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Having a birthday in 2014 – check.  Being gritty, tenacious and determined enough to merit a run on Big Sandy – check.  A starting gate with 12 spots – check.  A Saturday in early June that lands three weeks after the Preakness Stakes – check.  Belmont Park in Elmont, NY – check.  One-and-a-half-mile race on dirt – check.  Belmont Jewels for everyone – check.  Fancy hats – check.  A blanket of white carnations – check.  Some money for the bank – check.  Third leg of the Triple Crown (TC) trail – check.  An awesome trophy – check.  A chance at thoroughbred immortality – check.

Let’s see who will compete in “the Test of the Champion” this year.

Let’s see whose prayers will be answered late Saturday afternoon.

Let’s see whose dreams will come true when the Belmont Stakes (BS) gods change his destiny.

EPICHARIS

Epicharis…Welcome Epicharis to your first-ever race in America!  Welcome Epicharis to your first-ever TC race!  Epicharis is the first of four horses making his debut in the 2017 TC series!  Epicharis has not raced since March so it’s safe to say he is more than well rested.  As with every other horse in the race, this will be a step up in distance for him, but his trainer has stated, “The distance is very good for him. Over 2,000 meters is good for him”.  Ok, then!  He has speed, but look for him to be off the pace and sit behind horses.  With a mile-and-a-half to cover, he has time to position himself get a feel for the track.  The actual track should not be problematic for him either since Japan dirt tracks are more like sand, and the Belmont track is firmer than what he’s used to.  It gets better and better for this foreign invaderJ  He makes his bid for the third leg of our Triple Crown from post 11, last won by Tonalist in 2014, the horse who denied 2014 and 2016 HOY California Chrome his Triple Crown!  For the second year in a row, Japan has sent us one of their superstars to race in our Classic races!  Last year, Lani ran in all three TC races.  He finished third and with any ganbarou [がんばろ – that means good luck in JapaneseJ], Epicharis will be draped in carnations late Saturday afternoon!   Fun facts…Epicharis is the grandson of 1989 HOY Sunday Silence and I ♥ him!  Speaking of HOY, Epicharis has 20 HOY winners and 20 BS winners in his family tree!  He also has four TC winners with 1930 TC Gallant Fox; 1935 TC Omaha; 1937 TC War Admiral and 1943 TC Count Fleet!  If Epicharis wins, he will be the just the tenth foreign born winner of the Belmont Stakes (the last one was Victory Gallop in 1998 from Canada!) and the first one from Japan!  If Epicharis wins, he also will take home an extra $1M from NYRA, a bonus offered to any Japanese winner of New York’s most prestigious race – nice!  Good Luck Epicharis!

GORMLEY

Gormley…If at any point during the race Gormley seems distracted, it may be because he’s thinking about how lucky he is to have spent some time on his journey to Belmont with the lovely 2015 & 2016 Champion Female Songbird!  Let’s hope he can focus because he has kind of a big race to run!  After finishing a disappointing 9th in the 2017 KD, Gormley bypassed the Preakness.  He arrived in New York on Wednesday, will start from post 3 and is looking to get up a few spots up in this race – maybe eight more?   Gormley has the speed of a racehorse (uh, duh?), but don’t look for him to be up front at the start.  His jockey will need to harness his speed, speed he will need to ration to meet the distance of the sweeping Belmont track!  He needs to stay out of trouble and hunker down to see how the race sets up and then make his move – there, I have solved this dilemma for him, you’re welcome!  His pedigree suggests that stamina won’t be a problem for him – phew, because Big Sandy looms!  The Santa Anita derby winner has been inconsistent in his racing, but that can be chalked up to growing up.  His trainer has said he wants Gormley “to develop on his own” – hopefully that developing will end with pink and teal silks crossing under the wire first on Saturday!  Fun facts… Gormley has 26 BS winners and 26 HOY winners woven in the branches of his family tree!  He can brag that in this field, he has the most TC winners in that family tree with a total of seven – 1930 TC Gallant Fox; 1935 TC Omaha; 1937 TC War Admiral; 1943 TC Count Fleet; 1973 TC Secretariat; 1977 TC Seattle Slew and 1978 TC Affirmed – WOW!  1986 Champion Turf Female Estrapade (buried at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm @ Hurstland Farm in KY) and 1987-1988 Champion Turf Female Miesque are both part of Gormleys’ maternal family tree! Good luck Gormley!

HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME

Hollywood Handsome…Hollywood Handsome is the next newcomer to the 2017 TC trail – welcome to New York!  He will make his start on the Belmont oval from post five – the last horse to win the BS from that post was 2015 TC American Pharoah!  The distance of the race makes post position in this race not as important as in other races – a horse has a very long time, well actually about two-and-a-half-minutes total, to make a move here!  And speaking of making a move, Hollywood Handsome in making a big move up in class in this race!  Not surprisingly, he is the current longshot to win – pffft…ask 2002 BS winner Sarava what he thought about being the longshot at 70-1 when he won his Belmont!  [You can actually go ask him since he lives at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, KY, the gentlest place on earth].  He does have two wins on his resume, no need to let the elite company joining him on the track that one was his maiden and the other an allowance!  His trainer has said, “this horse has a great disposition and demeanor about him. He’s very calm, cool. I think he’s improving”, so they are going to give him a shot at a Classic.  His pedigree suggests the distance will not be a problem, however none of these youngsters have raced a mile-and-a half, and probably won’t ever again.  Being a newbie to this type of company, he will have to settle in and wait while preparing to make his move at or near the top of the stretch – I’m not sure he’s ready for all of this, but I guess we’ll find out soon!  Fun facts…Hollywood Handsome has six TC winners in his lineage with 1930 TC Gallant Fox; 1935 TC Omaha; 1937 TC War Admiral; 1943 TC Count Fleet; 1973 TC Secretariat and 1977 TC Seattle Slew!  He also has 29 HOY winners and ties with Twisted Tom as having the most BS winners in his family with 27!  Good luck Hollywood Handsome!

IRISH WAR CRY

Irish War Cry…Irish War Cry is the Belmont favorite after 2016 Champion Classic Empire dropped out of the race earlier this week.  Irish War Cry is looking for a big turnaround after his fading run in the Kentucky Derby earned him 10th place that day.  He has been up and down in his races and hopefully gate number seven (maybe by taking out the number one in front of the seven will be a good omen for him – he started from post seventeen in the Derby) will be lucky for him!  Irish War Cry is full of speed and stamina, the former will help him stay with the pace of the race (depending on if there is any – which of course there will be since this is a horse race!) and the latter will help him at the top of the stretch.  As noted in my Derby post, decisions will have to be made on the far turn at least if not by the time he heads into the top of the stretch so he’s not hung out too far without being able to straighten himself out.  With the field obviously smaller than the Derby, he can sit back and wait a little longer before a decision is made, but either way, on the turn for home, he better be prepared for the long haul that is the Belmont homestretch!  Fun facts…Irish War Cry has 22 BS winners, 24 HOY winners (including his dad 2007 & 2008 HOY Curlin) and claims three TC winners in his bloodline with 1930 TC Gallant Fox; 1937 TC War Admiral and 1943 TC Count Fleet!  Irish War Cry is owned by the daughter of the founder of Monmouth Park Racetrack in New Jersey – let’s hear it for the Jersey Boys!  Good luck Irish War Cry!

J BOYS ECHO

J Boys Echo…J Boys Echo finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby, skipped the Preakness and is fresh, rested and ready to go in the Belmont!  There is a chance that he is still slightly out of his league here, but as I have stated many times, if I had a horse that was good enough to run in a Classic race, and not get hurt, I have my hat and can be packed in a jiffy!  Anyway, J Boys Echo had a tough time in the Derby, what with the traffic jam, the bad start and the mud in his face.  So enter the 2017 Belmont which will have less traffic, will hopefully not be smooshed at the start when he starts from post four (last won by Summer Bird in 2009 – another year when the TC races had three different winners) and no rain – the weather report calls for low-80’s and sunny!  He has had problem after problem in many of his starts snf his connections are hoping for a clean trip for their star – his trainer thinks he’s ready to go after his recent work that, “I think this is the best he’s ever worked.”, that’s New York confidence in abundance!  J Boys Echo will not be up front in the race, so look for him to settle in for a while and survey what’s ahead of him.  Soon enough the top of the stretch will appear and with his closing style, hopefully he will have enough energy left to snack on some white carnations!  Fun facts… J Boys Echo’s ancestry includes 26 BS winners, 29 HOY winners (including his dad, 2003 HOY Mineshaft) and five TC winners in 1930 TC Gallant Fox; 1937 TC War Admiral; 1943 TC Count Fleet; 1973 TC Secretariat and 1977 TC Seattle Slew!  Good luck J Boys Echo!

