06/08/2013 12:30PM

Belmont Stakes: Pedigree a question for filly Unlimited Budget

Barbara D. Livingston
Unlimited Budget will seek to become the fourth filly in history to win the Belmont Stakes.

Although there is no Triple Crown on the line, history could still be made in this Belmont Stakes by Unlimited Budget and her rider, Rosie Napravnik.

Unlimited Budget, who comes in off a third-place effort in the Kentucky Oaks five weeks ago, will become the 23rd filly to contest the Belmont in its 145 runnings and will attempt to become just the fourth filly to win the oldest American classic, joining inaugural winner Ruthless (1867), Tanya (1905), and Rags to Riches (2007).

“I think this one year where I think the fillies are as good as the boys,” owner Mike Repole said. “Unlimited Budget ran a good race when she was third in the Kentucky Oaks, and two fillies out of that race, Midnight Lucky and Close Hatches, came back to run one-two in the [Grade 1 Acorn Stakes May 27 at Belmont]. Unlimited Budget is a large filly, and when the 15 horses come out you’ll think she’s one of the colts. She also has a good mind for a mile and a half where she’ll settle.”

Napravnik, who will ride Unlimited Budget for the first time on Saturday, is seeking to become the second female rider to win a Triple Crown event – joining Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone who, 20 years ago, won the Belmont aboard Colonial Affair. Napravnik - who last year became the first woman to win the Kentucky Oaks, aboard Believe You Can – is the first female jockey in history to ride in all three Triple Crown events in the same season. She piloted Mylute to finish fifth in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness Stakes. 

[BELMONT STAKES: Live updates and video from Belmont Park]

Unlimited Budget is part of a strong Belmont contingent for trainer Todd Pletcher and Repole. Pletcher is set to saddle five horses for the Belmont – including three owned by Repole, a New York native who has made no secret of his desire to take down the Belmont Stakes.

“The number one race I want to win is the Belmont Stakes,” Repole, whose colors will also be carried by Overanalyze and Midnight Taboo, said. “I’ve never made a secret of that. Some people get Derby fever, I get Belmont Stakes fever. … This is the race that, for 30 years, I’ve dreamt about winning.”

Repole’s only previous Belmont starter was 2011 runner-up Stay Thirsty.

Pletcher is no stranger to saddling fillies in the Belmont. His first victory in a Triple Crown race came in 2007, when he sent out Rags to Riches to outduel eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. While Pletcher stressed that each horse must be considered as an individual, the victory by Rags to Riches, as well as the recent exploits of other top-level fillies against males, lends more support to Unlimited Budget’s quest.

“It certainly gives you added confidence knowing that it's been done with a filly somewhat recently,” Pletcher said during a recent teleconference. “And, you know, I think the success that other fillies have had kind of following Rags to Riches, when you look at Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta and some of these other fillies, they've certainly shown that the best fillies of their generation can sometimes compete with the best colts.”

In the case of Rags to Riches, her pedigree was a key factor in the decision to face males at the marathon 12-furlong distance. The daughter of 1992 Belmont Stakes winner and legendary sire A.P. Indy was out of Better Than Honour, dam of the previous year’s Belmont winner, Jazil.

“The biggest thing about Rags to Riches and the reason why we decided to run her in the Belmont is her pedigree was just so [strong] - she's so stoutly bred for the Belmont,” Pletcher said. “Being a half-sister to a Belmont winner and being by a Belmont winner, we always just felt very, very confident that the distance would suit her well.”

Unlimited Budget is from the second crop of Street Sense, whose major victories around two turns included the Kentucky Derby, Travers Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. However, the female side of the filly’s family, while high-class, raises questions about her distance capabilities. Unlimited Budget is out of the Valid Appeal mare Unlimited Pleasure, who never won beyond six furlongs and whose lone stakes placing came at 6 1/2 furlongs. Unlimited Pleasure is the dam of two graded stakes-winning juveniles – Jardin, who captured the Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes at six furlongs and also finished second in the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes at seven furlongs; and Beacon Shine, who won the Grade 3 Flash Stakes at five furlongs.

“I'm a little bit concerned about the bottom side of her pedigree,” Pletcher said. “She's a daughter of Street Sense and that certainly is encouraging; however, the bottom side of her pedigree may be not as quite as deep in stamina as Rags to Riches was.”

Unlimited Budget, who won the first four starts of her career prior to finishing third in the Oaks, is the first of Unlimited Pleasure’s foals to win beyond six furlongs. The filly won the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes at 1 1/8 miles, as well as the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks and Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra Stakes, both at 1 1/16 miles.

“You have Street Sense, who can go two miles, and [broodmare sire] Valid Appeal, who can go a mile,” Repole said. “Hopefully, she runs to the sire’s side and not the dam’s side.”

Out of the unraced Notebook mare Cricket Box, Unlimited Pleasure is a half-sister to several stakes horses, including Outofthebox, winner of the Grade 1 Super Derby at 1 1/4 miles; and to Box of Joy, dam of four stakes horses including Tackleberry, a Grade 2-winning sprinter who also took the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap at a mile and two more stakes, including the Sunshine Millions Classic, at 1 1/8 miles.

Unlimited Budget was bred in Florida by J. Michael O’Farrell’s Ocala Stud, which also bred her first three dams. The outfit consigned the filly to the 2012 OBS March select 2-year-olds in training sale, where she was purchased by Repole for $475,000, making her the most expensive horse in the Belmont field. Repole said the filly’s striking build made her a standout at the auction.

“She’s not built like a filly,” Repole said. “When we looked at her at the Ocala sale, when my team and Todd took her out, the first six minutes I looked at her, I thought she was a colt. She’s a big, big filly.”

Pletcher says that Unlimited Budget’s physique is one asset she does have in common with Rags to Riches.

“They're both big, strong fillies, which I think is important,” Pletcher said. “When you look at running against colts, you want to make sure that physically, you're going to stack up; and in Unlimited Budget's case, she's a very strong filly, she carries a lot of condition, she's not going to stand out in the paddock as being the smaller filly of the group. She'll fit right in from a physical standpoint, and I think that's always important.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of times Rosie Napravnik has ridden Unlimited Budget. Napravnik rode the filly once before, in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes; the Belmont Stakes will not be the first time.