By Steve Sherack
ELMONT, NY – With rumors beginning to circulate on the backstretch of the defection of champion Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile), the action began early for the GI Belmont S. runners on the grounds on another cloudy and unseasonably cool Wednesday morning.
Todd Pletcher’s formidable duo of Tapwrit (Tapit) and ‘TDN Rising Star’ Patch (Union Rags)–once again training without their Belmont S. saddle towels–were among the first spotted on the main track gearing up for the third leg of the Triple Crown just a tick after 6:00 a.m.
Leading sire Tapit has certainly flexed his muscle in the 12-furlong ‘Test of the Champion’ the past three years, led by a one-three finish courtesy of Creator and Lani in 2016; a runner-up finish by Frosted behind Triple Crown hero American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) in 2015; and a dramatic win via ‘TDN Rising Star’ Tonalist in 2014.
Multiplier (The Factor) was also out getting his first look at Big Sandy during this early time slot just after sunrise. The GIII Illinois Derby winner, hailing from the up-and-coming Brendan Walsh barn, finished with interest in the GI Preakness S. to place sixth, beaten 5 3/4 lengths.
Sporting a nameless Belmont S. saddle towel, late addition Hollywood Handsome (Tapizar) took his first spin over the surface for trainer Dallas Stewart just before 7 a.m. as the temperatures remained chilly in the low 50s. A well-beaten fifth in the Illinois Derby and a narrow first-level allowance winner at Churchill Downs last out May 14, the Mark Stanley colorbearer exited the track through the paddock tunnel.
With the aforementioned narrow Preakness runner-up and likely odds-on favorite forced to the sidelines with an untimely foot abscess, only one horse will line up for all three of the American Classics this year. Lookin At Lee (Lookin At Lucky), out for a strong gallop just before 7:30 a.m., will earn that distinction off the heels of a 33-1 runner-up finish in the Derby and a fourth-place finish in the Preakness. Winless in eight attempts since capturing last summer’s Ellis Park Juvenile S., he was met on the track near the clubhouse turn by Steve Asmussen assistant trainer Toby Sheets aboard a stable pony.
Trainer Dale Romans watched from the clubhouse apron as the sun briefly attempted to make its way through the thick cloud cover as ‘TDN Rising Star’ J Boys Echo (Mineshaft) hit the track just before 9 a.m. following the day’s lone renovation break. With Tammy Fox in the irons, the GIII Gotham S. winner and Kentucky Derby 15th was out only for light exercise, jogging once the wrong way around the outer rail during his first local appearance before heading off by the clubhouse turn gap. He will be equipped with first-time blinkers in the Belmont.
‘TDN Rising Star’ Irish War Cry (Curlin) continued his Belmont S. preparations at trainer Graham Motion’s Fair Hill base before earning the slight 7-2 morning-line nod at Wednesday’s post position draw held in Manhattan.