Submitted by John Conte on Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Belmont Stakes: Pletcher will have five runners
ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Todd Pletcher had five horses in the Kentucky Derby and was shut out, and he bypassed the Preakness Stakes altogether, but he is mounting another assault on the final leg of the Triple Crown, the 145th Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park. Pletcher has five runners in what, as of Monday, was shaping up as a 15-horse field.
Entries are due Wednesday morning, and post positions are to be drawn at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Belmont Park, and if 15 enter and run, that would mark the largest Belmont field since 15 ran in 1983. There were 15 entered in 1996, but, after one scratch, 14 ran. Though there is no Triple Crown on the line, the Belmont is expected to feature a rematch between Orb, the Derby winner, and Oxbow, the Preakness winner.
If 15 are entered, that would give Pletcher one-third of the field, after having more than one-fourth of the field (5 of 19) in the Derby. In the Preakness, it was Pletcher’s former boss, D. Wayne Lukas, who had one-third of the field, with three of the nine runners.
There might be strength in numbers, but in situations like this, the only number that matters is one – the right one. The best of Pletcher’s Derby contingent was Revolutionary, who finished third; at the Preakness, one of Lukas’s trio was Oxbow.
Pletcher’s show of force in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont is the confluence of several factors: He started out with several promising runners to begin with, is based at Belmont Park, and has owners who want to run in this race, most notably Mike Repole, who has the colts Overanalyze and Midnight Taboo and the filly Unlimited Budget in the race. Pletcher on Monday afternoon said Repole would leave the self-deprecatingly named Micromanage in the $150,000 Easy Goer Stakes on the Belmont undercard.
Revolutionary, owned by Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm, is back for Pletcher, as is Palace Malice, who is owned by the Dogwood Stable syndicate and, like Revolutionary, ran in the Derby – he was 12th – and skipped the Preakness to point for the Belmont.
All of Pletcher’s Belmont horses worked a half-mile Sunday. On Monday, they went to the training track for a light jog, and a visit to the starting gate, early enough so that they avoided the heavier rain that fell mid-morning.
Revolutionary is the most-accomplished of the quintet. In addition to his third-place finish in the Derby, Revolutionary won the Louisiana Derby and overcame a laughably bad trip to capture the Withers. He had five weeks between the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby and will have five weeks between the Derby and the Belmont.
“This was sort of the strategy we laid out after the Derby, to give him five weeks,” Pletcher said while watching Revolutionary shod with a new set of hind shoes Monday morning at his Belmont Park barn. “He’s not the kind of horse who needs heavy training. We’ve learned that about him as we’ve gone through the year.”
Pletcher has won the Belmont once, with Rags to Riches in 2007, so comparisons are naturally drawn to Unlimited Budget, who, like Rags to Riches, is a filly facing the boys. Unlimited Budget is a big, strong filly, but her dam side is not as stout as that of Rags to Riches, who is a half-sister to 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil.
“That’s my biggest concern, that she stays that far,” Pletcher said. “How much they relax early, how they handle the early pace, will dictate how a lot of them will run in a race like this.”
Palace Malice added blinkers for the Kentucky Derby, and though he worked in them before the race and was manageable that morning, he was uncontrollable in the race itself, setting a brisk pace he could not maintain. The blinkers will come off for the Belmont, but jockey Mike Smith will remain on.
“I had cautioned Mike before the race that the horse hadn’t broken well in his previous starts, so to not assume he would break well,” Pletcher said. “We wanted him to stalk. Mike gigged him a little getting away from the gate, but the horse never settled back down. I think it was a situation with the huge crowd and the sloppy track, that once he got going he wouldn’t come back. Mike tried to get him to come back, but after a while, rather than fight him, he had to let him go.”
In addition to Pletcher’s quintet, plus Orb and Oxbow, the Belmont field is expected to include Always in a Tiz, Frac Daddy, Freedom Child, Giant Finish, Golden Soul, Incognito, Vyjack, and Will Take Charge.
Frac Daddy was confirmed as a Belmont starter Monday by trainer Kenny McPeek, who said Alan Garcia would ride.
Pletcher said Garrett Gomez would ride Midnight Taboo. Vyjack will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, according to owner David Wilkenfeld.
Giant Finish – who traveled by van to Belmont Park on Sunday from the Fair Hill training center in Maryland – and Vyjack were both scheduled to work Monday, but their works were postponed because of the wet weather.
Oxbow and Will Take Charge, both trained by Lukas, were scheduled to arrive at Belmont Park on Monday evening following a lengthy van ride from Churchill Downs.
Frac Daddy and Golden Soul were scheduled to fly from Kentucky to New York on Tuesday. They would be the last of the expected Belmont runners to arrive.
It rained all morning Monday, sometimes quite heavily, and thunderstorms were forecast by The Weather Channel for Monday night. It was expected to be dry Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But a new round of wet weather was predicted to move into the area again Friday, when a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms is forecast. The outlook is worse for Saturday, with a 60 percent chance of showers. The high temperature will be in the mid- to low-70s all week, according to The Weather Channel.