LOOKIN AT LEE

Lookin At Lee…Lookin At Lee will be making his 12th lifetime start on Saturday – hopefully he’s not too tired because he has a whopper of a race to run!  Starting from post six (last won in 1999 by Lemon Drop Kid, who denied 1999 KD & PS winner Charismatic from his TC), Lookin At Lee is probably “lookin” around and thinking, isn’t it my turn to win one of these things?  He has not graced the winners circle since August 2016, but he’s still standing and still making bank – he has the most winnings of the field!  He finished an amazing second in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness so his fans have got to be saying, let’s keep it on the board!  Lookin At Lee is a closer and the Belmont is a perfect race for that type of running.  Long run to the first turn, first sweeping turn, long run on the backstretch, long far turn, long homestretch – see, all kinds of time do determine how the race is setting up, who is fading, who is coming from behind, who still has gas in the tank, who is going to be hung wide on the far turn, who is going to have the trip of a lifetime!  His trainer says they are fortunate to have him and that “ He’s a unique horse in how strong he is, how he takes things, how he comes out of his races, how gritty he is, how durable he is”, there is nothing to not like about this horse!  Fun facts… Lookin at Lee is the only horse in the race to have raced in all three legs of the 2017 TC series – WOW!  Lookin At Lee’s lineage includes 23 BS winners and 22 HOY winners!  1930 TC Gallant Fox; 1937 TC War Admiral and 1943 TC Count Fleet are his ancestors as well!  His paternal great-great-great-great great grandmother is Shenanigans, dam of 1976 HOF-inductee filly Ruffian!  Good Luck Lookin At Lee!

MEANTIME

Meantime…Meantime is the third new face in this 2017 TC series.  Meantime will be starting from post nine, last won in 2005 by Afleet Alex – eeeek, let’s hope Meantime doesn’t get the bad bobble at the top of the stretch like Afleet Alex did.  Wait, Afleet Alex won, so maybe – no no, I don’t want any scary bobbles like that, so no bumper cars out there boys!  I digress.  Meantime only has one win – he broke his maiden a mere seven weeks ago!  This is a huge jump in class for him, but a spot was open and his connections decided to give Big Sandy a try.  While there is no Triple Crown on the line this year, the winner will still be a Classic winner, so if I had a horse who could run, and didn’t get hurt, I have my hat and can be packed in a jiffy!  His advantage here is that he has already raced on the Belmont track – he came in second in the Peter Pan Stakes (Peter Pan won the 1907 Belmont by the way!), on a muddy track.  So he likes the mud and that may present a problem as there is nary a drop of rain in sight for Saturday.  I think we will see him set the pace at the front of the race.  His inexperience may rear its head when he realizes how much race is left to run!  He has the least amount of earnings of this group and only time will tell if his pedigree will help him keep up with the caliber of horses along for the ride with him in Elmont, NY!  His trainer has stated, “He’s trained up the race beautifully and we’re up to the part where it’s up to the racing gods,” and “All the signs heading into the race have been very positive.”  Along those words…all I can say is the racing gods can be a fickle bunch, so who knows?  Fun facts…Meantime has 19 BS winner and 21 HOY winners in his family tree.  1930 TC Gallant Fox; 1937 TC War Admiral; 1943 TC Count Fleet and 1973 TC Secretariat are ancestors he can brag about too!  Good luck Meantime!

