Epicharis, who traveled from Japan to contest the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1), was a vet scratch the morning of the race June 10, after he failed to train several days in a row at Belmont Park.
"He still wasn't quite ready," New York Racing Association senior vice president of racing operations Martin Panza said at the quarantine barn at 9:10 a.m. ET.
Epicharis was treated with phenylbutazone June 7 for "lameness" in his right front limb, and his connections held out hope for several days that he would still make the race. June 8 he was given another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, ketaprofen, while June 9 he received "no treatment" according to New York State Gaming Commisison records.
Panza said Thursday and Friday, after Epicharis was not sent out to train, that the horse was "walking sound" in the quarantine barn.
According to the New York State Gaming Commission's equine medical director Scott Palmer, Epicharis had heat in his right front foot Saturday morning.
"He had an increased pulse in his foot. Just wasn't sound," Palmer said.
Palmer said NYRA chief examining veterinarian Anthony Verderosa conducted Epicharis' pre-race exam Saturday morning, which is routine for all starters at Belmont. With the scratch, the Belmont Stakes field drops down to 11. Patch, who drew post 12, will move in one spot to depart from post 11 instead.
"The thing I would emphasize is that this is a routine process," Palmer said. "It’s a big deal because it’s Epicharis. It’s a big deal because it’s the Belmont Stakes. It’s a big deal because of what it means to Japan, but it’s a routine process we go through every race day.
"He had foot soreness—heel soreness—earlier in the week and he just wasn’t sound. In a week maybe he could be ready, but we ran out of time. The right decision was made. The top priority is the horse."
Trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara said he ran out of time to get Epicharis over his issue.
"This was a minor issue, but the team has done a great job to care for the horse over the past few days," he said. "While we are greatly disappointed for fans of Epicharis, we have to face the fact that he is not able to compete today.
"The horse was close to being able to compete, but we ran out of time. We'd like to thank the team of veterinarians and staff for their hard work. We look forward to getting Epicharis home and back to the racetrack very soon."
Epicharis is scheduled to ship back to Japan June 15 at 4 a.m. ET. The son of Gold Allure was eligible for a $1 million bonus from NYRA, in place for the first time this year for a Japan-based winner of the Belmont Stakes.
This is also the first year the Belmont Stakes will be simulcast in Japan, and according to the Japan Racing Association, wagering pools will remain open in Japan for the race despite the scratch.