Belmont Stakes Field 2017: Horses and Jockeys Worth Backing in 149th Race

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2017

Belmont Stakes hopeful Irish War Cry gallops around the track with assistant trainer Alice Chapman up during a workout, Friday, June 9, 2017, in Elmont, N.Y. Irish War Cry is the favorite to win the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race on Saturday. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

The field for the 2017 Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park was supposed to include 13 horses, but now it's down to 12—and the favorite to win it all, Classic Empire, is the horse that's out. 

Classic Empire was pulled from the Belmont on Wednesday when it was discovered that he had a hoof abscess in his right front, per trainer Mark Casse as reported by BloodHorse's Alicia Wincze Hughes.

The disappointing injury for Classic Empire was located in the same hoof that caused the colt trouble in the Holy Bull Stakes back in February, in which he finished third. 

With Classic Empire out, the race is wide-open. The new favorite is Irish War Cry at 3-1, per OddsShark. Behind him is Epicharis at 7-2, and rounding out the top three most favored horses is Lookin At Lee at 5-1. 

Let's take a look at the latest odds for all the contenders in the Belmont Stakes field, and go a little deeper into why Irish War Cry, Epicharis or Lookin At Lee could emerge victorious in the Test of the Champion on Saturday. 

The 2017 Belmont Stakes race will take place on Saturday at approximately 6:50 p.m. ET, with post time at 6:37. NBC will broadcast the festival. 

      

Belmont Stakes Post Positions and Odds

No. 1: Twisted Tom (20-1) 
No. 2: Tapwrit (15-2) 
No. 3: Gormley (12-1) 
No. 4: J Boys Echo (16-1) 
No. 5: Hollywood Handsome (33-1) 
No. 6: Lookin At Lee (5-1)
No. 7: Irish War Cry (3-1) 
No. 8: Senior Investment (12-1)
No. 9: Meantime (14-1)
No. 10: Multiplier (16-1) 
No. 11: Epicharis (7-2)
No. 12: Patch (25-1)

      

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Irish War Cry (Jockey: Rajiv Maragh)

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Irish War Cry was originally not supposed to run in the Belmont Stakes this year, and now he, trainer Graham Motion and jockey Rajiv Maragh find themselves the team to beat heading into Saturday's race. 

When Irish War Cry finished in a disappointing 10th place after a collision out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby, trainer Motion pulled him from the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. He was also not planning to enter him in the Belmont Stakes. 

However, when the colt began training well, Motion changed his mind. And now he's a favorite. 

Irish War Cry took his first 1 ½-mile gallop around the track on Thursday morning, and Motion was pleased with how his horse looked. 

"He looked good. Everything went very smoothly," Motion said, per the NYRA Press Office (via the Paulick Report). "He was great. [Assistant trainer Alice Clapham] said he was looking around a little bit, but he's very sensible. He's not a complicated horse."

Motion is also pleased with the No. 7 post position that Irish War Cry drew. The trainer had wanted to be at or inside the eighth post. 

Per OddsShark, the best post at Belmont has been the No. 1 post, with 23 winners since 2005. The next most favorable posts have been No. 3 and No. 5. 

However, neither of the following two favorites break from either of those positions. 

      

Epicharis (Jockey: Christophe Lemaire)

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 05:  Belmont Stakes contender Epicharis walks outside his paddock after training prior to the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 5, 2017 in Elmont, New York.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Though he may be a top favorite with 7-2 odds, bettors have to be wary of Epicharis as he missed training Friday for the second day in a row due to a lameness treatment in his right front leg, per Lenny Shulman and Claire Novak of BloodHorse. 

However, trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara still expects his horse to run in Saturday's race. 

"It looks like it is getting better and I think there is no problem with him running in the race," Hagiwara said, per Shulman and Novak. "We still have time so we will give him the best care we can."

The Japanese-bred colt won his first three starts in Japan by a combined 25 lengths, per the Belmont Stakes official website

His leg will have to be watched closely, but bettors who believe in Epicharis' racing style and his victories so far should feel optimistic about his chances for winning the Test of the Champion. 

Hagiwara thinks his colt is especially well-suited to the track at Belmont. 

"He is bred to stay and, the way he races, I believe 1 ½ miles at Belmont suits him," Hagiwara said, per the Belmont Stakes website. 

     

Lookin At Lee (Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.)

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 18: Lookin at Lee on the track in preparation for the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 18, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Horsephotos/Getty Images)
Horsephotos/Getty Images

The only contender in the Belmont Stakes who will have run in all three jewels of the Triple Crown, Lookin At Lee could be one of the safest horses to back in the Belmont Stakes. 

His consistency and his durability speak for themselves. 

Lookin At Lee finished in second place in the Kentucky Derby, just barely edged out by Always Dreaming, and placed fourth in the Preakness Stakes. 

Earlier in the year, the Kentucky-bred colt placed third in the Arkansas Derby as well as in the Southwest Stakes. 

It takes a lot of determination and a few good strokes of luck in the health department to be the only registered foal to run in all three Triple Crown races in a given year, and trainer Steve Asmussen had nothing but glowing reviews for his colt's feat. 

"He's a unique horse in how strong he is, how he takes things, how he comes out of his races, how gritty he is, how durable he is," Asmussen said, per Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form.

"We realize how fortunate we are."