MULTIPLIER

Multiplier… I ♥ grey horses!  Multiplier is coming off a sixth-place finish in the Preakness Stakes three weeks ago.  He will be making this start from post 10 (last won in 1995 by Thunder Gulch) between two newcomers  and is looking to cover more ground and move up about, oh I don’t know, five spots!  Multiplier is deep closer who saves ground and saves his energy to come from off the pace.  As with the Preakness, the speed up front won’t be the problem, but this time, it won’t be the mass of male equines all looking to make their move as they turn for home, but will be when the decision is made in the race to move.  The Belmont track is a beast like no other and closers have to judge their moves at their peril, lest they get hung wide early or incorrectly judge the distance to the wire – it’s not as close as your last race guys!  He has the speed and stamina in his bloodlines, so the distance shouldn’t bother him, it will be the aforementioned closing kick and whenever it’s made.  Aside from that, he is settling in fine in New York.  On the flight from Kentucky, his exercise rider observed “He was right next to J Boys Echo and they were hanging out sharing the hay rack. He made a new friend,” and “He’s a character. He’s very funny. In the van, all the other horses were standing quiet and he was there shaking his chain. He’s something else. He’s a clown.”.  AwwwJ  I wrote in my Preakness post that his trainer says he is a very laid back horse and that, “Nothing bothers him.  His temperament is what allows him more than anything.  He’s so switched off.  He wants to eat and sleep, and that’s it, but in a race, he shows great desire.”…if nothing else, this is a sweet horse!  Fun facts… Multiplier has four TC winners in his family (1930 TC Gallant Fox; 1935 TC Omaha; 1937 TC War Admiral and 1943 TC Count Fleet)!  He is also related to 14 PS winners and 23 HOY winners!  His paternal great-great-great grandmother is Shenanigans, dam of 1976 HOF-inductee filly Ruffian!  Eight generations back on his dams’ side is 1924 PS winner Nellie Morse, the fourth filly to win the Preakness!  Good Luck Multiplier!

PATCH

Patch…Sentimental Derby favorite Patch is back and will probably be the sentimental favorite again.  Aside from the fact that he is missing his left eye, as with his last race, Patch will be starting from post 12 (last won by Palace Malice in 2013) on the outside!  In this race, though, post position doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does in shorter races – and this is a looooooooonnnnnnnnnng race!  Patch won’t be able to see how many horses are lining up to his left, but he will still have to make a run for the center of the track.  No need to rush as there is plenty of time to settle , take it all in, see what’s going on and decide what to do!  Before Patch ran in the Derby, where he finished 14th, there was talk of a longer distance race being better suited for him – and voilà, here you go!  His pedigree is well suited to the Belmont distance and without the sloppy track and bumping in the stretch in the Derby, Patch may be sitting on a big race Saturday.  He remains a bit light on the experience side as the Belmont will be just his fifth lifetime start, but his trainer sings his praise, “ he’s a really cool horse to be around. Very straightforward, easy to train, a consummate professional.’’  Again…aww:J  He may have lost one eye, but he gained the hearts and affection of even the most casual race fan.  His left ear still works, hopefully he will be hearing the roar of applause for him on Saturday – I have a feeling that will happen regardless of the outcome!  Fun facts…Patch is the only runner in the race whose sire won the Belmont [Union Rags in 2012]!  Speaking of BS winners, Patch has 25 as his ancestors, as well as 29 HOY winners and six TC winners with 1930 TC Gallant Fox; 1935 TC Omaha; 1937 TC War Admiral and 1943 TC Count Fleet; 1973 TC Secretariat and 1977 TC Seattle Slew!  The great Noor, the first ever horse to beat two TC winners (1946 TC Assault and 1948 TC Citation), is his great-great-great-great-great paternal grandfather!  Noor is buried at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, KY, the gentlest place on earth!  Good luck Patch!

SENIOR INVESTMENT

Senior Investment…Did anyone notice the horse that came flying out of nowhere (ok it was actually the back of the Preakness pack) three weeks ago in Pimlico to come in third in the Preakness?  Senior Investment was that guy and what a way to let the world know you’ve arrived!  Starting from post 8, Senior Investment is a big horse who is improving at the right time.  His trainer said right after the Preakness that, “A mile and a half and the Belmont is going to be really up his alley”, and so here he is!  He has been training the same way that his trainer worked his last, and only, Belmont champion, 2002 BS Sarava, “the biggest longshot in the history of the Belmont Stakes”.  So we know that works!  Senior Investment is another closer in the race, and while he will have a bit more time and distance in this race, he cannot sit back for too long.  He is going to have company at the top of the stretch, but with the added distance, he may just end up one or two spots higher than his last race!  When asked about his horses’ chances, his trainer said,” he’s a horse that will keep going and going, and hopefully he can outgallop them.”  He is also a “really, really smart horse” and seems to be settling in well in Elmont.  He has been stretching his legs and muscles on the track and is maintaining his appetite!  Who knows, he may be tasting a blanket of flowers sooner than he thinks!  Fun facts…Senior Investments’ bloodline includes 25 BS winners, 31 HOY winners (the most of this group!) and four TC winners with 1937 TC War Admiral; 1943 TC Count Fleet; 1973 TC Secretariat and 1977 TC Seattle Slew!  Good Luck Senior Investment!

