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Jun 07, 2013

Belmont Stakes - A wide-open affair

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Kentucky Derby winner Orb has been installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite, but four of the other 13 horses also are lower than 10-1 in what is expected to be a wide-open Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

The third leg of the Triple crown usually does not have much appeal when the Kentucky Derby and Preakness are won by different horses, and that is the case this season as Orb and Oxbow (Preakness winner) vie for the top spot for 3- year-old of the year.

Other top challengers in the 145th running of the Belmont Stakes are Freedom Child, Revolutionary, Golden Soul, Unlimited Budget and Overanalyze.

Orb, who drew post five in the 14-horse field, comes into the race off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Preakness. Many experts blamed an inside post position and a dead rail on his subpar effort. However, the dismal performance was mainly due to a dead, tiring track which Orb did not handle.

Outside of a quick burst of speed down the backstretch, where he moved up to third place, the son of Malibu Moon took very little interest in running his race. The odds are strong he will rebound and improve in New York, but will it be enough to get him into the winner's circle? Will the three races in five weeks take its toll? Furthermore, should Orb be the top play as the probable favorite?

The answer to the above questions is no, particularly because the favorite has not won the Belmont the last seven runnings.

A horse who will undoubtedly take a lot of money if the track comes up sloppy is Freedom Child. The Thomas Albertrani-trained ridgling comes into the Belmont Stakes off a 13 1/4-length romp in the Peter Pan Stakes. Freedom Child won gate to wire, running the 1 1/8-mile event in 1:49.

With rain expected in the area on Friday into Saturday morning, one can assume that Freedom Child will be the "wise guy" horse in the wagering with the possibility of a huge drop in odds from his 8-1 morning line.

On the negative side, Freedom Child, as is the case with Oxbow, has never won when he has not had the lead throughout the entire race. In the Peter Pan, he was the lone speed on a speed-favoring surface and never let up. Moreover, he seemed to tire through the stretch, bearing out inside the final furlong. Even if Saturday's track plays to his liking, he won't be alone on the engine.

Don't be shocked if trainer Todd Pletcher's Midnight Taboo and Kenny McPeek's Frac Daddy try to go for the lead as well. In addition, it will be interesting to see what jockey Mike Smith does aboard Palace Malice. If Smith guns him to the top early as he did in the Kentucky Derby, it could severely impact the plights of both Freedom Child and Oxbow.

Speaking of Oxbow, the Preakness winner wasn't as bad as his sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby indicates and he wasn't as good as his victory in the Preakness as well. Furthermore, he might be slightly overlooked on Saturday, especially if it's a sloppy track.

CLOSERS WILL BENEFIT

The prime beneficiaries of a probable pace meltdown are Revolutionary, Orb, Golden Soul, Overanalyze and Unlimited Budget.

Revolutionary rebounded from a loss to Orb in November to reel off three consecutive victories, including a neck score in the Louisiana Derby. He couldn't keep his winning streak alive at Churchill Downs, where he finished third to Orb once again.

After getting bumped slightly at the start of the Kentucky Derby by Oxbow, Revolutionary was trapped on the rail for much of the race and jockey Calvin Borel had to wait behind Golden Soul approaching the top of the stretch before he could really start riding the son of War Pass.

Revolutionary gets a positive jockey change to Javier Castellano, who not only rode him to victory in both the Withers Stakes and Louisiana Derby, but also knows Belmont Park much better than Borel. In addition, post 9 should keep the colt free and clear on the outside instead of being bottled up on the rail as he was in the Derby.

Golden Soul was in front of Revolutionary the entire race on the first Saturday in May and held him off to finish second. However, that was not the case in the Louisiana Derby when Revolutionary got the early advantage and led the son of Perfect Soul by almost seven lengths after the first six furlongs. In the end, Revolutionary defeated Golden Soul (fourth place) by 4 3/4 lengths.

The Dallas Stewart-trained colt is beautifully bred for the 1 1/2-mile distance, so he must be respected. Unfortunately, he will not be helped by post 14.

Overanalyze gets John Velazquez back on board after Rafael Bejarano rode him the last two races. The colt has alternated wins and losses in eight career starts and is due for a victory after a dismal 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

His sire, Dixie Union, sired last year's Belmont winner, Union Rags. However, Union Rags had tons of stamina from his dam side, something Overanalyze cannot claim. Still, he should not be overlooked as he is just as qualified to win the Belmont as any other horse in the race. Also, his odds will be higher than many of the other top choices.

Finally, the filly Unlimited Budget gets a chance to show her stuff against 13 males. What makes her a possible winner is the fact that females have been more impressive than their male counterparts all winter and spring.

When Revolutionary won the Louisiana Derby in a stirring stretch duel versus Mylute, he crossed the wire in 1:50 1/5 for the 1 1/8 miles. Unlimited Budget won the Fair Grounds Oaks the same day, running 1 1/16 miles in 1:43 1/5.

She hit the mile mark in 1:36 3/5 while Revolutionary did the same in 1:37 3/5, so even if it would have taken Unlimited Budget a full second more to go an extra furlong after her mile, she would have run the nine furlongs in the same 1:50 1/5.

Another edge for Unlimited Budget is the probability she will appreciate an off track. She won her debut by almost 10 lengths on a surface rated good last November at Aqueduct and her damsire is none other than mud-loving Valid Appeal.

On the flip side, she was unable to win the Kentucky Oaks after a glorious trip of sitting behind the early speed. She had every chance to pass Beholder and wound up finishing third behind the 38-1 shot Princess of Sylmar and Beholder.

It takes a special filly to win the Belmont stakes, such as Rags to Riches, and something tells me Unlimited Budget is not in that class.

THE BELMONT STAKES WAGER

Given that only five of the last 20 Belmont Stakes have been won by horses coming off a win in his or her last race, the odds are strong that Oxbow and Freedom Child will not win. The choice here is Revolutionary, with Overanalyze second and Golden Soul third.

Starting with a mythical bankroll of $100, place $50 to win on Revolutionary, $20 to win on Overanalyze, With the other $30, place a $5 exacta box on Revolutionary/Overanalyze/Golden Soul.

SATURDAY OUT WEST

Just a quick note on two horses running on Saturday at Hollywood Park.

First, Alpha Dude makes his debut in the third race for trainer Bob Baffert. The 3-year-old runs against older horses going 6 1/2 furlongs. He has not been lighting up the track in the mornings, but he is a half-brother to First Dude, the second-place finisher in the 2010 Preakness and the winner of the 2011 Hollywood Gold Cup.

Second, Declassify hits the track for his second start, a six-furlong sprint carded as the seventh race. Also trained by Baffert, Declassify won his initial start by 11 1/2 lengths in 1:08 4/5 for six furlongs at Santa Anita on April 6.



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