Irish War Cry is new Belmont favourite

Early top choice Classic Empire withdrawn from final leg of US Triple Crown

IRISH WAR CRY, trained by Graham Motion, has been installed as the early favourite for the 149th Belmont Stakes on Sunday morning (Singapore time), following the withdrawal of Classic Empire.

Classic Empire was expected to fill the favourite's role in the third leg of US flat racing's Triple Crown, the 2,400m "Test of the Champion" at Belmont Park.

But trainer Mark Casse said the colt was bothered by an abscess in his right front hoof.

"This morning his foot was really bugging him," Casse told reporters.

"When we came in, he could hardly get around. He'll be better as soon as it busts open. He'll have instant relief, but he can't run. He's been too good to us."

Classic Empire was fourth in the Kentucky Derby won by Always Dreaming and ran second in the Preakness Stakes behind Cloud Computing.

Irish War Cry, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby and then skipped the Preakness, drew the seventh post in the field of 12 and was priced at 7-2 for the US$1.5 million (S$2 million) race.

"I can honestly say that this was not my original plan," Motion said after the draw.

"When he ran so badly in the Derby, I just wanted to go home and forget about the Triple Crown. That's what the Derby does to you when you don't win it."


Japan-based EPICHARIS was made the 4-1 second choice, followed by Kentucky Derby runner-up LOOKIN AT LEE, the only horse entered who raced in both prior legs of the Triple Crown.

With no Triple Crown sweep on the line, Epicharis has been a focus of interest at Belmont Park since arriving from Japan.

Epicharis was dominant in three starts as a two-year-old, winning by a combined 25 lengths.

After a victory in the Hyacinth Stakes in Tokyo in February, he suffered his only defeat when he was edged by Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby in Dubai in March.

Epicharis will give Japan a starter in the Belmont for the second straight year - a first in the 149-year history of the race.

Lani finished third last year at Belmont after running ninth in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Preakness.

A win would bring his connections not only the US$800,000 first prize, but also a US$1 million bonus put up by the New York Racing Association in a bid to strengthen the field.

Trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara is delighted to get the shot.

"I'm a Japanese horseman, and this is the most exciting thing I've been able to do," said Hagiwara.

"I'm very honored to have a horse in the Belmont Stakes. I'm very excited."-AFP