages were Tapwrit's, as the Tapit colt powered by near the sixteenth pole and won by two lengths.
"It's an unbelievable feeling that I can't explain," said Ortiz, who won his first Triple Crown race. "I'm very happy right now. ... The distance—I was sure he could handle it. It was a great training job by Todd. I always liked him and had a lot of faith in him. Today he showed up."
A year after Pletcher-trained, Eclipse-co-owned Destin got caught at the wire by Creator in the Belmont, Tapwrit stopped the clock in 2:30.02 for 1 1/2 miles to give the trainer his second classic win of the year, after Always Dreaming's victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1). Pletcher-trained Patch finished third, another 5 3/4 lengths back.
"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 something left, but the last sixteenth, he dug down deep."
In the Derby Tapwrit finished sixth, 10 1/4 lengths behind his winning stablemate, but had to steady early when Irish War Cry cut across the field soon after the start. The gray colt had a less-than-ideal trip the rest of the way beneath the Twin Spires, but had smooth sailing Saturday on Big Sandy.
"I've said all along I think he ran a very sneaky-good race in the Derby, and there's a lot made about the trouble at the start," Pletcher said. "He got as much of that as anyone. ... (We thought post 16 in the Derby was) a great spot ... and it turned out it was the worst position, because Irish War Cry took a left leaving there, and it was just a chain reaction from there."
"We got (Irish War Cry) back today, though," Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbreds said with a laugh during the post-race press conference.
In front of a crowd of 57,729 at Belmont Park Saturday, Irish War Cry broke well from post 7 and again crossed over the horses inside of him to get to the front entering the first turn, but speedster Meantime was only a head back on the outside after the first quarter. Graham Motion said the plan wasn't for the son of Curlin to have the lead, but the trainer was not unhappy with the trip or performance by his colt.
"We kind of hoped that somebody else would go for (the lead), but he had to go to plan 'B' and (jockey) Rajiv (Maragh) did a great job," Motion said. "At the eighth pole, I thought we might be home free, but it's the Belmont. It's a tough race. I'm very proud of how he ran. I thought he ran a very game race."
The Belmont run fit with Irish War Cry's up-and-down form cycle. He started on the road to the Triple Crown with a 3 3/4-length victory in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2), ran seventh by 21 3/4 lengths in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth (G2), won the Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets (G2) by 3 1/2 lengths, and came in 10th in the Kentucky Derby.
"It's very vindicating—for the horse and for me, and the owners and everyone," Motion said of Irish War Cry's classic placing.
Gormley made a simultaneous move with Tapwrit entering the final turn and hung on for fourth, 4 1/4 lengths behind Patch. He was followed by Senior Investment, Twisted Tom, Lookin At Lee, Meantime, J Boys Echo, and Multiplier. Dallas Stewart trainee Hollywood Handsome was pulled up in the backstretch when jockey Florent Geroux lost his irons after getting squeezed coming into the first turn. The son of Tapizar was vanned back to the barn area, where he was treated for a laceration behind his left knee that required surgical staples, according to Dr. Keith Latson of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
Tapwrit's victory was the third Belmont win for his sire, following Creator and Tonalist (2014).
The ownership trio purchased Tapwrit for $1.2 million from the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale.
"This was a team effort from the start," said Pletcher disciple Jonathan Thomas, the trainer at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Fla., who broke Tapwrit after the sale. "That's what makes it special. I mean, we all basically ran into each other and loved this horse, and figured out a way to get him bought. And luckily Mr. LaPenta came in and we had the ammunition to get it done."
The journey—from a last-place debut at Saratoga Race Course in September of 2016, to a Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) win, to a perplexing fifth-place Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) run—also added to the overall sweetness of the classic victory.
"When things kind of went not quite how we planned it, no one freaked out or wanted to change the course of what we set out to do, and everything has been very organic," Thomas said. "Having worked for Todd, to be able to develop a horse like this is really meaningful."