Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, June 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM
THEY’RE DANCING IN THE RAIN...WILL ORB OR OXBOW BE HAPPY AGAIN? 14 SET FOR BELMONT SOAKING
It appears as though the weatherman is going to be on target Saturday and that the Belmont Stakes will be run over a wet race track.
With apologies to Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who wrote the script for the great Musical "Singing In The Rain" I can’t help but think that the connections of the 14 runners set to meet for the Test Of The Champion in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes are hoping that their horse(s) will be able to leap and step as adroitly as Gene Kelly did throughout that show.
Just as there are in any show there is the plot and plenty of subplots and the one most discussed during the week has been the "settle" match between Kentucky Derby winner ORB who finished a marginally rough trip fourth in the Preakness and OXBOW, who was the upset winner of the Preakness after having a somewhat compromised trip of his own in the Derby. But if this were only a "genuinely perceived" two horse race it is doubtful the connections of twelve other runners would have seen the race as open as they apparently have.
While ORB and OXBOW have apparently returned no worse for the wear after legging through the first two dances of the Triple Crown, this is far from a two star production. REVOLUTIONARY has never failed to fire in any of his races. In fact, his only (certainly not embarrassing) third place finishes were when he was stuck on the rail (on Saturday he is comfortably in the 9 gate. FREEDOM CHILD has been the talk of the backstretch all week as he continues to physically appear as solid as his dominant Peter Pan win conveyed. PALACE MALICE has been working very well since his freak show speed adventure in the Derby and GOLDEN SOUL has only shown one thing, the further they go the better he runs.
There is even an intriguing number of supporting cast outliers to fill the stage. OVERANALYZE has a dead-on pattern of good race-bad race and comes off a bad one. INCOGNITO spent the Peter Pan watching FREEDOM CHILD get smaller and smaller as the race went on yet might be the most impeccably bred long distance colt in the race. In his last five tries, WILL TAKE CHARGE has been beaten double digits three times and won twice (including a win over OXBOW.) Not to be overlooked, VYJACK shows up as a late decision and the filly UNLIMITED BUDGET might be the quickest of them all and in physical stature might remind some old time Triple Crown engagers of the roguish Derby Winners Genuine Risk or Winning Colors.
Even without the arrival of days of on and off rain the Belmont Stakes promised an entertaining afternoon but of course the sloppy to muddy surface will only ratchet up the angst on the part of prognosticators and their followers. So before I move on to a brief preview of the 14 runners entered for this year’s Belmont Stakes, let me leave you with this. You can bog yourself down (every pun intended) in all the dynamics of the wet surface or you can just go on the assumption that what is likely to happen is that the surface will be maintained non-stop from Friday through post time Saturday and that if the surface is rained on as continually as is predicted, the sandy top will be sealed down to almost the hardness of a compressed beach that is almost impenetrable closest to the water.
And given that reality, it is best to assume that it is just another race over another surface wherein what happens in the "slop" will serve much better as an excuse for the losers after the fact then serve as a significant handicapping umbrella before the fact.
A challenging question from Jim Hurley:
IF YOU THOUGHT THE DERBY WAS WORTH BETTING BECAUSE OF ITS BIG PAYOFFS, WHAT ABOUT THE BELMONT?
Of major stakes races, only the Derby pays off bigger. Payoffs are big because no 3-year-old has ever run a mile and a half before and most bettors have no idea which horses can get that distance. Even their Trainers aren’t sure. I admit it’s not easy - it takes a lot of tweaking of numbers and figuring of angles and analysis of bloodlines. But when you get it (and I have won six of the last fifteen Belmonts) - payoffs can be life-changing.
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Now let us take a look at this year’s field.
FRAC DADDY - Yes, Ken McPeek won the Belmont Stakes with 70-1 shot Sarava, so there will be a handful of people who find that as enough reason to make a bet. The colt did have physical issues earlier this year following a promising juvenile campaign and appeared back on track after running second in the Arkansas Derby. But he has only a maiden win and has dropped five straight and his early and definitive retreat in the Derby leaves him with much to prove. He will fire from the rail and who knows from there, but this would be as big a surprise as Sarava.
