Updated on 06/08/2013 11:19PM

Belmont Stakes: Post draw, wet weather add variables


ELMONT, N.Y. – The weather forecast for the 145th Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park has worsened as the week has progressed, but as far as Tom Albertrani is concerned, “It’s getting better and better for us every time.”

Albertrani trains Freedom Child, who won the Peter Pan Stakes on a sloppy, sealed track here May 11. According to The Weather Channel, steady rain will soak the area Friday, and though the forecast is for the rain to taper to showers Saturday, the likelihood, at least 72 hours out, is that the Belmont will be run on an off track.

Weather was on the minds of several trainers Wednesday morning when final entries were taken and post positions drawn for the Belmont. Fourteen were entered in the 1 1/2-mile race, highlighted by Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner, and Oxbow, who won the Preakness.

Even though Orb won the Derby on an off track, “I hope it’s not on Saturday, not just for my horse, but for everyone’s sake,” said Shug McGaughey, trainer of Orb.

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

Even if it rains, Belmont Park has a sandy surface that can dry quickly. According to McGaughey, Glen Kozak – the vice president of facilities and racing surfaces – “is some kind of trackman.”

“He’s done a fabulous job with these tracks,” McGaughey said.

Orb drew post 5 and Oxbow 7, with Unlimited Budget, the lone filly in the race, drawing post 13, and Golden Soul, the Derby runner-up, landing the outside post 14. The last time the Belmont had as many as 14 starters was in 1996, when the first three finishers broke, in order, from posts 7 (Editor’s Note), 13 (Skip Away), and 9 (the filly My Flag).

A maximum of 16 can run in the Belmont, but only 14 can fit in the main starting gate. Any more than that, and a second gate would be needed.

The Belmont’s purse is $1 million, with $600,000 to the winner.

Orb was installed as the favorite on the morning lines set by both Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, and Eric Donovan of the New York Racing Association. Watchmaker has Orb at 5-2, while Donovan has him at 3-1. Both men have Revolutionary, who finished third in the Derby, as the second choice and Oxbow as the third choice.

McGaughey said he wanted to get in the middle of the field and that he was fine with being in post 5. Orb drew the rail in the Preakness, and the inside seemed to be the worst part of the track that day.

“I’m a lot more satisfied than I was at Pimlico,” McGaughey said.

Albertrani was not enthralled with the post 2 draw for Freedom Child, who has speed but has had trouble getting away cleanly from the gate.

“I was hoping to get a little further toward the middle,” Albertrani said. “I want to find a spot in the clear going into the first turn. It’ll depend on how he leaves there.”

Orb, Golden Soul, and Revolutionary were the first three across the line in the Derby, which was run on a sloppy, sealed track at Churchill Downs, so they have proven form on an off track. Todd Pletcher, trainer of Revolutionary – and four others in the race – said his biggest concern with the track would be “if it’s drying out, deep, and demanding.”

“It will depend on the kind of track we get,” Pletcher said when asked which of his horses would be helped or hindered by an off track. “The latest forecast I’ve seen is that the rain should be tapering off by Saturday, so hopefully they’ll have time to get it tightened.

“Like everyone else, I’d prefer it’s fast.”

Unlimited Budget, the lone filly in the race, won her debut at Aqueduct by 9 1/2 lengths on a track rated good. Pletcher said Unlimited Budget’s pedigree indicates mud should suit her, since her dam is by Valid Appeal.

Because she is a filly facing males, Unlimited Budget gets a 5-pound weight break and will carry 121 pounds compared to 126 for the other 13 runners.

Palace Malice, another Pletcher trainee, ran well for the first part of the Derby while setting a brisk pace before fading, so Pletcher was more inclined to blame the pace, not the track, for his performance. Palace Malice was second on a sloppy, sealed track at Gulfstream earlier this year to a noted mud lover, Majestic Hussar, in a first-level allowance sprint.

Palace Malice added blinkers for the Derby, but they are being removed for the Belmont.

Frac Daddy and Golden Soul arrived Tuesday from Churchill Downs and got their first feel of the track Wednesday morning. Ken McPeek, who trains Frac Daddy, said he would have jockey Alan Garcia send his horse from his rail draw. Dallas Stewart, trainer of Golden Soul, called the outside draw “a tough post,” but said post 14 worked for him when he won the biggest race of his career, the 2006 Kentucky Oaks, with Lemons Forever.

The Belmont is the 11th race on a 13-race card that begins at 11:35 a.m. Eastern. Post time for the Belmont is 6:36 p.m. The Belmont will be shown live by NBC during a two-hour telecast that begins at 5 p.m. and also will include the Grade 1 Manhattan, featuring Point of Entry.

There is a two-hour show featuring earlier Saturday stakes on NBC Sports Network from 3-5 p.m. as well as a post-Belmont wrap-up show on NBC Sports Network from 7-7:30.