Belmont Park: The Grade I, $1 million Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles
#1 Frac Daddy: Hit-or-miss type was a decent second to fellow entrant Overanalyze in a painfully slow GI Arkansas Derby, then was 16th in the Kentucky Derby in his last, so he’ll need a massive form reversal to factor. McPeek charge will reportedly gun from the rail today, which seems odd, as there’s much better speed to his outside and that should ensure one tough trip from the rail. On paper, this son of Scat Daddy has never run remotely fast enough to factor in a race like this, let alone win it, and it’s tough to see that changing here; easy toss.
#2 Freedom Child: Speedy West Point runner ran off with the local prep, the GII Peter Pan, last time in the slop by 13 1/4 lengths, so you know his connections are doing a rain dance as the big one draws near. Figures to be sent away from here early and on paper he’s the fastest horse early in the race, so at the very worst, he’s pressing ‘Frac, and at the very best, he’s in front and setting his own pace. Albertrani has done a nice job with this son of Malibu Moon, and his last says he likes the track and is peaking, so if he shakes loose early, there’s a good chance he can get mighty brave late; huge chance.
#3 Overanalyze: Aforementioned Arkansas Derby winner is the first of five from Pletcher in here, and like many in Louisville, he struggled with the slop en route to an 11th-place finish in the Derby. The track condition is an obvious excuse for this son of Dixie Union’s poor run, but don’t forget that he won one of the slowest GI Triple Crown preps ever, so it’s not like he was breaking any stopwatches prior to his Derby to begin with. Tactical sort owns the right running style to win the Belmont, but up to this point, he’s simply not fast enough; tough to tout.
#4 Giant Finish: The 24th-hour surprise Derby entrant probably shocked quite a few when he finished 10th, while beating several much more high-profile contenders home, in Louisville and will look to improve on that finish today for Tony D. New York-bred son of Frost Giant is one of very few in here who should relish the 1 1/2 miles and he’s quite tactical as well, so you can make a case for him being in the right spot off the far turn. Of course, you can also say he’s really outgunned and might not even be around when they hit the far turn; needs far softer to threaten.
#5 Orb: Derby hero looked freakishly good under the Twin Spires but came unglued in the Preakness and was lucky to finish fourth in an effort that screamed that he’s over the top after an ambitious winter/spring that saw him rattle off five straight with various running styles. Obviously the pace at Pimlico was vastly different from the suicidal splits he got in the Derby, but he’s been close to a soft pace before and won (in the GI Florida Derby), so you can’t really use that as an excuse. Fans will certainly be excited to see Shug forge on with this son of Malibu Moon, but they also might want to ask themselves whether he’d be here if the Belmont was run somewhere else, as opposed to his and his co-owners the Phipps’ back yard? Is tough to question anything a Hall of Fame trainer does, but the gut says this guy is over the top and begging for a break; taking a strong stand against on top.
#6 Incognito: Beautifully bred son of A.P. Indy out of the GI winning mare Octave is bred to love the trip but will have to rebound from a distant fifth-place finish behind Freedom Child in the Peter Pan, so you know he’s hoping for dry land Saturday. McLaughlin runner turned heads with a trip-from-hell allowance win two-back, but he beat nothing that day and did it in slow time, so it’s tough to get too overly excited, trouble and all. His pedigree and connections stack up nicely here, but he’s another who just doesn’t look fast enough to threaten the bigger guns; midpack finish may be his ceiling.
#7 Oxbow: It’s funny what a good post position can do for an extremely talented horse after he’s been marooned outside all winter and then on the rail for the Kentucky Derby, eh? So it shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise to see this Lukas charge run off with the Preakness gate-to-wire under a crafty ride by Stevens, who immediately realized that everyone else was taking back and headed for the lead. Son of Awesome Again is bred in the purple for this, as his dam is an unraced full-sister to Tiznow, and while he’s not making the lead in the Belmont, he’s sitting in the catbird’s seat just off the inside speed, which means he’s getting first run on Orb and all the rest off the far turn. Somehow he’s being overlooked off the Preakness win as people think it’s fluky, but he meets a modest field here and might be ready to go on a real tear for the Coach, who knows how to keep them good when they get there; love his chances here.
