Orb eyes return to form in Belmont
The story of this year’s Triple Crown opened with a rousing Kentucky Derby victory by Orb, giving rise to hope that he’d be shooting for a Triple Crown by now, but the second act had quite the plot twist, with Oxbow winning the Preakness and Orb struggling home fourth.
The final act awaits on Saturday, not far from the neon lights of Broadway, in the 145th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. Shug McGaughey, the trainer of Orb, is hoping for a show-stopping finish in the 1 1/2-mile race.
“Our confidence was shaken a little bit,” McGaughey said at his Belmont Park barn Thursday morning, referring to the Preakness loss, “so it would be nice to see him redeem himself. I like what I see. He’s training well. I expect him to run well Saturday.”
Orb had won five straight races coming into the Kentucky Derby, including the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. He was a lukewarm 5-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby but was odds-on, at 7-10, in the Preakness.
Orb figures to fall right between those two prices in the Belmont, which drew a field of 14. He is favored on the morning lines of both Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, and Eric Donovan of the New York Racing Association, with Watchmaker setting Orb at 5-2, Donovan at 3-1.
The Belmont could be run over an off track. A steady, soaking rain, accompanied by thunderstorms, was forecast to arrive Thursday night and last throughout Friday into Saturday morning, according to The Weather Channel, which said more than two inches of rain could fall in the area.
Orb won the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy, sealed track, but in the Preakness he finished nine lengths behind Oxbow, who led from start to finish under Gary Stevens on a fast but deep surface. Three weeks after that loss, McGaughey outlined the reasons he thinks Orb failed to run to his best that day at Pimlico.
“Three or four things,” McGaughey said. “He had the 1 post, which I didn’t think would be a concern, because I thought there would be pace, and he’d be able to get out, but he couldn’t. He had a target on his back. He was stuck down there with nowhere to go on the worst part of the track. It was very deep, very loose. And I think Gary Stevens rode a very, very good race. It just wasn’t our day.”
If Orb wins, he would become the 12th horse to win the Derby and Belmont but not the Preakness, including Riva Ridge (1972), Bold Forbes (1976), Swale (1984), and Thunder Gulch (1995).
Oxbow is seeking to become the 19th horse to win the Preakness and Belmont but not the Derby, with the most recent being Afleet Alex in 2005. Oxbow was sixth in the Derby after pressing a hot pace, then stole the Preakness when left alone in the lead.
“This horse is really doing well,” said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who will send out both Oxbow and Will Take Charge. “I’m gonna send out a better horse for the Belmont than I did for the Preakness. We’ve made good strides on getting him to relax.”
Will Take Charge was eighth in the Derby when he ran into traffic trouble in upper stretch, and his Preakness trip was compromised, like Orb’s, by being inside and well back of a dawdling pace. Will Take Charge is a large colt who’s “not a start-and-stop horse,” Lukas said.
“But when he gets a head of steam up and gets rolling, he’s dangerous,” Lukas said.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has five Belmont entrants, including Revolutionary, who was third in the Derby, and the filly Unlimited Budget, who was third in the Kentucky Oaks and is now seeking to emulate Rags to Riches, the filly Pletcher sent out to win the 2007 Belmont.
As a filly facing males, Unlimited Budget gets a five-pound weight break and will carry 121 pounds compared with 126 for the other 13 runners.
Pletcher’s other runners are Overanalyze, 11th in the Derby; Palace Malice, 12th in the Derby; and Midnight Taboo, who is making his stakes debut and is the least-experienced horse in the race, with just three starts.
Palace Malice set a blistering pace in the Derby when blinkers were added for that race. They are gone for the Belmont.
Golden Soul, the Derby runner-up, and Freedom Child, runaway winner of the Peter Pan at Belmont Park four weeks ago, are other prominent contenders.
Freedom Child has impressed all week in his daily training.
“He seems on top of his game,” trainer Tom Albertrani said.
Incognito was fifth in the Peter Pan, but prior to that won two straight races. He never has used Lasix and will be the only Belmont entrant who will not use that permitted medication.
Frac Daddy (16th in the Derby), Giant Finish (10th), and Vyjack (18th) all were well beaten five weeks ago at Churchill Downs, then skipped the Preakness to aim for the Belmont, mirroring the approaches taken with Golden Soul, Overanalyze, Revolutionary, and Palace Malice.
The Belmont has a purse of $1 million, with $600,000 to the winner.
It is the 11th race on a 13-race card that begins at 11:35 a.m. ET. Post time for the Belmont is 6:36 p.m.