ELMONT, N.Y. -It took Todd Pletcher what must have seemed like forever to win his second Kentucky Derby. America's dominant trainer had long since unlocked the key to the Belmont Stakes at his home track.
Even with Derby winner Always Dreaming in his Belmont Park barn, Pletcher won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday with Tapwrit and finished third with Patch.
Irish War Cry, the 5-2 favorite, led from the start until the final 100 yards, but had to settle for second when Tapwrit eased by to win by two lengths, running the mile and a half in 2 minutes, 30.02 seconds.
"It's our home base and I think that's always an advantage,'' Pletcher said. "We felt like with the five weeks in between and with the way this horse had trained, we had a legitimate chance.''
Gormley finished fourth, meaning the top four horses ran in the Derby, passed the Preakness, and came back in the Belmont, the 21st-century way to win the final leg of the Triple Crown.
It was Pletcher's third Belmont win. Four times, one of his horses has finished second. All seven of them took those five weeks between Kentucky and New York.
A year after his brother Irad Ortiz gave Creator a perfect ride to win the Belmont and just catch Pletcher's Destin at the wire, Jose Ortiz gave Tapwrit a dream trip from third, just behind the battling Irish War Cry and Meantime. By the eighth pole, it was just Tapwrit and Irish War Cry. Then, it was only Tapwrit, the 5-1 second choice.
"Tapwrit was getting a beautiful trip,'' Pletcher said. "It was everything we talked about in the paddock before the race. We were hoping he had enough when it came to crunch time.''
With just two weeks rest, Always Dreaming was a disappointing eighth in the Preakness after his dominant Derby win. Tapwrit was sixth in the Derby after getting knocked well back into the pack at the start. Then, the Tampa Bay Derby winner got the all-important five weeks to get ready for the Belmont.
The Ortiz brothers have dominated the New York circuit for several years. Now, they are starting to win the big national races.
"It's an unbelievable feeling that I can't explain right now,'' Jose said.
Jose won the Manhattan Stakes, the race just prior to the Belmont, on 27-1 shot Ascend for trainer Graham Motion, the man who trains Irish War Cry.
So, the rider had some finish to a day that had been dominated by jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert. Smith won five stakes on the card, four on Baffert-trained horses.
It was two years ago, of course, that Baffert's American Pharoah completed the Triple Crown sweep with a blowout win in the Belmont Stakes. This year, Baffert did not have a horse in any of the Triple Crown races. It was Todd Pletcher's turn.
Songbird wins again
Two-time champion Songbird, making her 2017 debut in the Ogden Phipps Stakes on the Belmont undercard, won by a comfortable length under a typically cool ride from Mike Smith. Owned by Wilmington's Rick Porter, the 4-year-old filly has just one loss - by a nose to the great Beholder in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Distaff - in 13 starts. The Phipps was her eighth Grade I win.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was noncommittal on the filly's next start, but it is no secret that Porter would love to win the July 15 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park. Based in Southern California with Hollendorfer's powerful stable, Songbird was local last year when she dominated the Cotillion at Parx on Sept. 24.