Irish War Cry is back on the Triple Crown trail as the 7-2 favorite for the Belmont Stakes.
The colt claimed that status after expected favorite Classic Empire was forced out Wednesday because of an abscess in his right front hoof.
No one was more surprised at the turn of events than trainer Graham Motion. He left his base in Fair Hill, Maryland, early in the day and by the time he arrived in New York, his colt was the favorite in the 12-horse field for Saturday’s race.
“It’s just very odd,” he said after the draw at Rockefeller Plaza. “This goes to show how quickly things can go wrong. It just takes a little thing like a foot abscess. They’re animals, and things can go wrong at any time.”
Classic Empire was coming off a runner-up finish in the Preakness on May 20 after being fourth in the Kentucky Derby.
He had been training well up to the Belmont before trainer Mark Casse found the abscess on Wednesday. It’s a recurrence of the problem that bothered Classic Empire after his loss in the Holy Bull in February.
“He’s such a tough horse, he doesn’t really let you know until it’s really painful to him,” Casse said. “If he hadn’t, he would have run in the race and probably not run as well, and then have it flare up. I’m looking toward it as a bright spot, that he showed it three days out and not the day after.”
Casse said Classic Empire will be pointed toward the Haskell Invitational this summer.
The Belmont was already without the Kentucky Derby (Always Dreaming) and Preakness (Cloud Computing) winners. The wide-open field features a mix of horses that ran in one or both of those races and others new to the Triple Crown series.
“I don’t think there’s a horse in here you’d be surprised if they won,” Motion said. “It’s a great betting race from that point of view.”
Irish War Cry drew the No. 7 post under jockey Rajiv Maragh.
The colt finished a disappointing 10th in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness. Motion is hoping Irish War Cry will bounce back the way he did from a similarly puzzling seventh-place result in the Fountain of Youth to win the Wood Memorial in April.
“I felt he needed to be here,” Motion said.
So did 86-year-old owner Isabelle de Tomaso, who has her first Belmont starter since she started owning thoroughbreds in 2003. Her father, Amory Haskell, was the first president and chairman of the Monmouth Park Jockey Club and for whom the $1 million Haskell Invitational is named.
“She’s very good, she never questions what I do,” Motion said. “She’s the greatest owner to train for.”
Japan-based Epicharis is the 4-1 second choice, followed by Lookin At Lee at 5-1.
Epicharis is eligible for a $1 million bonus from the New York Racing Association if he wins the Belmont. He finished second by a nose in the UAE Derby.
Lookin At Lee will be the only horse to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown. He finished second in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness.
The Belmont field in post position order with jockeys and odds: Twisted Tom, Javier Castellano, 20-1; Tapwrit, Jose Ortiz, 6-1; Gormley, Victor Espinoza, 8-1; J Boys Echo, Robby Albarado, 15-1; Hollywood Handsome, Florent Geroux, 30-1; Lookin At Lee, Irad Ortiz Jr., 5-1; Irish War Cry, Maragh, 7-2; Senior Investment, Channing Hill, 12-1; Meantime, Mike Smith, 15-1; Multiplier, Joel Rosario, 15-1; Espicharis, Christophe Lemaire, 4-1; and Patch, John Velazquez, 12-1.