When Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Preakness winner Oxbow square off in Saturday’s 145th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, they’ll have plenty of company.
A field of 14 was drawn Wednesday for the final jewel of racing’s Triple Crown, the biggest field for the 1 ½-mile race since 1996, when Editor’s Note defeated 13 rivals.
Televised by NBC (5-7 p.m.), with pre- and post-race coverage carried on the NBC Sports Network (3-5 p.m. and 7-7:30 p.m.), the Belmont will go postward at 6:36 p.m. as the 11th of 13 races on Saturday’s card. Supporting the “Test of the Champion” are the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap, the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Just a Game, the Grade 2, $400,000 RTN True North Handicap and the Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by NYRA Rewards.
Bidding to become the first to complete the Derby-Belmont double since Thunder Gulch in 1995, Stuart S. Janney, III and the Phipps Stable’s Orb was installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite, while Oxbow was listed at 5-1 on the morning line.
Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, Orb finished fourth in the Preakness on a day when “nothing went right.” Back at his home base of Belmont Park, Orb has been training forwardly and McGaughey is hoping a home field advantage will come into play for the horse and jockey Joel Rosario when they leave from post position 5.
“Any time you have a come-from-behind horse, you’d like to see a solid pace, but it’s really going to be up to the rider,” said McGaughey, who won the 1989 Belmont with Easy Goer. “In a 1 ½-mile race at Belmont, [the jockey] is really going to have to read the race, and I think that’s what separates the top riders from some of those that aren’t. If you turn down the backside at Belmont, it’s not like turning down the backside at Churchill Downs. You’ve got a long way to go, and big open space down through there, and you better be patient. If you’re not, it’s going to get to you.”
Hoping that Oxbow will become the first to put together a Preakness-Belmont double since Afleet Alex in 2005 is Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who owns four Belmont victories, most recently with Commendable in 2000. With his front-running score three weeks ago at Pimlico, the Calumet Farm colt gave recently un-retired jockey Gary Stevens his ninth win in a Triple Crown race, while the 77-year-old Lukas now has a record 14 series victories.
“The old guys got it done,” Lukas said with a laugh. “I think we’re going to send a better-prepared horse, mentally, in the Belmont than we did in the Preakness. Whether he’s a faster horse or a winning horse remains to be seen.”
Lukas also will saddle Will Take Charge, most recently seventh in the Preakness.
Saturday’s race, however, is far more than a rubber match between the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown, which may partly account for the hefty field. Of the past 15 runnings of the Belmont, all but two – Afleet Alex in 2005 and Point Given in 2001 – have been taken by horses who won neither the Derby nor the Preakness.
After going 0-for-5 in this year’s Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher went to the sidelines for the Preakness and now has returned with another quintet, led by Derby third-place finisher Revolutionary, the 9-2 second choice on the morning line.
In addition to the WinStar Farm color-bearer, Pletcher, who won the 2007 Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches, will send out Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice (15-1), and a trio from owner Mike Repole – the filly Unlimited Budget (8-1), Overanalyze (12-1) and Midnight Taboo (30-1).
“I’ve been coming to Belmont for 30 years, and the Belmont is the No. 1 race I want to win,” said Repole, a Queens, N.Y. native whose Stay Thirsty finished second by three-quarters of a length in the 2011 Belmont. “For some people it’s the Derby, but the Belmont is the race I want to win.”
Unlimited Budget will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who is looking to join Julie Krone, winner of the 1993 Belmont aboard Colonial Affair, and become the only women to ride the winner of a Triple Crown race. Fifth in the Derby aboard Mylute, who then was third in the Preakness, the 25-year-old Napravnik will have made history as the first female rider to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown in the same year.
“Good karma,” said Pletcher of the pairing of Napravnik with the filly.
Trainer Tom Albertrani will be bringing a fresh horse to the fray in Freedom Child, runaway winner of the Grade 2 Peter Pan on May 11 at Belmont. Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, St. Elias Stable and Spendthrift Farm, Freedom Child is 2-0-1 from four starts this year, having raced for purse money only after being compromised at the start and finishing 10th in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.
The Malibu Moon ridgling returned to post a front-running, 13 ¼-length win over a sloppy track in the Peter Pan, which has produced a number of Belmont winners, most recently A.P. Indy in 1992.
“He’ll probably want to find himself clear into the first turn, whether he has to use himself a little bit into the turn like he did in the Peter Pan,” said trainer Tom Albertrani of Freedom Child, who drew post position 2. “He’ll just have to work his way on the inside there and see where he ends up.”
The host of long shots includes 30-1 Frac Daddy, trained by Ken McPeek for Magic City Thoroughbred Partners. In 2002, McPeek saddled 70-1 shot Sarava to upset the Belmont Stakes for a record $142.50 win payout; last year, he sent 33-1 Golden Ticket – also owned by Magic City – to a dead-heat for win in the Grade 1, $1 million Travers.
“We still believe this is a really, really good horse, but for whatever reason it hasn’t happened for him,” said McPeek of Frac Daddy, who was 16th in the Kentucky Derby last time out. “Sometimes you throw deep and it goes incomplete, but you can’t score if you don’t throw.”
The field also includes Golden Soul (10-1), Giant Finish (30-1) and Vyjack (20-1), all freshened since finishing second, 10th and 18th, respectively, in the Derby, and Incognito (20-1), a son of 1992 Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy who was fifth behind Freedom Child in the Peter Pan.
“I’m just happy there are 14 in there and I’m one of them” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Incognito for Godolphin Racing. “He’s battle-tested, so we’ll hope for the best, and hope that his pedigree kicks in at the quarter-pole.”