So far everything is going according to plan for Belmont Stakes hopeful Epicharis. The colt breezed a pedestrian 1:06 for five furlongs with regular rider Masa Aki over Belmont's training track early Tuesday morning. The son of Gold Allure went easy down the backside, but picked up the pace late, clocking the last three furlongs in 37 seconds. Trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara was in good spirits following the colt's only work before Saturday's race.
“He went good early,” Hagiwara said through interpreters. “He was good down the backstretch. I think it might be better to get some position behind some horses. He's recovered from the long flight well, better than Dubai. So, he's in good form.”
Hagiwara trained 2009 Japanese Derby winner Logi Universe, the only Group 1 winner thus far in his career. The 58-year-old conditioner, said to be a man of very few words, calls Epicharis “a very good horse” which explains why he has a lot of backing coming from his homeland.
“I'm a Japanese horseman, and this is the most exciting thing I've been able to have,” he said through his interpreter. “I'm very honored to have a horse here in the Belmont Stakes, I'm very excited. I'm hoping for a good result because he's getting good support from Japan, the horsemen, and the other connections, so I'm sure that Japan is hoping for a good result.”
As for the comparisons between Belmont Park and Japan and assessing the 12 others Epicharis and his team will face on Saturday there are a few that benefit his colt.
“The track here is firmer than in Japan,” said Hagiwara. “Back there we have much softer. The climate is much better here than over in Japan.”
The stoic, but busy Hagiwara is enjoying his time in New York, and already has dined at the famed steakhouse Peter Luger's. If Epicharis runs well in the Belmont, there is a chance that he would return to run in the U.S. once again.
“The plan is to ship back to Japan after the race, but if the results are good he will consider running him in the Breeders' Cup or the other great races here in America.”
Fern Circle Stable's Senior Investment was in good order after Tuesday morning's four-furlong work on the main track. Jockey Dylan Davis was once again aboard the son of Discreetly Mine, taking him through a quarter-mile in 25 2/5 seconds, with a final time of 50.19 before galloping out five eighths in 1:02 4/5.
It was the second and final work for the Ken McPeek trainee since his third-place finish in the Grade 1 Preakness on May 20.
“It was a simple half-mile, nothing complicated, just let him stretch his legs over the track,” McPeek said. “I think that horses need a little work over this racetrack before they run here and he handled it fine. What I call a 'happy half' – just keep him happy, switch his leads, give him a peek at the scenery, all that. Dylan said he was a little conservative with him, just kind of went easy and finished up well.”
Saturday's 149th running of the Belmont Stakes will be McPeek's sixth start in the Belmont after he saddled Pineaff in an attempt to dethrone Charismatic's bid for a Triple Crown in 1999. The former hotwalker for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey changed his training tactics after Pineaff was a well-beaten ninth.
“The first horse I ran in the Belmont was in 1999 and he never trained over it, and it was a disaster; the horse got beat like 50 lengths,” McPeek said. “When I came back, I decided that I'd have a horse that trained here and that's what it is. He just needed a little work over the track and he got it and handled it great. He cooled out good.”
McPeek returned to deny Victory Gallop's Triple Crown when Sarava became the longest price in the history of the Belmont in 2002. Sarava went off at 70-1, and returned $142.50. McPeek saddled Atigun to a third-place finish in 2012, then finished off the board with Unstoppable U (6th) in 2012 and Frac Daddy (14th) in 2013.
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