Slop or not, Pletcher's 5 ready for Belmont Stakes
New York • Sloppy track or not, here comes Todd Pletcher with another squad of 3-year-olds for a Triple Crown race.
The trainer is taking aim on the Belmont Stakes this time, sending out a record five horses for Saturday's final leg of the Triple Crown.
Pletcher saddled a record-equaling five colts in the Kentucky Derby last month, with the best of the bunch over a wet track being third-place finisher Revolutionary.
After sitting out the Preakness, Pletcher is back with Revolutionary, two other Derby runners in Palace Malice and Overanalyze and two fresh faces in Midnight Taboo and the filly Unlimited Budget.
A sloppy track could be back as well. The National Weather Service is calling for heavy rains Friday into Saturday with a chance of showers after 2 p.m. Post time for the Belmont is 6:36 p.m.
"It doesn't really matter whether it's sloppy or fast, you just don't want it to be sticky or heavy," Pletcher said, referring to the track condition. He added that his horses "all have enough pedigree on wet tracks so it won't compromise them too much."
That includes Unlimited Budget, who will try to make a little history. She can become the fourth filly to win the Belmont Pletcher's Rags to Riches was the most recent in 2007 and could make Rosie Napravnik the second female jockey to win a Triple Crown race and first to win one with a filly.
"I think this is one year the fillies are as good as the colts, and the numbers show it," said Mike Repole, who owns Unlimited Budget as well as Overanalyze and Midnight Taboo. "She's a big filly, and she's bigger than half the colts in the race."
Derby winner Orb is the 3-1 morning-line favorite, with Revolutionary the second choice at 9-2 and Preakness winner Oxbow third at 5-1. Unlimited Budget and Freedom Child are co-fourth choices at 8-1.
The possibility of an off-track bodes well for Freedom Child and a few Derby runners in the field of 14 matching the largest since 1996 and one shy of the record in 1983.
Freedom Child, like Orb a son of Malibu Moon, flourished on a wet track at Belmont four weeks ago, winning the Peter Pan by a stunning 13 1/4 lengths.
"If it's wet, we'll certainly take it," said Freedom Child's trainer Tom Albertrani.
Orb handled the sloppy track at Churchill Downs. Under Joel Rosario, the colt passed 16 horses in the final half mile for a 2 1/2-length win over Golden Soul, who skipped the Preakness but is back for the Belmont.
"I hope the weather is like this," Orb trainer Shug McGaughey said on a warm, sunny Thursday morning at Belmont Park. "I want a fast track and a safe track, but if it rains they do a remarkable job here of getting it in great shape."
After Thursday's races, Belmont's main dirt track will be rolled and sealed "in anticipation of heavy rains," said Glen Kozak, the New York Racing Association's vice president of facilities and racing surfaces. Tractors will be equipped with heavy metal rollers that are used to compress the dirt so water doesn't seep into the surface.
"What we actually get in terms of rainfall will determine how we manage the track on Friday with respect to training and other preparations," Kozak said.
Pletcher believes he has a strong hand in the Belmont, even though at 1 1/2 miles it's the longest race any of them will run.
Unlimited Budget, a daughter of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense, won her first four races before finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks on May 3. Instead of a matchup against stablemate Dreaming of Julia in the Mother Goose on June 22, the decision was made to go against the boys in the Belmont.
"She's a big, strong filly, and obviously she's been training well," said Napravnik, who rode her to victory in the Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 23. "With a big field, it's going to be a tough race for everyone. But I don't think she will be intimidated she looks more like a colt. Plus, she can sit close to the pace, or close into it."
Napravnik will become the first female to ride in all three Triple Crown races in the same year. She was third in the Derby and fifth in the Preakness with Mylute.
Javier Castellano returns to ride Revolutionary, winner of the Louisiana Derby who got bumped around early in the Derby.
"He had a very good finish in the Derby and galloped out in front of the field that day," Pletcher said. "We feel with the five weeks rest, that he's an improving horse."
Overanalyze won the Arkansas Derby before finishing 11th in the Derby with Rafael Bejarano aboard. John Velazquez rides the colt in the Belmont.
Despite a record of one win in seven starts, Palace Malice has been exceptional in training for the Belmont after a 12th-place finish in the Derby. On Sunday, the son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin worked 4 furlongs in a blazing 47.20 seconds.
"He's shown hints of (being impressive) in some of his races, although he hasn't completely followed through and won a big race that we feel like he's capable of doing," Pletcher said.
Midnight Taboo has one win in three starts, but Repole is willing to take shot with him.
"We have a well-bred group, from a pedigree standpoint, that have the credentials to run this far," Pletcher said. "And they certainly have the form to suggest that they fit."