#8 Midnight Taboo: The second of the Pletcher five-pack could very well be a rabbit for all his entrymates (owner Repole also has stalkers Overanalyze and the filly Unlimited Budget), as he’s started just three times and has never run in a stakes or gone two turns. His dad Langfuhr sure loved this strip and this colt has a lot of upside, but running 1 ½ miles against GI foes isn’t the spot to showcase it; pop and stop time.
#9 Revolutionary: The most accomplished of the Pletchers closed from well out of it to be third in the Derby and was obviously one of a select few to handle the mud while relishing the hot pace as well. There’s talent here to be sure, but this son of War Pass also has no speed at all and is completely at the mercy of the pace, which shouldn’t be too hot. So sure, he looks good off his Derby and his win in the GII Louisiana Derby as well, but you also have to ask yourself if he can spot Orb five lengths and Oxbow t10 and still mow them both down late? At the end of the day, that seems like a mighty tall task for a horse that has beaten winners by a neck both times; keying underneath.
#10 Will Take Charge: Lukas’ second didn’t fire in the Preakness but got some buzz after running a very troubled eighth in the Derby, as he was moving in tandem with Orb on the far turn before being completely stopped. So was it the mud or the hot pace that flattered him that day? We’ll likely never know, but it’s also quite possible that this son of Unbridled’s Song, who is out of the multiple GI winning mare Take Charge Lady, is just getting good at the right time, too. So if you want to be really forgiving, you can say it was a tough ask wheeling right back in the Preakness and that the wide, sweeping turns of Belmont’s main track will suit a horse who is about as strapping as any you’ll see on the backstretch all summer long; not the worst bomber in the program.
#11 Vyjack: The darling of Aqueduct’s inner dirt season seemingly got exposed when he was a tiring third in a slowly run GI Wood two-back, then didn’t raise a hoof while finishing 18th from the outside stall in the Derby. Rodriguez-trained son of Into Mischief is a multiple graded stakes winner, so it’s not like he doesn’t have some talent, but those slow wins in the Jerome and Gotham aren’t scaring any of the big guns in here, either. On the face of it, he could get a small piece, but he’s also got to rebound from a 52 3/4-length drubbing just five weeks ago, which is no small task; seems in over his head.
#12 Palace Malice: Pletcher’s fourth added blinkers then chased a fire on the backside in the Derby, when he clicked off a 45 1/5 half-mile before stopping entering the far turn and trudging home 10th. No surprise to see the hood come off today, and dad Curlin was beaten a head in this race in 2007, so the pedigree is there as well for a colt who should resume his usual midpack stalking ways. His two-turn races have all been quite sharp (note he had a ton of trouble when seventh in the Louisiana Derby), and the price will be right, so there’s no reason why he can’t rebound and fire a big shot; price players have their hero.
#13 Unlimited Budget: The last of the Pletchers is also the lone filly in the field, and she’ll look to emulate her trainer’s Rags to Riches, who beat Curlin in a Belmont for the ages. Be careful here, though, as this miss is a nice filly, but don’t confuse her with a Hall of Fame talent in Rags To Riches, who outgamed one of the best horses we’ve seen in the past quarter century. This daughter of Street Sense has never even won a GI and tired late in the 1 1/8-miles Kentucky Oaks last time, when ‘Rags entered the Belmont off three consecutive GI wins, including a laugher in the Oaks. Of course, the other side of the coin is that there are no Curlins in here and she is 4-for-5, so she can run some, but a win just seems a little ambitious; not impossible for part.
#14 Golden Soul: One-time winner was “that” horse in the Derby, you know, that improbable longshot who no one expected but rallies into a wild pace to get a piece. In this son of Perfect Soul’s case, it was a big piece, as he closed from 15th to finish second, albeit a non-threatening one, in what was by far a career best run for Stewart. Deep closer has no speed and will be well back Saturday, and there’s not much doubt the wild splits in the Derby, along with the mud, really moved him up, so he’s got some questions to answer. We all know these 3yos can improve leaps and bounds overnight in early spring, and it’s possible this dude falls into that category, but at false odds with the race flow playing against him, he’s got to prove it; not expecting lightning to strike twice.
#2 Freedom Child