There is still some uncertainty about the field for the Belmont Stakes — as you would expect a week before the entries are due. As the prospective field sits now, though, eight probables stand out as horses than can win the Belmont Stakes. (Odds to win are from Sportsbook.ag)
It’s still not entirely certain that the Kentucky Derby winner will go in the Belmont, and his status has actually become less certain in recent days. I would still bet we’ll see him, though. Trainer Shug McGaughey is based at Belmont, so he won’t want to miss out on his home track race if his horse is ready. He needs to improve dramatically from his Preakness form, but we know how talented he is, and this track should suit him better than Pimlico did. Despite the disappointment last time out, Orb would still have to be viewed as the horse to beat.
He was a strong third in the Derby, and then trainer Todd Pletcher rested him in anticipation of this race. Calvin Borel has been replaced by Javier Castellano in the saddle, which is a real positive because Borel has not fared well on this track in limited experience. The horse still has to overcome the fact that he will be looking to run much the same race as Orb and doesn’t appear to be quite as good. Still, he is a serious contender.
The Preakness winner is back for another try. The condition of a horse that has run in all three races is always a concern, and in recent years the iron horses haven’t fared that well. Oxbow is bred to run forever, though, and jockey Gary Stevens and trainer D. Wayne Lukas both know how to win this race. The more I have watched the Preakness replay, the more clear it becomes that it was far from a fluke. That was a very good horse that benefited from a perfect ride. It could all happen again.
Golden Soul (+1000)
At almost 35/1 in the Derby, almost no one gave this horse much credit. When the dust settled, though, he was clearly second-best. Like the rest of the Top-5 finishers, he benefitted from the crazy early pace in that race. He looked very good doing it, though, and showed that he was and is a better horse than it seemed. His breeding is very well suited for this race, and he has trained well through his break since the Derby. The price still needs to be right because he’s likely not as good as the top horses on their best day, but if things went his way he could absolutely win.
The 11th-place finish in the Derby was a massive disappointment for the Arkansas Derby winner. He just didn’t show up. The effort exposed the weakness of the Arkansas Derby. The horse is back here, though, and he’ll be rested. His best race was way back in November, but if he can meet and improve on that effort then he could be a factor. At this level sometimes you just have to give a horse a mulligan for a lousy race, and this could be such a situation.
Will Take Charge (+1500)
The other D. Wayne Lukas horse was closing fast in the Derby until he ran into a rapidly-retreating Verrazano and had to check his forward progress. That made him a popular underdog bet in the Preakness, but his effort there was flat. The Belmont should be a better spot, though. The horse is huge, and his long legs and massive strides should be well suited to the long turns and big straights of the Belmont track. He needs to have the best day of his life, but we’ve already learned that you can’t count out a Lukas horse right now. Jon Court was aboard for the strong Derby performance. He lost the mount for the Preakness but is back again. That should be a positive.
Freedom Child (+800)
The Peter Pan Stakes has become a popular prep race for the Belmont Stakes in the eyes of public bettors, even though it has produced far more hype than results. This horse is coming off a win in that race the week after the Derby, so he will get some buzz. The win was indeed more than solid, but there are a couple of reasons for concern. Most significantly, it was only the second win of his six-race career, and it was a far better effort than we had seen in the other five outings. Still, the win was over this same Belmont surface, so we know he likes the track. He’s also a grandson of A.P. Indy, so the distance should suit him. I’m skeptical, but at the right price he would be worth some consideration.
Unlimited Budget (+1500)
Todd Pletcher is generally lousy in Triple Crown races. He has only entered one filly in this race before, though, and Rags To Riches became the first filly to win it since 1905 with her 2007 victory. You have to pay attention when he enters another filly, then. She’d been unbeaten in four races heading into the Kentucky Oaks, but she didn’t fire and wound up just third. Pletcher obviously saw something there and since, though, because it seems like she’s facing the boys in the biggest of tests. The biggest reason for concern is that owner Mike Repole, the founder of Vitaminwater, is so desperate to win this race that he would enter anything with four legs. She knows how to win, though, and could win here on her best day.