The Belmont Stakes. The Test of Champions. The third and final jewel of the American Triple Crown.
This year, there's no crown on the line. No horse trying for a Triple Crown. No recollections of Triple Crowns failed. No one breaking out grainy file footage of Affirmed, the last one to do back in '78.
What we have instead is a face-of between the Kentucky Derby winner ORB and the Preakness Stakes winner OXBOW. Eight additional runners from the Kentucky Derby that bypassed the Preakness will see the starter on Saturday. Four more that appeared neither prior leg of the Triple Crown also are in the Belmont Stakes.
Will ORB or OXBOW be victorious in their face-off? Or will it go to a new shooter? Let's meet the field taking a long lap around the dirt track for a million dollars and find out.
Belmont Park -- Race 11 -- G1 Belmont Stakes -- 1 1/2 miles on the dirt -- post time 5:36pm CT. (Race airs on NBC.)
1. FRAC DADDY (30/1): Although he'll be high odds, and although the trainer busted the toteboard in recent years with Sarava and Atigun in the Belmont, I don't see the excitement over Frac Daddy. Felt he was ordinary going into the Derby off a second in a subpar Arkansas Derby. The inclination from trainer K. McPeek is to put FRAC DADDY on the lead. That might work at Gulfstream, where the inside posts and forward speed are beneficial. Not when you're by Scat Daddy, whose horses tend to get gassed past nine furlongs. No endorsement from this corner.
2. FREEDOM CHILD (8/1): Like the Kentucky Derby winner, FREEDOM CHILD is also by Malibu Moon and claims A. P. Indy as a grandsire. That's the same paternal pedigree on Kentucky Derby winner ORB. FREEDOM CHILD dictated all the terms of the G2 Peter Pan, the local nine-furlong prep for the Belmont, over a sloppy track. He won by a dozen that afternoon and retains a hot riding L. Saez. The first rub is that Malibu Moon isn't exactly the best twelve-furlong sire. The Peter Pan field was suspect, and he won't have the free lunch he had on the front end the last time. I think people will see the similar pedigree and local win and conclude he's equal to ORB. And if that's the case, I won't use him.
3. OVERANALYZE (12/1): Trainer Todd Pletcher sends out five of the Belmont runners, and this is the first of them. I felt this one got a free pass all spring for being by Dixie Union, who sired last year's Belmont winner Union Rags. When Union Rags won his Belmont, it was slow. He beat FRAC DADDY in the Arkansas Derby that flunked the eye test. While it's possible he needed the Gotham stakes, that came before the meh race in Arkansas. His Derby? He ran evenly around the track to finish eleventh. While he might have hated the slop, he seems to have evolved into a type that wants to chase a slow pace but not be involved with a fast pace. Many trainers are indicating a desire to be near the lead, and that works directly against OVERANALYZE. Not today.
4. GIANT FINISH (30/1): Best known as the eleventh hour entry in the Kentucky Derby, he didn't do as badly as everyone feared. He ran evenly around the track, but finished in ninth. He's had his most success near the lead in his pre-Derby races, and being back near his base, won't have the owners' exuberance impairing the training. Pedigree wise, he fits: Giant's Causeway runners tend to be one-paced run all day types (Creative Cause, Giant Oak). In the spring, he wasn't that far behind General Election in a Spiral Stakes prep, the same General Election that annexed the Arlington Classic. Rider upgrade to Edgar Prado helps the cause. He won't have his way on the front end, and that could hurt his chances. Still, he's not a total throw-out either.
5. ORB (3/1): The post time favorite and Kentucky Derby winner. While he did nothing wrong in Florida, he came into the Preakness as the horse Most Likely To Be Your Next Triple Crown Winner. The connections blamed the fourth in Baltimore, an obvious dud on paper, on being down on the rail and working against the horse's inclination to be outside. Or it's possible he had a bad day. Or he regressed. When you eliminate the sterling Kentucky Derby figure, you have a horse whose figures aren't that much better, a horse who will garner a lot of support at the windows, and one that has a suspect pedigree. I can understand those that use him, but I am taking a stand against. Think he might be over the top.
6. INCOGNITO (20/1): His sire side of the pedigree sees the names A. P. Indy and Seattle Slew, a pair of Belmont winners. He's an Ortiz/McLaughlin production, and that time has three wins and a place finish in five starts in recent days. That sire side is going to grab a good bit of attention. So will the connections. However, he was smoked by FREEDOM CHILD last out in the Peter Pan and he seems to have make a small rally in the lane each time out. Not buying.
7. OXBOW (5/1): The Preakness winner, who ran a sterling figure in the Preakness. He made sense that afternoon: he was the only one who survived the white-hot Kentucky Derby pace and got a free lunch on the front end. G.Stevens took that free lunch, and many bettors' lunch money. In this race, the free ride likely won't be present. That means he'll either be spent on the front end of a hot pace (again). Or he takes back a smidge, learning from the error of the Kentucky Derby. Think that is more likely in this spot. It also helps when the breeding is very close to that of Paynter, who nearly wired the Belmont field last year. Of the two Triple Crown winners, this is the one and only one I want. A sensible top pick.
