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Tapwrit wins 149th Belmont Stakes

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Tapwrit wins 149th Belmont Stakes

NEW YORK -- The road to the winner's circle in the Belmont Stakes ran through the Kentucky Derby, even if the Derby and Preakness winners skipped the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Tapwrit overtook favored Irish War Cry in the stretch to win by two lengths on Saturday, giving trainer Todd Pletcher his third career victory in the Belmont. He won in 2007 with filly Rags to Riches and in 2013 with Palace Malice.

The first four finishers all followed a well-worn path: run in the Derby, skip the Preakness and come back fresh for the Belmont. Five of the last nine Belmont winners did just that.

Tapwrit finished sixth in the 20-horse Derby after encountering traffic in what Pletcher described as "a sneaky good" race.

"We felt like with the five weeks in between, and with the way this horse had trained, that he had a legitimate chance," said Pletcher, who is based at Belmont Park. "I think that's always an advantage."

Irish War Cry was 10th after pressing the early pace in the May 6 race.

Patch took third in the Belmont after being 14th in the Derby. Gormley, ninth in the Derby, finished fourth Saturday.

Ridden by Jose Ortiz, Tapwrit ran 1 1/2 miles in 2:30.02 on his home track. Ortiz's brother Irad Jr. won the race last year with Creator.

"The distance, I was sure he could handle it," Ortiz said.

Tapwrit paid $12.60, $6.50 and $5 at 5-1 odds.

Irish War Cry returned $4.70 and $3.90 as the 5-2 favorite in front of 57,729 on an 82-degree day. Patch, the one-eyed horse trained by Pletcher, was another 5 3/4 lengths back in third and paid $6.50 to show.

Pletcher took two of the year's three Triple Crown races, having saddled Always Dreaming to victory in the Derby.

"The Derby win was awesome," he said. "The last five weeks have been the ultimate roller coaster. We felt really good coming in that both horses were doing very well. We felt like both horses suited the mile and a half distance. They had the right running styles and the right dispositions and the right pedigrees. Fortunately, it all fell into place."

Tapwrit, a 3-year-old gray colt, was purchased for $1.2 million, making him the most expensive horse in the field.

He's co-owned by John and Leslie Malone, who race as Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta, who won the 2008 Belmont when 70-1 shot Da'Tara spoiled Big Brown's Triple Crown bid.

John Malone is chairman of Liberty Media Corp., whose holdings include Sirius XM radio and the Atlanta Braves.

The $1.5 million race took several hits before the starting gate opened.

It lacked Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing. Classic Empire, the expected favorite, dropped out Wednesday with a foot abscess.

Epicharis, the early 4-1 second choice, was scratched Saturday morning after failing a pre-race veterinary exam. The Japan-based colt had been treated for lameness in his right front hoof earlier in the week.

All that left it a wide-open race, and in the end it was Tapwrit that proved he was up to the grueling 1 1/2-mile challenge.

"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. It looked like Irish War Cry still had a little something left, but the last sixteenth, he dug down deep."

Irish War Cry, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby, went for the lead and was immediately pressured by 13-1 shot Meantime, ridden by Mike Smith, who won five stakes on the undercard.

"It actually wasn't our plan to be on the lead," said Graham Motion, who trains Irish War Cry. "We kind of hoped that somebody else would go for it, but he had to go to Plan B."

Tapwrit, meanwhile, settled in third, right behind the dueling leaders. They maintained that positioning onto the final turn when Ortiz first asked Tapwrit for his run.

It took a while for Tapwrit to find his best gear. Up front, Irish War Cry put away Meantime and appeared a likely winner at the top of Belmont's long stretch.

"At the eighth pole, I thought was might be home free," Motion said, "but it's the Belmont. It's a tough race."

That's when Tapwrit took up the chase in earnest. It was a two-horse race to the finish line, with Tapwrit gaining the lead in the final furlong.

Gormley finished fourth, followed by Senior Investment, Twisted Tom, Lookin At Lee, Meantime, J Boys Echo and Multiplier.

Hollywood Handsome was pulled up after clipping heels with the horse in front of him, causing jockey Florent Geroux to lose his stirrups in the first turn. He guided the colt to the outside until he could be stopped. The on-call vet said Hollywood Handsome sustained a cut behind his left knee, and it would be closed with staples.

"I got squeezed pretty hard coming into the first turn," Geroux said. "I almost went down."

Supreme Court gives go-ahead on sports betting in New Jersey

Supreme Court gives go-ahead on sports betting in New Jersey

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a federal law that bars gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, giving states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The 1992 law barred state-authorized sports gambling with some exceptions. It made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.

One research firm estimated before the ruling that if the Supreme Court were to strike down the law, 32 states would likely offer sports betting within five years.

"The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.

The court's decision came in a case from New Jersey, which has fought for years to legalize gambling on sports at casinos and racetracks in the state. Then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said after arguments in the case in December that if justices sided with the state, bets could be taken "within two weeks" of a decision. On Monday, after the ruling was announced, Christie tweeted that it was a "great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions."

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy shared Christie's excitement in a press release Monday.

"I am thrilled to see the Supreme Court finally side with New Jersey and strike down the arbitrary ban on sports betting imposed by Congress decades ago," he said.

“New Jersey has long been the lead advocate in fighting this inherently unequal law, and today’s ruling will finally allow for authorized facilities in New Jersey to take the same bets that are legal in other states in our country.

"Today’s victory would not have been possible without the incredible bipartisan effort from so many in our state, particularly former Governor Christie and former State Senator Lesniak. I look forward to working with the Legislature to enact a law authorizing and regulating sports betting in the very near future.”

It's possible that the first to market with sports betting in New Jersey will be a racetrack at the Jersey shore. Monmouth Park has already set up a sports book operation and has previously estimated it could take bets within two weeks of a favorable Supreme Court ruling.

Tony Rodio, president of Tropicana Entertainment, said his Atlantic City casino will "absolutely" offer sports betting once it can get it up and running. "It's been a long time coming," he said.

More than a dozen states had supported New Jersey, which argued that Congress exceeded its authority when it passed the law barring states from authorizing sports betting. New Jersey said the Constitution allows Congress to pass laws barring wagering on sports, but Congress can't require states to keep sports gambling prohibitions in place.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling is a win for New Jersey and the rest of the country," New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. said in a statement. "PASPA was clearly unconstitutional, and the ban on sports betting has now rightfully been rejected by the Court. I have long believed that New Jersey should have the opportunity to proceed with sports betting. Now that the Supreme Court has struck down this unlawful and confusing law, it is time for Congress to move the GAME Act forward to ensure that consumer protections are in place in any state that decides to implement sports betting.”

Last year, Pallone introduced the GAME Act, allowing states to legalize sports betting and online gambling if protections are also in place. The GAME Act could now act as the legal blueprint for states to adopt sports betting.

All four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law. In court, the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball had argued that New Jersey's gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games. Outside court, however, leaders of all but the NFL have shown varying degrees of openness to legalized sports gambling.

The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year.

New Jersey has spent years and millions of dollars in legal fees trying to legalize sports betting at its casinos, racetracks and former racetracks. In 2012, with voters' support, New Jersey lawmakers passed a law allowing sports betting, directly challenging the 1992 federal law which says states can't "authorize by law" sports gambling. The four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued, and the state lost in court.

In 2014, New Jersey tried a different tactic by repealing laws prohibiting sports gambling at casinos and racetracks. It argued taking its laws off the books was different from authorizing sports gambling. The state lost again and then took the case to the Supreme Court.