NEW YORK — Back home again, Kentucky Derby winner Orb is the horse to beat in the Belmont Stakes.
Orb drew the No. 5 post and was made the 3-1 morning-line favorite in a field of 14 entered for Saturday’s final leg of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park.
Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice drew the No. 12 post and is 15-1.
Orb’s trainer, Shug McGaughey, is confident his colt can bounce back from his fourth-place finish behind Oxbow in the Preakness.
“He’s been here for three weeks, and I think it has to be a help not only mentally but being familiar with the footing as well,” McGaughey said. “He’s done well here and trained well here. … I’m going to strike a line through the Preakness. It wasn’t his day. It was (trainer) Wayne Lukas and Oxbow and Gary Stevens’ day. We’re going to regroup and hopefully you’ll see the right horse here on Saturday.”
Oxbow is two gates over from Orb in No. 7. Revolutionary is the second choice at 9-2. Oxbow is next at 5-1.
“I think Shug has established his horse as the favorite today, and that’s right,” said Lukas, who has won a record 14 Triple Crown races, including the Belmont four times. “But I think he knows he has to take care of business in getting us out of the way, too.”
The field for the 1½-mile Belmont is the largest since 1996, when Lukas won the race with Editor’s Note.
“It’s a great advantage to be on your home court, where you train your horses,” said Lukas, who used to have a Belmont-based stable. “They don’t have to ship in and get settled, and then get over the surface. They’ve already been doing that.”
Orb, under Joel Rosario, navigated his way past 16 rivals in the final half mile of the Derby to win by 2½ lengths. In the Preakness, Orb was unable to find running room outside after breaking from the rail, and Oxbow led wire-to-wire under Gary Stevens.
McGaughey is well-versed in what it takes to deal with the Belmont – one long trip around the spacious oval.
“The jockey is really going to have to read the race – it’s what separates the top riders from some of those that aren’t,” said McGaughey, who won the Belmont with Easy Goer in 1989 and spoiled Sunday Silence’s Triple Crown try. “If you turn down the backside at Belmont, it’s not like turning down the backside at Churchill Downs, or Pimlico or the Fair Grounds.
“You’ve got a long way to go, and big open space through there, and you better be patient. If you’re not, it’s going to get to you.”
Orb comes into the race with five wins in nine starts for owners Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps and Stuart Janney III, while Oxbow’s Preakness win was just his third win in 11 starts for Calumet Farm.
Pletcher is looking for his second Belmont win. He won it in 2007 with the filly Rags to Riches, and Unlimited Budget could make him 2-for-2 with his Belmont fillies if Rosie Napravnik can pull off the upset and become the second female rider to win a Triple Crown race (Julie Krone won the 1993 Belmont with Colonial Affair).
“She’s a big, strong, talented filly. From a physical standpoint, she is going to match up well,” Pletcher said. “My biggest concern is the mile-and-a-half, with her not as strongly bred as Rags to Riches. But she’s trained very well.”
Pletcher will also send out Overanalyze, Palace Malice and Midnight Taboo. Mike Repole owns Unlimited Budget, Overanalyze and Midnight Taboo.
Unlimited Budget, who won her first four starts before running third in the Kentucky Oaks, and Peter Pan winner Freedom Child are co-fourth choices at 8-1.
The last Derby-Belmont winner was Thunder Gulch in 1995, and the last Preakness-Belmont winner was Afleet Alex in 2005. The last rematch of the Derby and Preakness winners was in 2011, when Preakness winner Shackleford ran fifth and Derby winner Animal Kingdom sixth behind Ruler On Ice.