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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Monday, May 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM


Orb and Oxbow Just Two of Many Live Belmont Stakes Contenders

By Noel Michaels -

More so than any other 3-year-old race run this year, the result of the Preakness Stakes helped shine an accurate light on the division and helped clarify the contenders and pretenders heading up to the third jewel of horseracing’s Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes three weeks ahead on Saturday, June 8.  The division is not a one-horse show, as many believed about Orb following the Kentucky Derby. In reality, the 3-year-old division is wide open with many horses of similar, but not outstanding, talent levels promising wide open results as the season progresses to the Belmont Stakes and then onward to summer races like the Haskell and Travers.

After the Kentucky Derby, Orb seemed like the standout shining star in an otherwise very below-par 3-year-old division in 2013.  The other main post-Derby revelation for handicappers had seemed to indicate that, besides Orb, the predominant 3-year-old key race run so far this season was the Louisiana Derby, based on the fact that the first four horses in the Louisiana Derby came back to finish second, third, and fifth  in the Kentucky Derby (Golden Soul, Revolutionary, and Mylute), while the Louisiana Derby third-place finisher, Departing, came back to win the Illinois Derby in his next start.

The conclusion that the Louisiana Derby was the key to the rest of the 3-year-old picture beyond Orb was easy to arrive at based on the results of the Kentucky Derby, however, that way of thinking now looks completely wrong just two weeks later following Preakness.

Based on the new light shined on the division by the result of the Preakness, the form from the Louisiana Derby was not, in fact, the key factor in the Kentucky Derby order of finish. Rather, it was the pace of the Kentucky Derby that was not only the most accurate indicator of the result of the Kentucky Derby, but also what turned out to be the most correct indicator of the result of the Preakness Stakes as well.

Horseplayers looking ahead to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks should take their handicapping cues from the pace of the Kentucky Derby, not only on Belmont Day, but beyond as they handicap the 3-year-olds this summer.

In the Kentucky Derby, it was clearly the pace scenario and not the winner’s stand-alone talent and ability, that carried Orb to victory on the first Saturday in May.

In the Kentucky Derby, Orb simply was the best at taking advantage of an extremely fast and advantageous pace set-up that resulted in himself, and all five of the top finishers in the Kentucky Derby coming out on top after also-rans Palace Malace, Goldencents, Falling Sky, Verrazano, Vyjack, and Oxbow, set and pressed an unrealistic :22.2, :45.1, and 1:09.4 pace at 1 ¼ miles. Many of those deep closers just so happened to be exiting the Louisiana Derby. So much for the Louisiana Derby key-race angle!

The reason that the Kentucky Derby pace was so telling in regards to the horse’s true abilities, or lack thereof, became apparent for all to see in the Preakness, when under a different pace scenario Orb looked mediocre at best and Kentucky Derby pace casualty Oxbow emerged on top.

Of all the Kentucky Derby pace horses, the only one of them remotely still around at the finish of the Derby was Oxbow, who finished a creditable sixth after other front-runners - including Palace Malice, Verrazano, Goldencents, Vyjack, and Falling Sky - finished 12th, 14th, 17th, 18th, and 19th, respectively.  The fast Derby pace clearly even affected a horse like Itsmyluckyday, who was too close to the pace in the Derby and finished 15th as a result before coming back under different pace circumstances to finish second in the Preakness.

Take into account that the Preakness is a shorter race than the Derby, and that Pimlico favors horses close to the pace, and voila! The Oxbow-Itsmyluckyday exacta in the Preakness starts to look a lot more real than the Orb-Golden Soul exacta box in the Derby. Of the Derby closers, it was Mylute - not Orb - that was the one to come back and flatter himself with a good Preakness effort when he rallied for third.

It is now too late to take advantage of this new information in time for the Preakness, of course, but it is definitely not too late for horseplayers to take advantage of what was learned in the Preakness when we look ahead toward handicapping the Belmont Stakes, and even some of the later 3-year-old races this summer.

Of course, Orb will not simply drop off the face of the Earth now that he’s lost the Preakness. He undoubtedly is in the discussion of top horses in the 3-year-old ranks for the rest of the season. Orb is based at Belmont Park, and he is considered probable in the Belmont Stakes at his home track. Nevertheless, Orb is just one of the solid 3-year-olds at this stage, and certainly not a head-and-shoulders standout.

Another horse to take heed of looking forward is Verrazano. He was disappointing in the Derby, but he won’t simply drop off the map, either.  He was a Derby pace casualty, but he will shorten up to the summer 3-year-old stakes at 1 1/8 miles, like either the Haskell or Jim Dandy, and he will be a major factor there if not the horse to beat.

