Judging by the weather forecast, should I be picking the best runner or the best swimmer?
But while it looks almost certain that today’s Belmont Stakes won’t be run on a dry track, I remember the weather forecast for the 2004 Belmont, when every TV station in New York was guaranteeing a monsoon all day long. The rain held off until just about post time, and Birdstone denied undefeated Smarty Jones immortality. Ironically, if the forecasts had been correct, Birdstone would have scratched, and Smarty Jones would have won the Triple Crown.
I’m picking the horse today who can handle a sloppy track or a fast one: Orb. Like everyone else rooting for a Triple Crown winner, I was disappointed when he ran a non-threatening fourth in the Preakness as my top pick. For whatever reason, he didn’t fire that afternoon, ending his five-race winning streak. But he’s been working superbly since at Belmont Park, his home track, and he should atone at a distance he should have no trouble handling.
There are 13 opponents who will make him prove his superiority, and at least a half-dozen of them have legitimate chances. The other horses in order of preference:
The Top Five Contenders
Revolutionary — This proven closer was third at 1-5 to Orb and Freedom Child in a maiden race last November at Aqueduct, and after winning the Withers and Louisiana Derby, he rallied from 18th to third behind Orb on a sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby. By skipping the Preakness, he comes into today’s Belmont fresh. He’s getting a favorable rider switch from Calvin Borel to Javier Castellano, and appears to be Orb’s greatest threat.
Golden Soul — He’ll be the biggest price of my top six picks, despite having beaten several of them when second in the Kentucky Derby at 34-1. His outside post position doesn’t help, but he’s used to running from way back in the field, anyway.
Oxbow — He followed a solid sixth in the Kentucky Derby with a handy wire-to-wire score at 15-1 in the Preakness, when he was allowed to set a glacial pace. That’s highly unlikely to happen again with Freedom Child inside of him. He’ll be a much shorter price today in the Belmont, and we’re not sure he’ll be able to make a mile and a half.
Freedom Child — He is the most intriguing horse in the Belmont Stakes. In just his second start last year, he finished second by two lengths to Orb, while finishing
21⁄4 lengths ahead of Revolutionary in a one-mile maiden race. He blew the start in the Wood Memorial and wasn’t persevered with, finishing 10th in his first start with Lasix. In his next start with Lasix on a sloppy track, he won the Peter Pan Stakes by 131⁄4 lengths wire-to-wire on this track. If he gets loose on the lead today, he may be very hard to catch.
Unlimited Budget — This Todd Pletcher-trained filly was 4-for-4 before finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks. While Pletcher’s Rags to Riches won the 2007 Belmont Stakes over Curlin, who wound up being a two-time Horse of the Year, Unlimited Budget isn’t clearly better than other top fillies in the country, including her stable-mate Dreaming of Julia. I’m not convinced she’s better than the top colts in this race, but she does have undeniable class and a bullet work.
Two Viable Alternatives
Overanalyze — He won the Arkansas Derby impressively on a fast track before finishing 11th in the Kentucky Derby in his only start on a wet one. John Velazquez replaces Rafael Bejarano for Pletcher. Velazquez rode Overanalyze in his first three starts, victories in a maiden race and the Futurity Stakes and a fourth in the Hopeful Stakes.
Palace Malice — Adding blinkers in the Kentucky Derby was a horrible decision as he set a suicidal pace before tiring to finish 12th. The blinkers come off today, which should help, but he’s just 1-for-6 on dirt. In his lone other start on a wet track, he finished second in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park.
Will Take Charge — He’s tough to endorse off an eighth in the Kentucky Derby and a seventh in the Preakness.
Vyjack — He was doing well, with four wins and a third in the Wood Memorial, before running 18th in the Kentucky Derby. One of his four wins was on a sloppy track at Aqueduct.
Midnight Taboo — This Pletcher colt was second in a bottom-level allowance in his last race, just his third lifetime start, at 4-1.
Giant Finish — He finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby at 36-1 wearing front bandages for the first time.
Frac Daddy — His 16th in the Kentucky Derby doesn’t inspire confidence. Before that, he was a non-threatening second behind Overanalyze in the Arkansas Derby.
Incognito — He tries the Belmont off a distant fifth behind Freedom Child in the Peter Pan. Maybe he’ll show up as a different horse today.