Japanese horse Epicharis treated for lameness before Belmont

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NEW YORK — The mystery surrounding the Japanese horse that is the early 4-1 second choice to win the Belmont Stakes has gotten deeper.

Epicharis didn’t train on Thursday, hours after the 3-year-old dark brown colt was treated with an anti-inflammatory for lameness in his right front hoof, calling into question whether he will be fit to run in Saturday’s final leg of the Triple Crown.

The Belmont already lost expected favorite Classic Empire on Wednesday because of an abscess in his right front hoof. The $1.5 million race also is without Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing. A field of 12 is set to run the 1+-mile race, with Irish War Cry as the early 7-2 favorite.

Epicharis was treated intravenously with Butazolidin, commonly known as bute, on Wednesday night, according to veterinary records from the New York State Gaming Commission. The vet treating the horse cited “possible foot” as the issue.

“He looked a little different favoring his right front yesterday afternoon, so we treated his hoof and gave him bute,” trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara said Thursday through a translator. “It looks like it’s getting better and I think there is no problem running him in the race. We still have time, so we will give him the best care we can.”

Epicharis walked around his barn on Thursday, two days after he had his last serious workout. Hagiwara is hopeful he will return to the track on Friday.

The New York Racing Association surely hopes he runs on Saturday. It is offering a new $1 million (110,289,555 Japanese yen) bonus to Epicharis if he wins as part of an effort to recruit a Japanese horse to the Belmont. The winner’s share of the purse is $800,000 (88,236,744 yen).

“When you make such a long trip with the horse, you need confidence in your horse,” said Christophe Lemaire, his French jockey. “For sure, the connections studied the form very well, and the opportunity to come here. If they decided to bring the horse, it’s because they think he’s able to win. I think so too, especially this year with no Derby winner, no Preakness winner. I think he’s got a good chance.”

Last year, Japanese-trained Lani ran in all three Triple Crown races. His best finish was third in the Belmont.

Belmont Park’s sweeping turns and deep, sandy track is similar to those in Japan. However, the 1+-mile distance is a question for every entrant since most horses have never run that far and will never be asked to again.

“A mile and a half is a long way to go, but in his previous races he has shown us some stamina,” Lemaire said. “He should stay the trip.”

Epicharis was undefeated as a 2-year-old in his homeland, winning his first three starts in Japan by a combined 25 lengths. This year, Epicharis won another race in Tokyo before losing for the first time by a nose to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby in March.

His sire, Gold Allure, is a son of 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Sunday Silence.

The colt arrived in New York on June 1 after a 24-hour journey from Japan that included a layover in Alaska. He cleared quarantine last weekend.

Hagiwara trained 2009 Japanese Derby winner Logi Universe, the only Group 1 winner so far in his career. The 58-year-old trainer has never raced in the U.S. before.

“I’m hoping for a good result because he’s getting good support from Japan, the horsemen, and the other connections, so I’m sure that Japan is hoping for a good result,” he said.

There is great interest in Japan surrounding the 149-year-old Belmont, the oldest of America’s Triple Crown races. For the first time, a Triple Crown race will be available for pari-mutuel wagering in Japan through a separate, non-comingled pool.

“Every time a Japanese horse competes abroad, it’s a big event for Japanese fans and the Japanese horse racing world,” Lemaire said. “If Epicharis could win the Belmont, it would be a big shocking wave in Japan. A big tsunami maybe.”

British horse racing inspired by Formula 1 for new series

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LONDON (AP) British horse racing is drawing inspiration from motor racing for a new championship.

Twelve branded teams will compete over eight consecutive Thursdays at different race courses across Britain when “The Series” is launched by Championship Horse Racing in 2019.

The aim is for each team to feature 30 horses and four jockeys. Each of the teams will enter one horse into each of the races to create 12-runner fields.

Organizers say a Formula One-style points system will be used to determine the winners of championships for teams and jockeys.

Championship Horse Racing CEO Jeremy Wray says it’s a chance to engage fans with “bite-size, interactive content.”

The Series has been developed with the Jockey Club, which hopes to attract a new audience to horse racing.

Kanthaka wins San Vicente prep at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Long shot Kanthaka won the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths on Saturday at Santa Anita, giving Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer a second Kentucky Derby prospect.

Ridden by Flavien Prat, Kanthaka ran seven furlongs in 1:22.62 and paid $24.20, $7.20 and $4.80 at 11-1 odds in the field of six 3-year-olds.

Hollendorfer also trains Derby contender Instilled Regard.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Nero returned $7.80 and $5.60 at 9-1 odds. All Out Blitz, another 9-1 shot that was another 12 lengths back in third, returned $5 to show.”

Ax Man, the 2-5 favorite also trained by Baffert, was under intense early pressure from his post along the rail and faltered badly in the stretch to finish fourth.

“I would completely throw this race out,” said Drayden Van Dyke, who rode Ax Man.

Kanthaka was next-to-last midway around the far turn before cutting inside All Out Blitz a quarter mile from the finish of the Grade 2 race.

“He gave me a great run and he did everything right,” Prat said. “He broke like a bullet but then we had quite a lot of speed in front of us. So he sat really nicely behind the speed and made a really nice run around the turn.”

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Kanthaka’s career earnings to $153,440, with two wins in three starts.