By Gene Kershner
The final leg of the Triple Crown season is just over a week away with "The Test of Champions" slated for next Saturday, June 8, at beautiful Belmont Park. This year's Belmont Stakes could pit the champions of the first two legs against each other, the Preakness champion Oxbow is confirmed and a decision on the Derby champ, Orb is pending.
Let's take an early capsule look at the probable entries with our initial thoughts on each using a grilling thermometer to gauge each horse's chances…
Orb - He's raced five times already in 2013 and comes off the first two legs in decent shape, but the Triple Crown trail can take its toll on even the best horse. While the connections said it was 70-30 earlier in the week that they will run, my gut tells me they'll pass on Big Sandy and point towards the
summer, specifically Saratoga. The connections have said more than once, it's all about the horse, by running him again I think they'll be going against the constant theme we've heard since the First Saturday in May. With that said, however, he has the ability and pedigree to handle the mile and a half distance and has the hottest jockey in the land aboard in Joel Rosario. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Medium Well - Win Threat.
Oxbow - I pegged him several weeks ago as a potential Belmont winner in my Degrees of Separation post, and his Tomlinson distance rating and solid pedigree rate him in the top echelon of horses with the stamina to win the Belmont. This will be his seventh race of 2013, a throwback from a training
perspective, and he was "hardly blowing" according to jockey Gary Stevens after crossing the line at the Preakness. Will likely encounter a different pace scenario in the Belmont, and may be forced to expend energy sooner than he'd like. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Medium Well - Win Threat.
Revolutionary - Show horse (and my pick) in the Derby, Javier Castellano picks up the mount for Todd Pletcher. He should get a lot of steam here with the five week break, a decent showing in the Derby and the right pedigree to boot. His dam's sire, A.P. Indy won the Belmont in 1992. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Hot - Win Threat.
Freedom Child - The runaway winner of the Peter Pan in the slop will be backed at the windows, even thought it is a prep that hasn't exactly presented many Belmont winners as of late. Has more stamina on the sire side (Orb's sire Malibu Moon on top) and speed on the bottom. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Medium - Exotics player.
Golden Soul - The surprise second place finisher in the Derby definitely should be able to handle the distance of the Belmont, but concerns over appetite and training schedule could put this one down on the totem pole. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Medium Rare - Superfecta player.
Unlimited Budget - Interesting filly that may get the nod from Pletcher to attempt to become the second filly from his barn to win the Belmont (Rags to Riches - 2007). Rosie Napravnik is "likely to ride" according to the 5-time Eclipse winning trainer. Another with stamina on top and speed on the bottom within her pedigree makes her a possible exotics play. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Medium - Exotics player.
Code West - Baffert colt that was upset on the undercard at the Derby due to a bad trip in an allowance race. I fancied this colt on the Derby trail, but he could never get it going. He's a sneaky horse that could be overlooked at the windows. His sire, Lemon Drop Kid won the Belmont in 1999, foiling Charismatic's Triple Crown chances, so we know he can go long. His dam's sire, Saint Ballado sired 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, who won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park that year. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Medium Well- Bombs-Away Win Threat.
Overanalyze - The Dixie Union colt was bumped at the half-mile pole which "threw him off" according to jockey Rafael Bejarano, causing him to finish 11th in the Kentucky Derby. He did make a run down the stretch, but it was "too late" per Bejarano. His sire, Dixie Union sired last year's Belmont winner Union Rags, so there is plenty of live pedigree available to win the Test of Champions. His dam Unacloud is by the Private Account stallion Unaccounted For, winner of the Jim Dandy and Whitney Handicap. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Medium Well - Win Threat.
Palace Malice - The son of Classic-winning Curlin, is another Pletcher hopeful who was on the engine on the front end in the Derby after putting on blinkers, a tactic that did not pan out. His sire was certainly a factor in the 2007 Belmont losing by a nose. Palace Malice's dam, the Royal Anthem mare Palace Rumor, was a miler whose best win came on the turf at Ellis Park at 8 1/2-furlongs. He still finished 12th after setting blazing fractions, so he could improve with an honest pace. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Medium - Exotics player.
Will Take Charge - His abrupt halt behind a tiring Verrazano in the Derby is well-documented, but he was never a factor in the Preakness where many thought he would step up and hit the board in Baltimore. Lukas isn't afraid to take shots, not sure there's anything left in the gun though. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Medium Rare - Superfecta player.
Giant Finish - Last entry into the Derby, the New York-bred finished a respectable 10th in the mud. He would be a huge upset winner at large odds if he indeed had a giant finish. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Rare.
Incognito - Kiaran McLaughlin confirmed that the son of 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy out of Octave, a mare who won the 10-furlong American Oaks, will run in the Belmont. McLaughlin feels his breeding suggests he can get the 12-furlong test at the mile and a half oval in Elmont. Post Time Temperature Gauge: Rare.
Big Apple Triple - Mike Lee Stakes
The first leg of the Big Apple Triple is this Saturday at Belmont Park on Showcase Day for NY-breds. The $125K Mike Lee Stakes run over 7-furlongs is the first of three races restricted for 3-year-olds foaled in New York State. The second leg is the $150K New York Derby on July 20 at Finger Lakes down the Thruway and the final leg is at Saratoga, the $150K Albany Stakes on August 21. A bonus of $250,000 will be paid to the owner of the same horse that wins all three legs of the Triple, as long as there are not less than six horses starting out of the gate.
West Hills Giant, second in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct behind Vyjack after leading into through the 1/16 pole, should be the morning line favorite. The Frost Giant colt drew the rail for trainer John Terranova II and Jose Espinoza has the ride.
Bona Venture Stables' Smooth Bert worked 3 furlongs in a blazing 0:36.5 on Tuesday and attracts Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez to ride for the first time. The Damon Runyan winner is looking to rebound from a sixth place finish in the Grade 3 Withers and cuts back in distance.
Other win threats include Michael Hushion-trained Amberjack and the Speightstown colt Weekend Hideaway trained by Phil Serpe and ridden by Jose Lezcano.