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 11/2-mile Belmont up for grabs among 12 horses that today 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.
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. 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.
Cloud Computing skipped the Derby, won the Preakness and is sitting out the Belmont.
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.