The sun shined and the alcohol flowed on a warm and breezy early spring Saturday at Belmont Park, and the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes kicked off at 6:38 p.m.
Two minutes and 30 seconds later, Tapwrit surged past favorite Irish War Cry to win the final jewel of the Triple Crown. Tapwrit entered the race at 5-1 odds, while Irish War Cry entered with 3-1 odds.
“Tapwrit was getting a beautiful trip. It was everything we talked about in the paddock before the race,” said Tapwrit trainer Todd Pletcher, who also trained 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. “We were hoping he had enough when it came to crunch time. It looked like Irish War Cry still had a little something left, but the last sixteenth, he dug down deep.”
Irish War Cry led for the majority of the race but faltered down the home stretch. Patch — the one-eyed horse — finished third.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling that I can’t explain,” said Tapwrit jockey Jose Ortiz. “I’m very happy right now.”
From a horseracing standpoint, the 2017 Stakes lacked the excitement and talent of years past — most notably two years ago, when American Pharaoh burst away from the field to become the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown.
Neither Always Dreaming nor the 2017 Preakness winner Cloud Computing were in the field for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the mile-and-a-half race proven to be the toughest Triple Crown event, and one of the most grueling in the sport.
Lookin At Lee — who entered the Stakes at 6-1 odds — was the only horse to run all three legs of the Triple Crown, and he finished in seventh place.
In the weeks leading up to the Stakes, Classic Empire — the second finisher in the Preakness and fourth finisher in the Derby — emerged as a major favorite to win the race. But on Wednesday morning, news broke that Classic Empire would miss the Stakes because of an abscess in his foot, thinning an already lackluster group running without the possibility of a Triple Crown winner. On Saturday morning, the field was whittled to 11 when Japanese horse Epicharis failed his veterinary exam.
And yet spectators still arrived energetic in both their demeanor and attire. Fans donned colorful and outlandish outfits — the women in floral, white and pastel dresses with designer sunglasses and hats that would be considered obnoxious in any other setting; the men in blazers and boat shoes, many wearing more pink than the ladies.
Betting stations were packed throughout the afternoon and evening, as horse racing fanatics and partiers alike sipped on light beer, margaritas, wine and, of course, Belmont Jewel cocktails — a blend of whiskey, lemonade, pomegranate juice and lemon zest that could be served in lively souvenir glasses for the reasonable price of $20.
As always, the lawn on the outside the track was bustling. A five-man jazz band played tunes as young couples twirled to the sounds of trumpet, guitar and upright bass. Near the paddock, vendors offered the usual fried and grilled fare — cheesesteaks, burgers, hot dogs and loaded nachos. Spectators who arrived early in the day set up lawn chairs and blankets on the grass, trees shielding them from the unrelenting sun.
On the other side of the grounds, a food truck “village” offered a more wide-ranging selection, including southeastern Asian tacos, American barbeque, Slovakian street food, chocolate covered waffles and craft beer. Top 40 music blared over a loud speaker as 20-somethings enjoyed an ever-flowing blend of drinks, far away from the thoroughbred action.
“Wow, what a day,” a passerby said on his way into the sunshine.
Inside, 10 races commenced over the course of the day before the main event. Interspersed between races was a variety of entertainment, including a medley from the United States Military Academy band, a song and dance number from the Broadway musical On Your Feet, and a parachute demonstration.
In the end, Tapwrit seized the day.
“We always had a lot of faith in him,” Ortiz said. “Today, he showed up.”