Belmont Stakes up for grabs to end uneven Triple Crown

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NEW YORK — This year’s topsy-turvy Triple Crown trail comes to an end in a Belmont Stakes without the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners or the expected favorite who dropped out. It does come with questions about a Japanese horse with a sore foot.

No horse has dominated the 3-year-old ranks so far, leaving the 1+-mile Belmont up for grabs among 12 horses that on Saturday will run the longest race of their lives.

The 7-2 early favorite Irish War Cry is only in the Belmont after trainer Graham Motion licked his wounds from the colt’s 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago.

“When you get beaten as one of the favorites in the Derby, it’s pretty discouraging and you just want to put it behind you,” he said. “My horse is doing well. As long as he’s doing well, he deserved a chance.”

Irish War Cry inherited the role of favorite after Classic Empire was forced out earlier in the week with an abscess in his hoof.

Watch: 2017 Belmont Stakes (Saturday at 3 p.m. ET)

Speculation on the status of early 4-1 second choice Epicharis continued to swirl Friday after the colt didn’t train for a third straight day because of his sore right front hoof.

He was examined by veterinarians from the New York Racing Association and the Japan Racing Association, but no details on his condition were given. His trainer, Kiyoshi Hagiwara, didn’t speak to the media.

Epicharis received a treatment of the legal anti-inflammatory Phenylbutazone, or bute, on Wednesday for what was described as lameness in his right front leg.

The colt stood in ice to help his hoof and was fitted with a glue-on shoe, an alternative for horses with a damaged hoof. Instead of being nailed on, which could cause more soreness, the plastic-coated shoe is wrapped around the hoof wall.

Martin Panza, vice president of racing for NYRA, said Epicharis was walking soundly Friday.

“They feel confident they can make the race tomorrow, but they’re still going to monitor the horse,” he said of the Japanese team. “Obviously the horse comes first, and if there are any problems, they’ll re-evaluate. Right now they’re very comfortable that the horse is comfortable and much better than he was two days ago.”

Epicharis last trained on the track Tuesday. He hasn’t raced since finishing second in the UAE Derby on March 25.

“He’s a nice horse to ride because you can use any tactics,” said Christophe Lemaire, his French jockey. “If there’s no pace at all, he can lead or he can sit in second position. A mile and a half is a long way to go, but in his previous races he has shown us some stamina.”

A victory would earn Epicharis a $1 million bonus from NYRA, which worked to lure a horse from Japan.

Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming finished eighth in the Preakness, so he is skipping the Belmont. His trainer Todd Pletcher has two shots at winning the $1.5 million race on his home track: He will saddle 6-1 fourth choice Tapwrit and one-eyed Patch.

Tapwrit was sixth in the Derby and Patch was 14th.

“I think he ran a sneaky good race in the Derby,” Pletcher said of Tapwrit. “I don’t think it would be a surprise if either of them ran well.”

Cloud Computing skipped the Derby, won the Preakness and is sitting out the Belmont. His trainer Chad Brown has 20-1 shot Twisted Tom, who brings a three-race winning streak into the race on his home track.

Lookin At Lee will be the only horse to run in all three Triple Crown races. He was second in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness. He’s the early 5-1 third choice on Saturday.

Gormley, ninth in the Derby, flew from his Southern California base to take a shot after staying home from the Preakness.

Multiplier sat out the Derby and was sixth in the Preakness.

The longest shot in the field is 30-1 Hollywood Handsome, who along with 15-1 Meantime, didn’t run in either of the first two legs.

J Boys Echo is one of five Belmont runners who skipped the Preakness after running in the Derby, a route taken last year by Belmont winner Creator. Trainer Dale Romans is ready to get his hands on the trophy after finishing third four times.

“The mile and a half should help him and hopefully we’re going to see the best of him,” Romans said. “He’s got a good rhythm to the way he runs and I think that’s important going that far.”

Belmont Park’s deep, sandy track and sweeping turns can wipe out a tiring horse and benefit a closer able to negotiate the long stretch.

Senior Investment surged late to take third in the Preakness and his trainer, Ken McPeek, won the 2002 Belmont with 70-1 shot Sarava. In 2012, he trained 20-1 shot Atigun to a third-place finish.

“This thing is wide open, completely wide open,” McPeek said. “It will be interesting to see it unfold.”

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.