If you’re having a tough time deciphering this year’s wide-open and puzzling Belmont Stakes, especially having to sort through 15 or 16 horses and trying to figure out who can get the mile and a half and is in peak form, then just go a different direction and don’t fill your brain with all kinds of speed figures and statistics, which in most cases can prove meaningless going this far. That will just confuse you even more.
If you love Classic Empire, just stick with him as the most talented horse remaining on the Triple Crown trail and who deserves to win one of these more than anyone else. If you like grabbing hold of the wise guy horse, who will be bet down, then go for Tapwrit off his fairly decent effort in the Kentucky Derby, in which he was bothered badly at the start and was closing well enough on the rail to finish sixth. And his Tampa Bay Derby victory is not a bad race on which to base your overall opinion of the horse.
But if you want to get a bit more adventurous and take a shot on a horse who not only could win the Belmont, he could win in impressive fashion, then why not take a good hard look at the Japanese invader Epicharis.
Form-wise, this is a horse who went into the UAE Derby undefeated, set a very solid pace, with pressure on his inside and then outside, and refused to quit when challenged at the top of the stretch by the big favorite Thunder Snow, who lunged forward and stuck the tip of his nose in front right on the wire. Throw out Thunder Snow’s debacle in the Kentucky Derby, which was a non-race, and look at his huge effort in the subsequent Irish 2,000 Guineas, in which he was a strong second to the brilliant English 2,000 Guineas winner Churchill, while finishing well clear of the others.
In Japan, we have already seen Epicharis destroy his opponents by 12 widening lengths at 1 1/8 miles and also win by seven and eight lengths. And we have seen him come through a small opening on the rail to win a one-mile stakes in a gutsy effort. As for the projected big field in the Belmont Stakes, he has already competed in fields of 13, 14, 15, and 16.
While many of the American horses are suspect at 1 1/2 miles, the same cannot be said of Epicharis, who should relish the distance.
His sire, Gold Allure, won the Japan Derby on dirt as well as the Derby Grand Prix, both at 1 1/4 miles. Gold Allure is a son of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner and mega-stallion Sunday Silence, and in his tail-female family you will find two of the world’s greatest class and stamina influences, Nijinsky II and Vaguely Noble.
Epicharis, in fact, is inbred to Nijinsky and also has the RF (Rasmussen Factor), being inbred to the great producer Special, through her son Nureyev on top and daughter Fairy Bridge, the dam of super sire Sadler’s Wells, on the bottom. He of course is also inbred to Northern Dancer.
On the dam side, Epicharis’ half-brother, Meisho Naruto, won two group 3 stakes at 1 1/4 miles.
The strongest part of Epicharis’ pedigree is his female family. His dam, Stapes Mitsuko, is by Carnegie, winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and was third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Carnegie’s dam, Detroit, also won the Arc de Triomphe. Epicharis’ third dam is by Diatome, who won of the Washington D.C. International after finishing third behind the legendary Sea-Bird in the Arc de Triomphe. Diatome is by Sicambre, winner of the French Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris at 1 7/8 miles.
Also in Epicharis’ female family is Shill, a daughter of Buckpasser, out of Quill, winner of the Acorn and Mother Goose Stakes and second in the CCA Oaks; and also China Rock, a stakes winner in Japan at 1 3/4 miles.
Talk about influential stallions, three of Epicharis’ four great-grandsires are Sadler’s Wells, Nureyev, and Halo. So, as you can see, this is a pedigree inundated with class and stamina and a number of classic winners and champion sires.
Japanese form has proven itself in America’s classic races on several occasions, going back to just last year when Lani, after running well in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, finished a fast-closing third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, in the Belmont Stakes. And many people believe Casino Drive would have won the 2008 Belmont Stakes had he not injured himself two days before the race, especially considering Big Brown never finished the race, the winner was super longshot Da Tara, and Casino Drive was coming off a 5 3/4-length victory in a sharp 1:47 4/5 in the Peter Pan Stakes.
No one can say for sure just how Epicharis will fare coming all the way from Japan. But based on his dominant form in Japan, his form against Thunder Snow, and his outstanding pedigree, he has to be an attractive proposition, in much the same way the Irish invader Go and Go was in 1990 when he romped by 8 1/4 lengths at odds of 7-1.