FREEDOM CHILD - Watching this speedy son of Malibu Moon take control of the field in the Peter Pan and open up a wider and wider margin you certainly have every reason to feel that he could easily do that again. Of course having not run in either of the first two legs of the Triple Crown and yet to go beyond 9 panels puts him in prove-it territory. Although he only posted one work in the four weeks since his last, he has jogged aggressively and his grandsire A.P. Indy lineage says the distance should be in the script.
OVERANALYZE - For those who analyze such things, the trend of good-bad-good-bad gives reason to expect a good race following his bang-up Arkansas Derby win two back and dreadful Kentucky Derby showing five weeks ago. One of five uncoupled Todd Pletcher entrants, the son of Dixie Union has turned in a few solid drills since skipping the Preakness and draws John Velazquez once again, who has won-lost-won-lost in their last four tries together. Who knows, maybe the pattern...
GIANT FINISH - After a pair of decent performances in minor Derby Prep races at Turfway (2nd in the John Battaglia and 3rd in the Spiral) the son of Giant Frost showed nothing in an overmatched Kentucky Derby effort. Trainer Anthony Dutrow is not one to run for the sake of running so this longshot at least bears some scrutiny but his peed numbers, even in his good races, have never approached what appears necessary to be in contention in the latter stages of this 12 furlong regatta.
ORB - Shug runs him back after his somewhat but not completely troubled trip in the Preakness. Had he not kicked it in again and continued on for 4th after being stalled twice behind a dawdling pace he might have been considered to have peaked in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. But he has continued to work strongly, gives every indication that he will run his same off-the-pace good one that he has run since being stretched out to two turns in January at Gulfstream. If McGaughey is right and the son of Malibu Moon (that A.P. Indy influence again) didn’t care for the loose surface at Pimlico and gets the kind of tight, sealed wet surface projected on Saturday, it will be the Preakness and not the Kentucky Derby that is a footnote to his career.
INCOGNITO - He is another carrying the A.P. Indy run-all-day bloodlines, although this guy is a son of that sire as opposed to being a grandson, as are FREEDOM’S CHILD and ORB. In fact, his trainer, Kieran McLaughlin has been most candid in stating that the only reason that he entered the colt that is otherwise undistinguished at this point in his career (a well-beaten 5th in the Peter Pan) was because of the breeding. McLaughlin is a well regarded conditioner and there have been countless surprises in recent years and this would certainly be another.
OXBOW - Even if you grant that his Preakness win was a result of a brilliant pace ride by Gary Stevens, it is also germane to note that this is a hard trying consistent race horse. It was duly noted prior to the second leg of the Triple Crown that he might have been much closer than his Kentucky Derby 6th had he not been bumped along the inside early and then had to wait before getting clear and was going well in the late going. Oh yeah, for all the trend bettors...in 1994 trainer Wayne Lukas had a runner by the name of Tabasco Cat who had a tough trip over a sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby and finished 6th. That colt then went on to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. This year’s Belmont is getting to be fun isn’t it?
MIDNIGHT TABOO - Number two from the Pletcher starting five (any irony here that the trainer started in life as a high school basketball coach?) the son of Langfuhr is making just his fourth career start and is still eligible for entry-level allowance or NW2L company. One of the three runners who Pletcher has entered for owner Mike Repole, one has to be convinced by that owners own pronouncement that being from New York, the Belmont Stakes is the one race he wants to win more than any other. Fair enough, but this sure is a deep reach.
REVOLUTIONARY - All things being equal, this could be the most formidable of the Pletcher quintet. After beginning his career with a trio of one turn MSW races, the son of War Pass ran off three straight victories at two turns, including the Grade III Withers and Grade II Louisiana Derby prior to running third in the Kentucky Derby. It could also be argue that his show result at Louisville was the best of his career given how he was stuck down on the inside, was bumped at the start and had to wait a good furlong for running room before kicking it in late to secure his position. He has shown both a tendency to find difficulty and an assertiveness late to overcome it. Pletcher might have made a savvy decision in passing the Preakness and letting the colt regroup. The colt has breezed a pair of solid half miles over the surface since May 27 and perhaps most importantly gets reunited with Javier Castellano, who has been aboard twice...for the Withers and Louisiana Derby wins. He is a solid threat...which his 9-2 ML would indicate.