TAPWRIT

Tapwrit…I ♥ grey horses!  Tapwrit makes his Belmont start from post two, last won by Tabasco Cat in 1994.  Tapwrit came in 6th in the Derby and made a detour around Baltimore to arrive in New York!  He has fresh legs after not running in the Preakness and has been working well during his layoff.  Tapwrit had a rough start in the Derby and had too much work to do in all that traffic and commotion to hit the board, but this time around should be a whole different horse race!  Less participants, different weather, different track and bam – different horse race!  He was making up ground in the Derby and if there has been just a little more distance, well who knows?  Tapwrit has been training on the Belmont track since the Derby so he is familiar and comfortable on the sandy surface.  Tapwrit and Patch are stablemates and “keep perfect company” when they work together.  His trainer has said of Tapwrit that he “is not an overzealous workhorse” and that he has a “solid, grinding style that could suit the Belmont”.  His pedigree suits the distance and so I guess all questions will be answered soon!  Fun facts…When he was a yearling, Tapwrit was sold at auction for a cool $1.2 million!  Tapwrit has six TC winners in his bloodlines with 1930 TC Gallant Fox; 1935 TC Omaha; 1937 TC War Admiral; 1943 TC Count Fleet; 1973 TC Secretariat and 1977 TC Seattle Slew!  He has 25 BS winners and 29 HOY winners in there too!  If Tapwrit wins, it will be the third BS win for his trainer (Palace Malice in 2013 and Rags to Riches in 2007 [You Go Girl!])!  Good Luck Tapwrit!

TWISTED TOM

Twisted Tom…Twisted Tom is the fourth horse in the race to not have run in either the 2017 KD or PS.  He will be starting from the rail, but since this race does not set up like other races, the rail is not as bad of a place to start as it would be in other races.  Just ask 1997 BS winner Touch Gold, who started from post one and who ended 1997 KD & PS winner Silver Charm’s TC bid!  [You can actually go ask both Touch Gold and Silver Charm about it since they both live at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, KY, the gentlest place on earth-imagine those stories across the fence!].  But I digress again.  Twisted Tom has the stamina pedigree to run all day so someone better tell him he only needs to run around the oval one time!  That being said, his speed will be a problem for him.  Not that he doesn’t have any, he is a thoroughbred after all, but that he doesn’t have enough of it.  He won’t be the speed of the race and he won’t be closing in the stretch, so that leaves him to grind along and hope for the trip of a lifetime.  His trainer is still on cloud nine with his PS victory with Cloud Computing, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make it two-out-of-three!  He has said of Twisted Tom that the Belmont is a “huge class test for this horse, but I love the way he’s developed. I do think he can stay a mile and a half. I think the longer the better for him, so I’m anxious to get him out to that distance, but it’ll be a tough field, a large field”.  No arguments here!  Twisted Tom is the only New York bred in the race, so if he wins, well then cheers to New York!  Fun facts…Twisted Tom is tied with Hollywood Handsome as having the most BS winners as ancestors with 27!  He also has 23 HOY winners and four TC winners with 1937 TC War Admiral; 1943 TC Count Fleet; 1973 TC Secretariat and 1977 TC Seattle Slew!  His paternal great-grandfather is 1988 Sprint Champion Gulch!  Twisted Tom was born on April 1 – he shouldn’t say he was born on April Fools’ Day, he should let people know he shares that birthday with 2010 HOY Zenyatta!  Good luck Twisted Tom!

I have no more words except for the next 36!  Every horse is special.  Any horse can have a good day and any horse can have a bad day.  Here’s hoping all of them come home safely.  Have fun! 

Safe trip to all and good luck!