Belmont Stakes 2013: The Biggest Surprises of the Triple Crown Season

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistJune 8, 2013

Belmont Stakes 2013: The Biggest Surprises of the Triple Crown Season

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    If they ran these races on paper, then odds wouldn't matter.

    If they ran these races on paper, a jockey in his 50s making a comeback would just gallop behind the field.

    If they ran these races on paper, the trainer with the most horses in the race would be assured—no, guaranteed to win.

    But they don't run these races on paper. They run. They compete, and as a result, we were treated to things we never could have imagined in early May—and even before that, when these three-year-old horses ran toward Kentucky.

    Saturday marked the end of the Triple Crown season, the first trimester in the gestation period that is a year at the racetrack. All they do is run in circles, but oh my, do they remind us why we keep tuning in.

    Read on to see the biggest surprises and thrills from this year's Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

Orb Loses the Preakness

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    Many people within the sport gave the Triple Crown to Orb. What they forgot was that he had to win the Preakness Stakes. On that third Saturday in May, he finished fourth behind the winner, Oxbow.

    It was a kick to the stomach for those eager to see a Triple Crown winner. The sport hasn't seen one since 1978. That makes it 35 years since Affirmed completed the sweep.

    After three weeks, the sting of Orb's Preakness loss wore off, but it hurts no less knowing we have to wait 11 months to see who else may end this drought.

50-Year-Old Gary Stevens Steals the Preakness

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    A year ago, Gary Stevens sat on a chair as a racing analyst after retiring from a long career in the saddle. On May 18, he sat on the back of Oxbow and won the Preakness at the age of 50.

    Stevens pumped his fist and spoiled the Triple Crown for Orb and his connections. He showed the world how gritty Oxbow really is.

    Stevens sat chilly with a relaxed horse below him. He allowed Oxbow to get an easy lead. He wasn't pressured at all and saved a ton of energy that he used to kick clear down the lane.

    And there he was again, right in the mix in the Belmont Stakes, as he held on for second place in the "Test of a Champion." It was a remarkable feat of athleticism for anyone, let alone a man in his 50s.

Palace Malice Shocks in the Belmont

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    I'm sure few people were confident that Palace Malice could pull off the win in the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Mike Smith were the ones with the confidence.

    Palace Malice set suicidal fractions in the Kentucky Derby and still held on for 12th place. He was given five weeks rest and maybe a prayer or two.

    Saturday's win gave Pletcher and Smith their second career win in the Belmont Stakes.

    This son of Curlin was near the lead the whole way around and had more horse than Oxbow straightening out for home. A bunch of tired horses sprinted down the home stretch, but Palace Malice had just enough gas to hold them off.

Pletcher 0-of-5 in the Derby

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    Trainer extraordinaire Todd Pletcher saddled five horses in the Kentucky Derby for the second time in his career. He has come up empty both times.

    He's just 1-of-31 with Derby starters in 13 years. He'll tell you he's 1-of-13, but that's just slick PR spin. You swing one bat at a time. He just had five swings at one rose-colored baseball and looked back into the catcher's mitt.

    In the Derby, he saddled Verrazano, Palace Malice, Revolutionary, Overanalyze and Charming Kitten.

    All of that matters less now since he won the Belmont with Palace Malice. It was Pletcher's third career Triple Crown race win, with Super Saver and Rags to Riches being the others.

Golden Soul 2nd in Kentucky Derby

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    Golden who?

    That's what everyone was thinking as jockey Robby Albarado piloted this chestnut colt to a strong finish in the Kentucky Derby, beating every horse but Orb.

    Golden Soul skipped the Preakness since his trainer, Dallas Stewart, wanted to let him grow and recover after that huge Derby effort. He fired a bullet/dud in the Belmont Stakes but wasn't nearly as ignored as he was in Kentucky when he exploded onto the scene.

Top 3 Derby Finishers Not Very Good

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    Maybe with the exception of Orb, the top three Derby finishers, after all that's been said, were simply not that good. They benefited from an illogical pace scenario in Kentucky.

    Orb proved to be the best and is in the top three of his class, but Golden Soul (second in the Derby) proved a dud in the Belmont by finishing ninth. Revolutionary, third in the Derby, took fifth in the Belmont.

    Orb had no excuse in the Belmont. He got the trip he needed but couldn't close the deal. But he was a good deal tired and the track was largely favoring speed—that's why Palace Malice and Oxbow were Nos. 1 and 2 in the Belmont.

    We'll see as the summer goes forward, but Orb, as well as some others, deserves a nice break for his efforts this spring.

Shanghai Bobby Flamed Out

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    Remember Shanghai Bobby? He was the juvenile champion, ridden by Rosie Napravnik and trained by (whom else?) Todd Pletcher.

    Bobby was atop many Derby lists as the No. 1 horse to take the roses. He lost his seasonal debut to Itsmyluckyday. Then he lost the Florida Derby to Orb. After that, this horse was sent to the farm.

    For a horse who was once so brilliant, not seeing him in the Triple Crown was a surprise and a disappointment.

    We should see him this summer, but the lasting image of this colt was him being vanned to the farm for a rest while his contemporaries made history.