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Belmont win was plenty compelling for Tapwrit's team

At age 23, jockey Jose Ortiz entered the Triple Crown winners club by leading Tapwrit to victory at Belmont. Nicole Bello/Getty Images

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Belmont Park crowned another champion Saturday -- just not one of the triple variety.

Tapwrit caught favorite Irish War Cry with a late surge down the stretch and won the 149th edition of the Belmont Stakes by two lengths.

No horse won the Triple Crown this year, but it's a triple of sorts for trainer Todd Pletcher. This is his third Belmont Stakes victory; he also won with Rags to Riches in 2007 and Palace Malice in 2013.

Pletcher is also the trainer for Patch, who finished third Saturday. And he trains Always Dreaming, who won the Kentucky Derby this year but finished only eighth in the Preakness Stakes.

"Each of these races individually stand on their own as major, major races and huge wins," Pletcher said.

"The [Kentucky] Derby win was awesome, and the ebbs and flows of this game are well-documented. The last five weeks have been the ultimate roller coaster for us. But we felt really good coming in that actually both horses were doing very well. We felt like both horses suited the mile-and-a-half distance. They had the right running styles, the right dispositions, the right pedigrees. We were fortunate it all fell into place. "

The location is also meaningful for Pletcher, who works out of Belmont Park.

"This is our home base," Pletcher said. "This is where we live. This is where my children go to high school. This is home. It's extra special."

It was also extra special for 23-year-old jockey Jose Ortiz, who recorded his first Triple Crown win.

"It's an unbelievable feeling that I can't explain," Ortiz said. "I'm very happy right now. I'm happy for the owners and [thankful] for Todd for giving me the opportunity."

"I don't think there's any secret that Jose's been a rising star for the last few years, and he's just a phenomenal rider," Pletcher said. "The [reasons] I think he suits our style of training and he suits Tapwrit is he's a pretty aggressive rider, he's good from the gate, he's good at getting horses in position, and generally that's the way most of our horses run. They want to be in a tactical position.

"He remained very confident in the horse even after the Blue Grass [Stakes] and after the tough trip in the [Kentucky] Derby. We felt like he had done everything right on the horse, and he deserved to stay with him. And he could not have ridden him any better today."

It was an up-and-down season for Tapwrit, too -- well, more like a down-and-up season. This highly regarded 3-year-old, owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Robert V. LaPenta and Bridlewood Farm, finished a disappointing fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes in April and sixth in the Kentucky Derby.

He sat out the Preakness, and that appears to have paid off. This was the second straight year and the 10th time in the past 19 years that the Belmont winner skipped the Preakness after running in the Kentucky Derby.

"The distance, I was sure he could handle it," Ortiz said. "It was a great training job by Todd. I always liked him, and we always had a lot of faith in him. Today he showed up. I'm very happy."

Many fans weren't happy when Always Dreaming faltered in the Preakness three weeks ago, which meant that there would be no Triple Crown attempt in New York.

That was only the first of several blows to the Belmont this year. Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing both skipped the race. Early favorite Classic Empire had to withdraw because of injury, and then Japanese wild card Epicharis was scratched Saturday morning because of injury as well.

Even so, 57,729 fans showed up at Belmont Park to watch 11 horses battle over a mile and a half, the longest race of the Triple Crown campaign. There's a reason the Belmont is dubbed the "Test of the Champion," and Tapwrit passed the test with flying colors.

"It could not have unfolded any better," Pletcher said. "We got exactly the position that we had talked about with Jose prior to the race. He got a beautiful trip."