Meanwhile, Itsmyluckyday will be pointed to the Haskell at Monmouth, where he will be one of the horses to beat.  Mylute, who has turned out to be a very solid factor in the 3-year-old division, is a small possibility to run in the Belmont Stakes, but more likely will take some time off following the Preakness and will reappear later in the year.

As for the Belmont Stakes, now that there is no Triple Crown on the line, everyone’s hope is for a re-match between Orb and Oxbow at Belmont Park. The race will not only be a good showdown between those two horses, however, but an excellent wide open race where Orb and Oxbow are simply two out of many legitimate contenders to win the third jewel of the Triple Crown.

Immediately after the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes field has already began to shape up. In addition to Orb and Oxbow, other possible starters in the 1 ½-mile ultimate leg of the Triple Crown include Kentucky Derby second- and third-place finishers Golden Soul and Revolutionary. Those horses will be fresh after bypassing the Preakness, and are likely to be the third- and fourth-choices on the tote board in the Belmont. Nevertheless, based on the results of the Preakness and the pace factors listed above in this article, both Golden Soul and Revolutionary do not appear to be nearly as serious contenders in the Belmont as they appeared to be after the Kentucky Derby when both took advantage of the same pace scenario that led Orb to victory in Kentucky but then defeat at Pimlico.  They will be overbet. Remember, the Louisiana Derby key race angle took a beating in the Preakness, and they will be strong underlays.

A couple of other Kentucky Derby also-rans are expected to re-emerge in the Belmont Stakes with Will Take Charge and Overanalyze.  Will Take Charge ran far back in the Derby and was again far back in the Preakness and appears to be losing all merit. Overanalyze did absolutely nothing in the Derby as one of the only closers in the race not to rally.  Overanalyze will probably only garner support because of his trainer, Todd Pletcher, who is also considering a pair of fillies for the Belmont with Dreaming of Julia and Unlimited Budget. Pletcher did win a past Belmont Stakes with filly Rags to Riches, but all of those Pletcher horses, aside from his other likely starter Revolutionary, do not have the look of serious contenders.

 Like Pletcher, trainer Bob Baffert also is pointing multiple horses to the Belmont Stakes, including the overrated Power Broker, and Code West, who won on the Preakness undercard and easily would have been one of the contenders in the Preakness if they’d opted to run him. Code West will be a sneaky Belmont contender with a solid outside chance.

That leaves two other horses likely to be pointing for the Belmont Stakes at this point, and they are looking like two of the horses to beat in addition to Orb and Oxbow - Freedom Child and Normandy Invasion.

Normandy Invasion was the big loser in the Preakness Stakes just by his absence, and perhaps that fact will lead to his connections reconsidering running him in the Belmont Stakes.

Normandy Invasion finished fourth, just a head out of third and 6 lengths ahead of Oxbow in the Kentucky Derby under similar pace scenarios. Many criticized jockey Javier Castellano for moving too soon into the blazing hot Derby pace following the race, and those people appear vindicated now based on Oxbow’s Preakness victory. Under the circumstances that prevailed in the Preakness, it is not far-fetched to believe Normandy Invasion would have been by far the horse to beat and perhaps the easy winner of the Preakness had he run. Forced now to evaluate their bad decision to pass the Preakness, perhaps his connections will now see the light and point Normandy Invasion to the Belmont Stakes.

The final horse on the list of Belmont Stakes probable starters may well turn out to be the horse to beat. Freedom Child looked like an absolute monster winning the local prep for the Belmont, the Peter Pan Stakes, by 13 lengths.  Down through the years, the Peter Pan has produced many Belmont starters and winners, and rarely had any of them looked any better than Freedom Child looked in a year as wide open and without star power as this year.

Watch carefully in the coming weeks as the field for the Belmont Stakes takes shape. Be ready to take what you learned in the Preakness and apply it to handicapping the Belmont, because the Preakness really was the most telling race of any to be run so far this year in the 3-year-old division.  Orb and Oxbow will be obvious contenders, but if you are looking to beat the favorites, you could do a lot worse than Freedom Child and Normandy Invasion, if he chooses to run.  Likely Belmont Stakes third- and fourth choices Golden Soul and Revolutionary will be overbet, but that means there will be value to be found someplace else, perhaps that means using a horse like Bob Baffert’s Code West too.

I hope you had a successful Kentucky Derby and an even better Preakness, but whether you did or you didn’t, there is still great money to be made by betting the last leg of horseracing’s Triple Crown - the Belmont Stakes. Best of luck!

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