ELMONT — It appears that Mother Nature will win this year’s edition of the Triple Crown. Remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea dumped several inches of rain onto Long Island throughout the day Friday and the National Weather Service is projecting more rain for early this morning.
After the deluge at Churchill on Derby day and the heavy mist encountered before the Preakness, the run for the carnations at Belmont Park will likely be run on an off track this afternoon. The largest field since 1996 will step into the gate for the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes (Ch. 2, 5-7 p.m.). The last leg of the Triple Crown has enticed 14 starters attempting to conquer the longest of the three Classic races over the track’s mile and a half oval.
There is no Triple Crown on the line, but the race will feature the 23rd meeting between the Derby (Orb) and Preakness (Oxbow) winners in the history of the race. Over the past 22 meetings between the champions of the first two legs, the Preakness winner has won 10 times and the Derby winner has triumphed in four.
The major new players showing up on the Triple Crown scene for the first time are horses coming from completely different directions. Unlimited Budget (8-1), who will wear the blue and orange colors of Repole Stable, will attempt to become the fourth filly to win the Belmont and second since 1905 to complete the feat. Trainer Todd Pletcher was the last conditioner to win the Belmont with a filly when Rags to Riches nosed out Curlin in the 2007 Test of the Champion.
Owner Mike Repole, who co-founded and sold the Vitaminwater brand to Coca-Cola in 2007, is not afraid to take chances. “I think this is one year where I think the fillies are as good as the boys,” the owner said of his decision to run Unlimited Budget in the Belmont.
“She ran a good race when she was third in the Kentucky Oaks, and two fillies out of that race, Midnight Lucky and Close Hatches, came back to run 1-2 in the Acorn. Unlimited Budget is a large filly, and when the horses come out you’ll think she’s one of the colts.”
She is bidding to join Julie Krone, winner of the 1993 Belmont aboard Colonial Affair, as the second female jockey to win the Belmont and a Triple Crown race.
“It’s exciting,” Napravnik said of the possibility of a woman jockey winning the Belmont aboard a filly. “I think it’s great to bring some attention to the sport.”
The filly will also have a 5-pound weight break from the colts, carrying 121 pounds.
Repole will also send out a very live Overanalyze (12-1) and long shot Midnight Taboo (30-1) and leaves no doubt that this is the race he covets the most.
“I’ve been coming to Belmont for 30 years, and the Belmont is the No. 1 race I want to win,” said Repole, a native of Queens. “For some people it’s the Derby, but the Belmont is the race I want to win.”
The other newcomer to the Belmont scene is Peter Pan winner Freedom Child, whose Kentucky Derby hopes were dashed when he was declared a non-starter during the Grade 1 Wood Memorial when he was unable to leave the gate because his starter was still holding him when the gate opened. The Malibu Moon ridgling was very impressive winning the Peter Pan by 13¼ lengths in the slop during the weekend between the Derby and Preakness at Belmont. With a wet track in the offing, Freedom Child’s chances should not be dismissed.
Tom Albertrani, who trained 2006 Preakness champion Bernardini, loves the way the chestnut son of Malibu Moon has trained up to the race.
“I couldn’t be happier with the horse right now,” Albertrani said. “He’s in great condition, and he’s giving us all the right signals. Now, we just have to lead him over there.”
As for the big field heading into this afternoon’s gate, Albertrani hinted his horse will not be coming from the back of the pack. “It’s not going to bother us,” he said. “We’re not going to be looking at more than two or three in front of us. The rest will hopefully be behind me.”
Including Unlimited Budget, Pletcher will send out a record five starters, most notably second choice Revolutionary (9-2), the third-place finisher in this year’s Derby. He makes a rider change to Javier Castellano, a New York regular who will take the mount on the bay son of War Pass. He should have little problem with the distance or an off track as he’s proved that to be no issue based on his finish in the Derby. His sire won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in the slop at Monmouth in 2007.
While it’s unlikely he’ll get away early, expect him to be close to and around the leaders and sit a nice stalking trip under veteran rider Gary Stevens, who will be seeking his fourth Belmont win. Should Oxbow win he would complete the first Preakness-Belmont double since Afleet Alex in 2005.
The field is just too deep to bet the favorite Orb in this one, and I think the wear and tear of the Triple Crown will start to catch up with him this afternoon.
I’m going with my Derby pick Revolutionary, who didn’t let me down in the slop at Churchill Downs. He will be flying late down the stretch coming after Oxbow, Freedom Child and Unlimited Budget, the likely frontrunners. Some long shot horses to consider underneath in the third and fourth spots in exotic bets include Incognito (20-1) and Golden Soul (10-1).
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Revolutionary; 2 – Oxbow; 3 – Freedom Child and; 4 – Unlimited Budget
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace