Motion hoping to cash in as stars continue to fall by wayside
Final leg of Triple Crown is feature of $7.5 million card in New York
Preview: USA, Saturday 11.37pm BST (live on ATR)
Belmont Park: Belmont Stakes (Grade 1) 1m4f | dirt | 3yo
It is hardly the best advert for a Classic, but much of the talk ahead of the Belmont Stakes has focused rather more on horses who aren't there – or might not be there – than the double-figure field set to line up in New York for the final leg of the US Triple Crown.
Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming is absent after his failure in the Preakness behind Cloud Computing, who is also being lined up for targets later in the summer. With that pair missing, the way seemed clear for last year's two-year-old champion Classic Empire, in the frame in both previous races, to claim a Classic of his own – until the likely hot favourite was ruled out this week with a foot abscess.
Then on Saturday the Japanese-trained Epicharis, by far the most intriguing of those still alive and kicking in Belmont terms, failed to pass the vet after he was treated on Wednesday night for lameness in his off-foreleg.
The so-called 'Test of the Champion' may be distinctly lacking in champions but it does at least feature several horses who played bit parts in the previous two legs of the Triple Crown.
Irish War Cry, a late addition to the field after pleasing trainer Graham Motion in recent workouts, could start favourite, despite weakening to tenth after prompting the pace in the Kentucky Derby on his most recent outing five weeks ago.
"We feel like he didn't run his race on Derby day," said Motion. "We weighed him and he’s put on 10lb since the Derby. We’re very pleased with him."
Trainer Steve Asmussen will be hoping the extra distance of the Belmont – at a mile ánd a half, a rarity in the world of US dirt racing – will play to the strengths of late-running Kentucky runner-up Lookin At Lee, who was fourth in the Preakness. He will become the only horse to contest all three legs of this year's Triple Crown.
Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher runs Tapwrit and one-eyed Patch, while Chad Brown, who landed the Preakness, sends new shooter Twisted Tom into the fray. Pimlico third Senior Investment is another contender in an open-looking contest at the 'Big Sandy'.