It's not often that winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes enter the Belmont Stakes without the necessary press that comes with a Triple Crown victory.
That's been the case so far in New York this week, where Orb (Derby) and Oxbow (Preakness) have commanded headlines as the most talked about thoroughbred horses heading into the 2013 Belmont Stakes.
That recognition is rightly deserved—both horses, jockeys, trainers and owners involved in those two victories did the necessary preparation, in-race management and had the talent to complete a feat that very few individuals are involved in each racing season.
As the focus shifts to Belmont Park on Saturday evening, most of the headlines will continue to favor the early favorites, the weather at the track (check Weather.com for updates) and the possibility that three different horses could win one of each of the Triple Crown in 2013.
With a mind toward a few of the storylines that no one is talking about, here's a last-minute preview of a few things to watch for if you're more interested in the under-the-radar storylines rather than the ones that will command the broadcast.
Where: Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
When: Saturday, June 8
Post Time: 6:20 p.m. ET
Distance: 1.5 miles (Grade I)
Purse: $1 million
2013 Belmont Stakes Layout
|1||Frac Daddy||Alan Garcia ||Ken McPeek ||30-1|
|2||Freedom Child ||Luis Saez ||Tom Albertrani||8-1|
|3||Overanalyze||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||12-1|
|4||Giant Finish||Edgar Prado||Anthony Dutrow||30-1|
|5||Orb||Joel Rosario||Shug McGaughey||3-1|
|6||Incognito||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Kiaran McLaughlin||20-1|
|7||Oxbow||Gary Stevens||D. Wayne Lukas||5-1|
|8||Midnight Taboo||Garrett Gomez||Todd Pletcher||30-1|
|9||Revolutionary||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||9-2|
|10||Will Take Charge||Jon Court||D. Wayne Lukas||20-1|
|11||Vyjack||Julien Leparoux||Rudy Rodriguez||20-1|
|12||Palace Malice||Mike Smith||Todd Pletcher||15-1|
|13||Unlimited Budget||Rosie Napravnik||Todd Pletcher||8-1|
|14||Golden Soul||Robby Albarado||Dallas Stewart||10-1|
*Odds via BelmontStakes.com.
Golden Soul as a Contender
Installed as a 10-1 favorite after the post positions were announced on Wednesday, Golden Soul hasn't gotten much attention this week for the second-place finish he took home at the Kentucky Derby—just a few lengths behind winner Orb.
Trainer Dallas Stewart made the decision to rest Golden Soul by leaving him out of the Preakness, meaning he's had roughly five weeks of relaxation and training to prepare for the longest race of the three Triple Crown tests.
As noted by Alicia Wincze Hughes of the Kentucky Herald-Leader, the decision to hold Golden Soul out at Pimlico, coupled with his status as a premier closer after the Derby, makes for an interesting situation out of post No. 14 on Saturday afternoon.
Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Forum pointed out this week that Golden Soul has been running well in Elmont during gallops and light work in preparation for Saturday:
Only four horses opened up with better odds than Golden Soul, and two of them were horses that won the Preakness and Derby. Another (Revolutionary) finished in third at the Derby, behind Robby Albarado's horse.
There has never been a winner from the No. 14 post position, but that's largely because the field doesn't usually reach that number. As noted by Richard Rosenblatt of the AP (via MercuryNews.com), this will be the largest field since 1996, and the second-largest all-time (15, back in 1983).
The Belmont is known as "The Test of the Champion" and Golden Soul hasn't exactly lived up to that mantra heading into the race. A maiden win at just over a mile is the only time Golden Soul has won a race, but upon closer look, he's also finished at least sixth in every race he's competed in.
With conditions expected to be similar to what they were in Kentucky and Churchill Downs on Saturday, the long track, sloppy mud and Golden Soul's status should make him an interesting horse to follow throughout the race.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Rosie Napravnik has to be having the time of her life right now.
When she saddles Unlimited Budget and leads the filly to the gate on Saturday evening, she'll become the first woman jockey to have ridden in all three Triple Crown races in one season, after a fifth-place finish and an in-the-money one (third) at the Preakness.
Her filly also has a good chance to run with—and beat—the boys.
Here's Napravnik and her horse's trainer talking about the Belmont to Fox Sports (via Kelly Wietsma on Twitter):
Unlimited Budget will look to become just the fourth filly to win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, and her jockey will look to be just the second woman to accomplish the same. A Todd Pletcher horse, Unlimited Budget won all of her first four races before finished third at the Kentucky Oaks.
Napravnik was the jockey for one of those four wins, a 1.0625 mile race at the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra back in February.
Pletcher and fillies have a good history together, with his 2007 horse Rags to Riches the last female horse to win the Belmont Stakes. He, Napravnik and Unlimited Budget will look to take the Belmont by storm out of the No. 13 post position, and as Joe Drape of the New York Times reported, female horses are on the rise with respect to Triple Crown bids.
Early Odds Mean Nothing in New York
Orb, Revolutionary and Oxbow were the top-three horses by the numbers after the post draw on Wednesday, but as this ESPN piece from Chris Fallica will tell you, early odds mean nothing in Elmont.
In the last 18 years, only three horses who were the favorites at the time the gate opened went on to win the race, the last being Afleet Alex back in 2005. Favorites have also historically flopped in that time, finishing eighth or worse an astounding six times.
There's a reason this race is considered to be the test of a true champion.
Longer than its counterparts, the Belmont Stakes combines the fact that many of these horses have been in two marquee races already earlier in the season while others have chosen to forgo the extra tax of the Preakness in favor of a finale win.
In a symbolism that fits perfectly with the theme of this piece, Orb and Oxbow might be the horses that populate the most bets this weekend, but rarely do favorites take care of business with consistency at Belmont Park.
Expect the unexpected in horse racing—especially a race that has done its part in keeping the Triple Crown list empty for the last 35 years.
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