The 2013 Triple Crown season concludes on Saturday at Belmont Park with the one-and-a-half mile, $1 million Belmont Stakes. This year's Belmont features a full field of 14 colts (and one filly) in what appears to be an extremely wide-open race featuring Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Preakness winner Oxbow.
Orb's defeat in the Preakness three weeks ago ensured another year without a Triple Crown winner but his loss didn't put an end to the race for divisional honors among this year's three-year-old colts. Traditionally, the Derby winner is the de facto front-runner to be named Champion Three-Year-Old Colt at the Eclipse Awards. But on occasion, another colt will steal the spotlight by the end of the Triple Crown.
If either Orb or Preakness winner Oxbow win the Belmont on Saturday, they will assume command of the division. However, should both Orb and Oxbow stumble in the Belmont and we wind up with three different winners in each of the Triple Crown races, then the Eclipse award will remain up in the air until this group of three-year-old colts prove themselves during the summer and at the Breeders' Cup in November.
Let's take a look at the field for the Belmont:
1-Frac Daddy (30/1): This colt hasn't had much luck this spring after badly grabbing a quarter in the G3-Holy Bull way back on Jan 26. He ran well to finish second to Overanalyze in the Arkansas Derby but that race looks pretty weak in retrospect and the two races prior and the one after were simply awful. I'm not sure he can win this race unless most of his rivals have a horrible race and he improves very quickly.
2-Freedom Child (8/1): This horse has one way to run if he wants to win: all out from the moment the gate opens. He won the G2-Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont by 13 ¼ lengths back on May 11 in a race run over a sloppy and sealed track.
3-Overanalyze (12/1): Won the Arkansas Derby back on April 13 but, like a lot of horses, didn't do much of anything in the Kentucky Derby. We can probably give him a bit of a pass in that race given the condition of the track that day. This colt has shown flashes of ability but I think there's a legitimate question as to whether he peaked as a juvenile. That being said, if Overanalyze were to run back to his top form he'd be a legitimate contender.
4-Giant Finish (30/1): It's tough to really know what to make of this colt. His two races on off tracks were unmitigated disasters, so you'll definitely want to stay away if the track comes up wet by post time. The best races of Giant Finish's career came over the Polytrack surface at Turfway Park and the inner dirt at Aqueduct. It's tough to make a case for a colt that hasn't beaten the best of his rivals at any time this season.
5-Orb (3/1): The Derby winner didn't run his race at the Preakness but garners morning-line favorite status as he's sure to attract a lot of dollars at the windows based on his entire body of work this spring. The race should set up well for Orb on Saturday if Freedom Child and Oxbow mix it up on the front end in the early stages. The key question surrounding Orb is whether or not he can run back to his Derby form. If he can, he's probably the most likely winner of this race. If he can't, then this race becomes much more open for an upset.
6-Incognito (20/1): If you're looking for a little bit of a long shot play on Saturday, Incognito might be a horse that deserves some added attention given his stamina-rich pedigree. His sire, A.P. Indy, won the Belmont Stakes, Santa Anita Derby and the Breeders' Cup Classic. His dam, Octave, won the G1-Mother Goose and the G1-Coaching Club American Oaks
when that race was still run at a mile and a half. was run So Incognito's sire and dam both won at the distance of a mile and a half -- a race occurrence in today's game in America. (Correction: Octave won the CCA Oaks during the brief time it was at 10 furlongs and not at a mile and a half, but that's still a lot of stamina in the bloodlines.)
7-Oxbow (5/1): The Preakness winner will likely have to work a bit harder to grab a clear lead in this race, unlike the gift-wrapped trip he received from his rivals at Pimlico. Oxbow has won three races in his career, and all of them utilized a gate-to-wire running style. With the front-running Freedom Child drawn to his inside, Gary Stevens may be forced to use his colt a little more than he would prefer in the early stages. On the other hand: Gary Stevens.
8-Midnight Taboo (30/1): A winner of just a single race in his career and nary a graded stakes race to his name, Midnight Taboo needs to grow up very fast if he's to hang with this group on Saturday.
9-Revolutionary (9/2): The second choice on the morning line, Revolutionary has finished in the top three in all seven of his starts. He's run well on wet tracks, dry tracks, long races, short races, and his pedigree features a lot of stamina on his dam side. In short, Revolutionary should be primed to run another quality race on Saturday.
10-Will Take Charge (20/1): There was reason to believe after the Derby that Will Take Charge might bounce back with an improved effort following a rough trip at Churchill Downs. However, after being the recipient of another bumper car-esque trip at Pimlico, I get the feeling this colt knows how to find trouble. Will Take Charge joins Orb and Oxbow as the only colts to run in all three legs of this year's Triple Crown series.
11-Vyjack (20/1): He had a disastrous experience in the Derby where he ran close and wide to a fast pace and faded to a well-beaten 18th by the time he crossed the wire. Vyjack's a better colt than that Derby run would suggest so I think he's a good bet to run a better race now that he's back home in New York. My biggest concern with Vyjack is his pedigree: both his sire and damsire were sprinters.
12-Palace Malice (15/1): The blinkers came off this colt after he ran off and set some of the fastest early fractions in the history of the Kentucky Derby before fading to 12th.
13-Unlimited Budget (8/1): The lone filly in the field will try to join Rags to Riches as the only fillies to win the Belmont in the last 100 years. She was third in the Kentucky Oaks after getting jostled around a bit leaving the starting gate. She likes to stalk the early speed and should get perfect trip behind Oxbow and Freedom Child through the first mile of the race. If Unlimited Budget runs to her best form on Saturday she should be right in the mix for win honors.
14-Golden Soul (10/1): The runner-up to Orb in the Derby, Golden Soul is still seeking his first victory outside of the maiden ranks. His running style suggests he'll once again linger far at the back of the field and make one big, grinding run to the front over the last quarter of a mile. His Derby effort suggests he'll handle an off track without any problems.
I'm going to attack this race in one of two ways depending on the condition of the racing surface at post time. If Belmont receives a significant amount of rain and the track is rated "Sloppy" or "Muddy" at the time of the race, I'll focus on Revolutionary and Unlimited Budget at the top of my tickets. If, however, the track is relatively dry (rated "Good" or Fast"), I'm going to swing for the fences with a long shot play in the form of Incognito.
While it's true Incognito has never beaten a field as strong as the one he'll face in the Belmont, I like him based purely on his pedigree. The Belmont and its mile-and-a-half trip is an oddity in American racing today. In fact, the Belmont is the only Grade 1 race on dirt at a mile and a half anywhere in the U.S. at this time after the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Coaching Club American Oaks were shortened from 12 furlongs. With that in mind, stamina and pedigree can be key factors in ferreting out the unlikely winner during the handicapping process. If we're looking for a horse with the pedigree to get the mile and a half, and some nice odds at post time, Incognito appears to fit the bill.