NEW YORK -- Orb and Oxbow. Oxbow and Orb. Anyway you draw it up, there will not be a Triple Crown on the line in the $1 million Belmont Stakes today.
Even without a Triple try, the Belmont is still an intriguing race. It matches Kentucky Derby winner Orb against Preakness winner Oxbow, Todd Pletcher sending out a record five horses and one of the largest fields in the 145-year history of a race also known as the "Test of the Champion."
So let's not overanalyze the rematch because there are many more story lines that will unfold when the 14-horse field begins its 1 1/2 -mile run around Belmont Park on what could be a wet track following 24 hours of rain.
Orb is looking to bounce back after his fourth-place finish in the Preakness, following his 2 1/2 -length win in the Derby. Oxbow is out to show his wire-to-wire Preakness win was not a fluke.
Todd Pletcher's quintet includes the filly Unlimited Budget, with Rosie Napravnik looking to become the second female jockey to win a Triple Crown race. Up-and-coming Freedom Child joins the Triple Crown fray for the first time off his 13 1/4 -length romp in the Peter Pan Stakes four weeks ago over a sloppy track at Belmont Park. And Kenny McPeek, who won the 2002 Belmont with Sarava at record odds of 70-1, is back again with 30-1 shot Frac Daddy.
"There's probably a few in there that don't figure, but they've got just as much license to run as Orb or Oxbow or anybody else," said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, whose Derby winner is the 3-1 morning-line favourite. "I'm not going to worry because it makes this a good, solid field."
Revolutionary is the second choice at 9-2, with Oxbow third at 5-1 and Unlimited Budget and Freedom Child each at 8-1 in the field of 14 -- the largest since 1996 and one shy of the record set in 1983.
Weather could be a factor. A steady rain began early Friday and was expected to continue through Saturday morning, with as much as three inches predicted by the National Weather Service. The track was rolled and sealed after Thursday's races to compress the dirt so water doesn't seep into the racing surface.
If the track comes up wet, Orb, Golden Soul and Revolutionary -- the first three finishers in the Derby run over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs -- should be able to deal with it. So, too, should Freedom Child.
"I like what I'm seeing," said Freedom Child's trainer Tom Albertrani. "I'm getting all the good signs. He couldn't be doing any better."
The last Belmont run over the slop was two years ago when 24-1 long shot Ruler On Ice won. It also was the most recent Derby winner vs. Preakness winner matchup, with Preakness winner Shackleford fifth and Derby winner Animal Kingdom sixth.
In addition to Frac Daddy, there are few other long shots worth a look in 20-1 Will Take Charge and 15-1 Palace Malice.
D. Wayne Lukas will be out to win his 15th Triple Crown race with Oxbow, and he also trains Will Take Charge. The big colt may not have the nifty moves of some of his rivals, but Lukas says once he builds up a head of steam "he's dangerous."
Palace Malice is among Pletcher's squad -- the others are the filly, Revolutionary, Overanalyze and Midnight Taboo. Despite only one win in seven starts, Palace Malice, the son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, looks to have the potential to win at the top level.
"He's always impressed us in his training, and he's shown hints of that in some of his races," said Pletcher.
-- The Associated Press