WILL TAKE CHARGE - He is probably the most difficult of the fourteen to get a handle on. Over the course of his five 2013 races the Wayne Lukas trained son of Unbridled’s Song has beaten OXBOW in the Grade II Rebel Stakes and opened his 3-year old campaign season with a victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes. Yet he has also finished 8th, 8th and 7th (beaten an average of 16 lengths in the Southwest Stakes, Kentucky Derby and Preakness. This could be one of those stubborn Lukas moves that eventually runs a horse into donkeydom or one of those situations where a horse that has at least twice shown an ability to come from out of the clouds leaves us shaking our Sarava, Da’ Tara, Ruler On Ice heads in astonishment.
VYJACK - After threatening late and then faltering a bit in the Wood Memorial, racing 4 wide early and spitting the bit in the Kentucky Derby before skipping the Preakness, the early in the season well-regarded son of Into Mischief appeared off the campaign trail for a while, But last week trainer Rudy Rodriguez and the gelding resurfaced following a super 6 furlong 1:12 bullet at Aqueduct a week ago Tuesday. Since his four straight wins to open his career and the third in the Wood were at Aqueduct (main track and Inner Dirt track) there are questions as to his horse-for-the-course limitations, but he did follow up the noted 6 furlong work with a 5 furlong bullet drill in :59 over the Belmont surface on Tuesday. He does have good cruising speed and might be well-matched with new jockey Julien Leparoux so probably needs to be considered.
PALACE MALICE - Another of the Todd Pletcher runners, the pop and stop dramatics in the Kentucky Derby have been much discussed. Whether it was the late first time addition of blinkers (since removed) or Mike Smith’s inability (or desire to) wrangle in the colt early on are now irrelevant. What is relevant to handicapping purposes is the fact that the well bred son of Curlin has shown numerous flashes of promise with as yet failing to get the starring role. He continues to train well, so those who have been waiting on that one big race might still stay with him and Mike Smith probably wants to prove something but the colt needs to move forward considerably if he wants to topple these opponents.
UNLIMITE BUDGET - The final Todd Pletcher trainee will likely get plenty of air time on the networks Saturday as any filly running against the boys at this level always does. Not that she is without merit in garnering that attention. The careful observer will at once notice that the brilliantly bred daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense is bigger than at least half of the boys she’ll be facing on Saturday and given her somewhat difficult outside post (although at 12 furlongs around the wide turns the post draw at Belmont is often over-stated) she’ll probably be asked to utilize her considerable tactical speed early on. With FRAC DADDY and FREEDOM CHILD expected to be on the pace early from the inside two posts she could sit just off the early on and get the first run off the far turn. From there anything could happen. By the way...the filly will be ridden by a filly (please no political correctness offense ladies, just taking license) as Rosie Napravnik further guarantees that aforementioned network air time and attention...which means you’ll have a shorter price than you should.
GOLDEN SOUL - Suffice it to say that if there is an honest pace this consistent son of Perfect Soul should be considered a major player for at least a supporting role. Overlooked in the Kentucky Derby he ground out a solid second place finish at 34-1 and in retrospect his prospects probably should have been a bit more respected than they were. After all, despite finishing 2nd, 6th and 4th in his three preps prior to the Derby, the Dallas Stewart trained colt had never in his 5 race career been beaten by more than 4 lengths and more significantly, the more ground they covered the better he got as he never failed to pick up position in the stretch. Robbie Albarado, who timed him perfectly in the Derby, is back aboard, the colt turned in a terrific 5 furlong breeze at CD a week ago...and as stated, he gets even more ground on Saturday.
It is too bad that once again we won’t have a Triple Crown in the balance, but we do get the Derby and Preakness winners in a rematch, we do get a fourteen horse field and we do get a whole lot of unknowns possible dancing in the rain.