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.”

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.