June 22, 2024

Classic Empire’s defection opens Belmont Stakes betting

Post position draw at Rockefeller Center on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, for the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes (G1)

When Classic Empire’s connections announced the two-year-old champion male and Preakness Stakes runner-up would not contest the Belmont Stakes, the other horses’ jobs in the race got easier, but one person’s job got a lot harder.

Going into Wednesday’s post position draw for the “Test of the Champion” on Saturday at Belmont Park, New York Racing Association morning-line maker Eric Donovan had an easy decision regarding the race favorite, but Classic Empire’s defection changed that.

Donovan went with Irish War Cry as the projected public’s choice with a morning-line price of 7-2 from post 7. If he goes off at that price, he’d be the longest-priced favorite since Kentucky Derby winner Cavonnier was 3-1 in 1996.

“I’m happy with the post,” trainer H. Graham Motion said. “This wasn’t the plan after the Derby, but him being by (2007 Belmont runner-up) Curlin encourages me. (The 1 1/2-mile distance) is an unknown for all horse, but it’s within his scope if things go his way.”

Jockey Rajiv Maragh will help things go Irish War Cry’s way. He said he’s more worried about who’s around him in the starting gate than Irish War Cry’s actual post.

“There’s no bad post for this race,” Maragh said. “It’s really more about the running style of who’s around you. Irish is easy to handle and can be put anywhere in the race. Hopefully he’ll show what he’s made of.”

U.A.E. Derby runner-up Epicharis drew post 11 and is the 4-1 second choice on the morning line. The field of 12 ranges in price from 7-2 (Irish War Cry) to 30-1 (Hollywood Handsome) with five horses at 8-1 or less.

Dallas Stewart trains Hollywood Handsome, the longest price in the race, but Stewart has success with that move, saddling Derby runners-up Golden Soul and Commanding Curve and Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve all at big prices.

4.70 Bob and John 2006
3.00 Cavonnier 1996
2.85 Jaipur 1962
2.80 Rampage 1986
2.70 Prairie Bayou 1993
2.60 Animal Kingdom 2011
2.60 Nimbus 1933