Fresh Horses in the 2013 Belmont Stakes
by Trevor Whenham - 6/4/2013
The field for the Belmont Stakes is different and unique in its makeup each year. By any measure, though, this year’s is just plain bizarre. The day before the entries are due it looks as if there will be 14 horses entered. Of those, 10 raced in the Kentucky Derby. That’s an incredibly-high percentage — and far more than we usually see.
We’ve looked closely at the chances of those horses recently — Derby entrants have won five of the last nine editions of the Belmont and have made up the exacta four times. What I want to look at this time around, though, are the four horses that are fresh to the Triple Crown trail. Who are they, how did they get here, and are they worthy of attention?
These horses can’t be ignored regardless of how unimpressive they might look. Rags To Riches was a fresh horse that won the Belmont after an impressively dominant spring, but horses like Sarava and Da’Tara have won the race after seemingly coming from nowhere and have paid off at huge prices. There is no Rags To Riches among the fresh horses this year, but is there a Da’Tara, or a Ruler On Ice, who won the Belmont in 2011 at 24/1?
Freedom Child comes into this race as the winner of the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont last time out. That race has become a reasonably popular prep race in the minds of bettors. It hasn’t produced a Belmont winner, but 2006 winner Sunriver was third in the Belmont that year, and Casino Drive in 2008 would have been a very popular Belmont pick if he hadn’t been scratched with a late foot injury.
Freedom Child was very impressive winning that race. The problem is, though, that the effort far exceeded what we had seen in his previous five career starts, including a dismal 10th-place finish in the Wood Memorial, a key Derby prep. As a son of A.P. Indy, he is well suited to this race, though, and if he can move forward from the Peter Pan he is a viable contender here. His Peter Pan win was over a sloppy track, so his connections will be hoping that the lousy weather forecasts for the Belmont Stakes hold true.
The last time a filly was entered in the Belmont was 2007, when trainer Todd Pletcher won with the brilliant Rags To Riches, who emerged after a historically-epic stretch duel with eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.
Now Pletcher is back with another filly, though beyond his involvement the comparisons to Rags To Riches are hard to make. This filly went into the Kentucky Oaks undefeated through four career starts. She looked good coming into the stretch in that race but really struggled late and was lucky to hold on for third. Her breeding is solid for this race but far from perfect.
It would be easy to discount her chances, but she knows how to win, and a filly isn’t going to be pointed to this spot if the connections didn’t see something in her — just five fillies have contested the race since 1980, and three have wound up being a part of the trifecta.
Like Unlimited Budget and Derby veteran Overanalyze, this Todd Pletcher-trainee is owned by Mike Repole, the founder of Vitaminwater who is desperate to win this race. Unlike those other two, though, I really struggle to make a case why this horse should be in this race.
He certainly has the breeding to get the distance, but that is pretty much all he has going for him. He has one win in just three career starts and will be making his stakes debut here — and running beyond 1 1/16 miles for the first time.
We have seen some shocking winners in this race, but this horse would be right near the top of that list. More likely, his inclusion is an insurance policy in case the early pace isn’t ideal.
I have endless respect for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, so if he says this horse belongs then I have to take him at his word. I sure don’t see his thought process, though.
In his only stakes appearance he was fifth, far behind Freedom Child in the Peter Pan. He has two wins in five other starts, but one was in his fourth attempt at a maiden race and the other was in an optional claiming. He’s a son of A.P. Indy, so he’ll get the distance. It’s hard to see how he’ll get it fast enough to be a factor, though — especially if the track isn’t fast.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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