8. MIDNIGHT TABOO (30/1): One of five trained by T. Pletcher, one of three owned by M. Repole. There are only three starts on the resume, none longer than a mile and a sixteenth. That matters when eight in this field have been around mile and a quarter. Given Repole's allegiance to New York, it makes sense for him to empty the stable and run everyone on the biggest day there. Even if it's a spot that's very ambitious: this will be the horse's first start beyond two turns, beyond a mile and an eighth, and in stakes company. Toss.
9. REVOLUTIONARY (9/2): Sentimentally, I like this one. He was on top of the ChicagoNow Derby Dozen lists for most of the season and he finished third, helping readers that used the Derby picks for profit. He gets reunited with J. Castellano for the twelve furlong event. Pedigree on the paternal side is shaky, but much better on the maternal side with an Alabama winner that is out of a Belmont winner. He's got the fight and gameness, as seen in the Withers at cross-town Aqueduct earlier in the year. One more time, but more as the "unders" type on the bottoms, not tops, of intra-race wagers.
10. WILL TAKE CHARGE (20/1): Welp, there went the thought he had yo-yo form: he was due for a good start in the Preakness and he was seventh. Maybe it was the slop, as those are his two worst races. Or maybe he's just a hard horse to get a handle on. He'll be one of three who can claim to starting in the gate for all three legs of the Triple Crown (others: ORB, OXBOW). Despite the form cycles and weather issues, his pedigree is as marginal as others and nothing he's done so far has visually wowed me. Nope.
11. VYJACK (20/1): Another of the Kentucky Derby veterans, but he'll get a new pilot in J. Leparoux. That jockey upgrade makes some sense: his best race was in the Gotham where he made a closing run from near last to pass everyone and annex that cross-town G3. Even though Leparoux will likely ride him that way, the Belmont isn't usually kind to closers. While you can discard the Kentucky Derby due to the different tactics, it's awfully hard to like a Gotham winner with a pedigree that is chock-a-block with sprint types. If all the speed (FREEDOM CHILD, OXBOW, FRAC DADDY) materializes, he might get a fourth or a fifth place check. But that's no slam dunk and neither is this one.
12. PALACE MALICE (15/1): Another trained by Todd Pletcher, this one set the crazy-go-nuts pace in the Kentucky Derby that led to the quick fractions, pace meltdown, and sweeping move from ORB. It's likely Pletcher will be once bitten, twice shy. Based on his Blue Grass cadence, he appears to have one speed. That speed was all used up in the Derby. He will be starting in a wide post, but I think this one can pull back and get a good mid-pack trip. His pedigree is better than appears: Curlin handled ten furlongs with ease, and nearly won at twelve. The broodmare sire was a runner-up in the Breeders' Cup at today's twelve furlong distance. He'll need the right ride, but if he gets it he could clunk up and hit the board.
13. UNLIMITED BUDGET (8/1): The field's only filly, brought to you by the Repole/Pletcher owner trainer team. This one was near the pace in the Kentucky Oaks and finished third, behind upset winner Princess of Sylmar. In all of her starts, she's been near the pace. The pedigree is okay: being by Street Sense means that she can get a mile and a quarter. But the maternal side is more sprint-like. What's more of a concern, other than the pedigree in this spot, is that she hasn't truly demonstrated a passing gear: even though she's won four of five, she's only gained ground in the stretch twice and *lost* ground thrice. Perhaps she's a pace factor and nothing more, or perhaps she's a quality filly in the Rags To Riches/Silverbulletday vein. I think it's closer to the former and will take a stand against.
14. GOLDEN SOUL (10/1): Liked this one in the Kentucky Derby as a good candidate to finish third, and he finished second. Woo. This time around, there have been reports that his appetite isn't that aggressive, suggesting a change in behavior that is a turn for the worse. Perhaps he also benefited from a sloppy Churchill track; an issue that could arise given the differences between Churchill and Belmont. Sentiment says to back him again, and he could get both the pace and wet weather he got last time. But I'm going to bite the bullet and not use him this time.
#7 OXBOW (5/1)
#9 REVOLUTIONARY (9/2)
#12 PALACE MALICE (15/1)
Longshot: While it's true that the Belmont tends to be won by runners at or near the front end, that's not always the case. Look at past winners like Union Rags, Drosselmeyer, or Ruler on Ice. They tended to be more of galloping one-speed types. Some also had some forward speed that kept them at or near the pace, too. Perhaps the quickest of them all is #4 GIANT FINISH (30/1). He gets the rider upgrade to Prado, who has two victories in this race in prior years. He appears an average horse on paper, but that hasn't stopped other average horses (Da Tara, Commendable, etc.) from winning at Belmont.
Look for a preview of the Saturday card (coinciding with Belmont Stakes Day) from Arlington in the next Picks and Ponderings. On-scene recaps from Arlington will be on Twitter as well. Good luck!