Belmont Preview: No Longer Afraid of Orb
When the glory has worn off the winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) after a different horse comes along to claim the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) becomes anybody's race to win.
Orb , ultra-impressive the first Saturday in May, looms a little less large for the June 8 Triple Crown event after a fourth-place finish, nine lengths back, at Pimlico Race Course, while front-running Preakness winner Oxbow is unlikely to find himself loose on the lead in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont as he did to win the second leg of the series.
"It has to give you more confidence, sure," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said of entering Godolphin Stable's 20-1 shot Incognito with no Triple Crown potential on the line. "Those are hard races, those first two."
Fourteen sophomores in the $1 million Belmont will meet a variety of unknowns, including the race's unusual marathon distance and a new twist this year–the potential impact of Tropical Storm Andrea passing near Long Island June 7. Some forecasts called for as much as 3-4 inches of rain beginning the evening of June 6 and continuing throughout the day June 7, and though the showers are expected to taper off early in the day June 8, track condition is a concern.
Maintenance crews for the New York Racing Association will roll and seal the track June 6 and monitor the weather while adjusting plans as needed (full weather story here).
Sloppy conditions would not hamper the chances of Orb, who faced similar conditions in the Derby; or of Derby runner-up Golden Soul, who sat out the Preakness and comes in fresh; or of Oxbow, whose gate-to-wire run came on a fast but deep track. Trainer Tom Albertrani is also doing the rain dance for West Point Thoroughbreds and partners' Freedom Child , who freaked in the May 11 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) with a 13 1/4-length victory on a sloppy but sealed Belmont surface.
The 145th Belmont will be billed as a rematch between the winners of the first two Triple Crown classics–though, to be fair, neither provided stiff competition for each other's respective scores. In the May 4 Derby, Oxbow wound up sixth by 9 3/4 lengths after pressing the pace, passed with little resistance during Orb's closing run. In the May 18 Preakness, Orb raced far off Oxbow's pace from post 1 and finished without firing behind the Calumet Farm runner.
Orb seeks to become the 12th Derby winner to take the Belmont but not the Preakness; the last was Thunder Gulch in 1995. Oxbow would become the 19th Preakness winner to take the Belmont but not the Derby, with Afleet Alex the most recent in 2005.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said he hasn't lost faith in the abilities of Orb, though he said he understands why other conditioners would feel less intimidated by the Malibu Moon colt heading into the Belmont.
"Obviously your confidence is going to get shaken a little bit," McGaughey said when so many have questions about the Derby winner after his Preakness loss. "It would be nice for him to redeem himself on Saturday. But obviously I haven't lost confidence in him at all, because I see what I see.
"I'm just going to put a line through the Preakness, I think it just wasn't our day. He hascome out of it good, he has trained well here, and I expect him to show up on Saturday."
A homebred owned by Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable, Orb will break from post 5 under regular rider Joel Rosario as the 3-1 favorite on the Belmont morning line. He turned in his final pre-race preparations June 2 when he breezed four furlongs in :48.30 at the New York track.
"He came out of the Preakness well, his energy level is good, he's traveling really, really well over this track, and his breeze here was very nice and he came out of it very nice; there are no negatives that I see," McGaughey said.
Hall of Fame horseman D. Wayne Lukas will send out 5-1 third choice Oxbow and Willis Horton's Rebel Stakes (gr. II) winner Will Take Charge in the Belmont. Lukas said Oxbow, a free-running son of Awesome Again , came out of his 1 3/4-length Preakness victory over Itsmyluckyday as on the muscle as ever.
"He's a tough little horse," Lukas said. "The Preakness took nothing out of him. He's full of himself. He'll be tough again, but whether he's a faster horse or a winning horse remains to be seen."
Oxbow leaves post 7 under Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, while Will Take Charge–20-1 on the morning line off a seventh-place finish in the Preakness and an eighth-place effort in the Derby–starts from the 10 hole under Jon Court. The chestnut son of Unbridled's Song is out of three-time grade I winner Take Charge Lady and is a half brother to grade I winner Take Charge Indy .
Lukas will be joined in the Belmont by three protégés: McLaughlin, who saddles Incognito, a son of A.P. Indy out of grade I winner Octave; Dallas Stewart, who brings in Charles Fipke's homebred Perfect Soul runner Golden Soul; and Todd Pletcher, who bypassed the Preakness entirely to bring five horses to the Belmont after starting five in the Derby.
"A lot of people decide to skip the Preakness, and when there's an upset in the Preakness it opens up everything and shows what can happen," Pletcher said. "The Belmont on its own is a very lucrative prize, and we would love to win it. There may not be a Triple Crown at stake, but the size of this field shows that people like to win it."
One of Pletcher's trainees, WinStar Farm's Louisiana Derby (gr. I) winner Revolutionary , rounded out the Derby trifecta and is the 9-2 second choice on the Belmont morning line. The ultra-consistent War Pass colt has not been off the board in seven starts, and is known for gamely overcoming seemingly insurmountable traffic trouble as he did earlier this season in his first stakes, the Withers (gr. III).
Dogwood Stables' Curlin colt Palace Malice and three starters owned by Mike Repole–Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Overanalyze , maiden winner Midnight Taboo, and the filly Unlimited Budget, who ran third last time out while suffering her first defeat in the May 3 Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I)–complete the lineup for Pletcher.
Pletcher has already won the Belmont with a filly–in 2007 with Rags to Riches. Unlimited Budget, winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II), Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. III), and Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II), will have Rosie Napravnik in the irons from post 13.
"I think that certainly is a big storyline of the race," Pletcher said. "Her record is very, very good. She ran very competitively in the Oaks; she has run very competitively in every start of her life."
Unlimited Budget gets a five-pound break in the weights and will carry 121, while the 13 males are assigned 126 pounds.
Two of Pletcher's starters exit also-ran efforts in the Derby. Overanalyze was 11th after an erratic trip, and Palace Malice ran 12th, fading after setting the pace when equipped with blinkers for the first time.
The latter will likely employ different tactics in the Belmont from post 12 under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, while Overanalyze leaves the 3 hole with John Velazquez in the irons. Overanalyze is a son of Dixie Union, sire of 2012 Belmont winner Union Rags .
Longshots Vyjack, Giant Finish, and Frac Daddy also exit the Derby after bypassing the Preakness; Pick Six Racing's Vyjack was 18th for trainer Rudy Rodriguez while 11th-hour entrant Giant Finish ran 10th for Sunrise Stables and partners and trainer Anthony Dutrow. Magic City Thoroughbred Partners' Frac Daddy was 16th for Ken McPeek.
The Belmont is slated as race 11 of 13 with an approximate post time of 6:36 p.m. EDT. NBC coverage is scheduled from 5-7 p.m. EDT, preceded by a 3-5 p.m. broadcast on NBC Sports Network and followed by a 7-7:30 p.m. post-race show.
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