The 145th Belmont Stakes promises to be a thriller even without the possibility of an individual Triple Crown champion.
Traffic issues prevented Kentucky Derby winner Orb from truly challenging at the Preakness, where 15-to-1 long shot Oxbow strode to a wire-to-wire victory with Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens aboard.
It is difficult to discount those two as top favorites entering the Run for the Carnations, but also not to be dismissed is Revolutionary. Trained by the legendary Todd Pletcher, the thoroughbred who finished third at Churchill Downs is going to be very fresh after electing not to bid for the Middle Jewel.
Let's take a closer look at these three horses, who should figure prominently into contention at Belmont Park on June 8.
Even the 2013 season's hottest jockey in Joel Rosario couldn't help Orb overcome beginning at the No. 1 post position. Perpetually pinned against the rail from the starting gates, Rosario could not make a move to the outside quickly enough, and Orb finished fourth as a result.
As long as Orb doesn't suffer similar misfortune this time around, he should be considered the No. 1 favorite in Elmont, New York.
It's a bit concerning that Rosario couldn't maneuver into an ideal spot for a final-stretch surge at Pimlico, especially considering it was only a nine-horse field. However, the early, relatively slow pace set by Oxbow caused the convolution, and Stevens couldn't have executed his strategy better.
Though Horse Racing Nation lists Orb as a "possible" entry, trainer Shug McGaughey was pleased with Orb's work on Thursday morning at Belmont Park, enhancing Orb's chances to run, according to DRFDerby on Twitter:
Orb adds undeniable intrigue to the Belmont with his combination of physicality and speed, and McGaughey has a golden opportunity to notch two jewels of the Triple Crown with him.
The combination of trainer D. Wayne Lukas and Stevens in the saddle got the speedy colt Oxbow to the winners circle in Baltimore. Lukas finally notched his record 14th Triple Crown victory after going winless in such races since 2000, and Stevens justified his return after a seven-year retirement.
Neither had much left to prove in their respective careers, but the fire is still clearly there. Stevens confirmed on Twitter on Saturday that Oxbow would indeed take part in the Test of Champions:
Oxbow proved at the Preakness that he could maintain a consistently swift cruising pace while still crossing the finish line first. That is precisely what he'll look to do in the final leg of the Triple Crown.
The 1.5-mile track at Belmont Park is an arduous, physically demanding journey, but Oxbow has the luxury of Stevens and his immense experience getting the mount.
Stamina is still a concern nevertheless. If Stevens can rein in Oxbow long enough and stay within shouting distance of the leaders entering the final turn, he has as good a chance as anyone of winning.
Who should be the morning-line favorite at the Belmont Stakes?
After coming up empty in his Triple Crown campaign thus far, Todd Pletcher's top contender to win the Run for the Carnations has to be Revolutionary.
According to Horse Racing Nation, the renowned trainer may be entering as many as five horses at Belmont Park, but this thoroughbred is a particularly formidable contender.
With Calvin Borel aboard, Revolutionary finished third in the Kentucky Derby, which was a respectable follow-up to the horse's previous win at the Grade I Louisiana Derby.
The latter race was up against the likes of Mylute—who placed fifth at Churchill Downs and third in the Preakness—and Golden Soul, who finished fourth in Louisiana but edged out Revolutionary for runner-up in Louisville.
WinStar Farm announced on Twitter that Javier Castellano would replace Borel aboard Revolutionary in the Preakness, and provided highlights of his win at the 2013 Withers Stakes:
We're excited that Javier Castellano will be aboard Revolutionary in the Belmont.There aren't many jockeys who... fb.me/2o8O9LpKe— WinStar Farm (@WinStarFarm) May 23, 2013
Notice how Revolutionary was in last place entering the final stretch before Castellano turned him loose to a magnificent, triumphant finish.
It's that type of pacing and effortless stride that makes Revolutionary a formidable threat to win the Belmont Stakes. Don't be surprised if he enters the race as the No. 1 favorite given his endurance and strong season thus far.