Belmont Aftermath: Haskell, Travers Are Targets for Pletcher’s Classic Winners

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Tapwrit assumed command in deep stretch to defeat Irish War Cry in the June 10 Belmont Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Thoroughbred racing's newest classic winner was a fitting spirit animal for trainer Todd Pletcher's barn the morning of June 11.

As outwardly weary as Tapwrit was from the effort it took to run down Irish War Cry in the stretch of the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets the day before, the gray colt still indulged those wanting to get up close to the barn's newest star.

Tired but good was the official declaration of how Tapwrit was doing Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after his two-length victory in the final leg of the Triple Crown capped off what has been a validating, if emotionally taxing, five weeks for his seven-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner.

Aside from some superficial cuts, Tapwrit was otherwise unscathed from his 12-furlong journey Saturday – even pulling himself up from a morning nap to amuse onlookers as he played with his jollyball. With the Belmont Stakes victory, Tapwrit gave Pletcher the distinction of being the first trainer since his mentor D. Wayne Lukas in 1996 to win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Belmont Stakes with different horses.

In the stall next to Tapwrit was his Kentucky Derby-winning stablemate Always Dreaming, who bypassed the final classic after finishing a disappointing eighth in the Preakness Stakes. For Pletcher, who also saddled Belmont third-place finisher Patch, taking home the third Belmont triumph of his career was more than a suitable enough salve.

"It's been an interesting five weeks for sure, and then you tack on the weeks leading up to the Derby and there is a lot of anxiety, a lot of ups and downs," Pletcher said. "We feel very fortunate to have won two legs. I felt bad for [Always Dreaming] mainly, and felt bad we couldn't deliver [a Triple Crown] for the fans. This is an awfully good consolation."

A jubilant Belmont Stakes winner's circle celebration. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

For Tapwrit, who is owned by Bridlewood Farm, Robert LaPenta, and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, a classic win backs up the belief his camp held going into the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes that the only thing he was lacking to this point was enough racing luck to get him over the hump.

After winning the March 11 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, Tapwrit ended up near the back of the field tracking a tepid pace during his fifth-place run in the April 8 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course, and then posted a better-than-it-looked sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby after getting caught up in the chain reaction bumping melee at the start when Irish War Cry broke inward from post 17.

The Belmont was an entirely different scenario, as Tapwrit got away so sharply out of post 2 that Pletcher initially thought his charge would end up setting the pace. Instead, he settled into an ideal stalking trip in the second flight behind Irish War Cry before coming with a big outside rally in the lane.

"It was all about the start. At Keeneland he didn't get away well and got pinched back at the start and was last behind pretty dawdling fractions," Pletcher said. "In the Derby he was just unfortunate to be on the inside of Irish War Cry and took the first blow there and compromised any early position he could establish. Yesterday, he broke great and. ... we wanted to be in that spot just behind the leaders."

Pletcher added that the usual summer targets like the July 29 Jim Dandy Stakes, the July 30 Haskell Invitational Stakes, and the Aug. 26 Travers Stakes are all in play for both Tapwrit and Always Dreaming as he now has the good problem of trying to keep his classic winners apart from one another.

Trainer Graham Motion reported that Belmont runner-up Irish War Cry was also in good order after his gut-wrenching loss, a defeat that nonetheless validated his connections' decision to take a swing at Big Sandy's signature test following his tenth-place run in the Kentucky Derby.

"It's very vindicating – for the horse and for me and the owners and everyone. I thought he ran very game, honestly," Motion said.

Trainer Dallas Stewart said Sunday that Hollywood Handsome was recovering well after emerging from his Belmont outing with a deep laceration behind his left knee. The son of Tapizar was pulled up by jockey Florent Geroux after the rider lost his irons when the duo clipped heels with Twisted Tom on the clubhouse turn. Stewart said Hollywood Handsome was being treated with antibiotics, and he had no timetable yet on when the colt might resume training.

Meanwhile, trainer Mark Casse said that champion Classic Empire, who missed the Belmont Stakes because of an abscess, will ship back to Churchill Downs June 12 as he continues to recover.

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