05/31/2013 2:59PM

Belmont Stakes: Sunday workouts will set the stage

Barbara D. Livingston
Palace Malice, with seven starts in his career, is still eligible for a first-level allowance race.

A pivotal morning looms at Belmont Park on Sunday, as several leading contenders for the 145th Belmont Stakes next Saturday, including Kentucky Derby winner Orb and all of trainer Todd Pletcher’s prospective runners, are scheduled for their final workouts.

These workouts will be closely monitored, because the composition of the Belmont hangs in the balance. Shug McGaughey, who trains Orb, has said that as long as Orb works well, he runs, and while Pletcher is already set to go with the likes of Palace Malice, Revolutionary, and Overanalyze, the depth of his contingent will depend on how Midnight Taboo and the filly Unlimited Budget perform.

[BELMONT STAKES: Probable field and latest updates]

Gauging performance in a race off workouts is certainly an inexact science as clockers and handicappers will attest. Even trainers are often fooled. Pletcher, for instance, since last fall has repeatedly remarked as to how well Palace Malice trains, and though he came close to winning the Blue Grass Stakes, Palace Malice, seven starts into his career, is still eligible for a first-level allowance race.

“He’s a horse that’s always impressed us a great deal in his training, and he’s shown hints of that 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 on a national teleconference earlier this week.

The way Palace Malice trains, though, has convinced Pletcher that a major win is out there for the colt. He has no hesitation about running him in the Belmont.

Pletcher is a little more circumspect regarding Unlimited Budget. Though she has run well in every start, Pletcher is concerned that her pedigree, particularly on her dam’s side, is not as stout as might be desired for the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont. That makes her workout Sunday perhaps the second-most critical, after that of Orb.

“We’ll see how her work goes this weekend,” Pletcher said.

Unlimited Budget is a big filly. “A very strong filly. She’ll fit right in from a physical standpoint,” Pletcher said. But Unlimited Budget, though by Derby winner Street Sense, is out of a Valid Appeal mare, a contrast to Pletcher’s 2007 Belmont-winning filly Rags to Riches, who was sired by Belmont winner A.P. Indy, and whose dam had produced 2006 Belmont winner Jazil.

“That’s a concern,” Pletcher said. “It’s something we’re looking at closely and weighing into the decision-making process of whether or not she will actually start.”

Stuart Janney III, the co-owner and breeder of Orb, seems to be following McGaughey’s lead when it comes to the Belmont: If the horse is doing well, why not run?

Janney said Friday that if Orb works well Sunday at Belmont Park then the Belmont “makes sense.”

“I do think that he’s doing very well,” Janney said.

Shortly after the Preakness, in which Orb finished fourth, Janney hinted that Orb might benefit from a break before the summer stakes races in Saratoga. Janney, however, doesn’t believe in leaving a horse in the barn if he’s doing well.

“This is his home track, he runs right out of his own stall. You never know what’s going to happen later on,” Janney said. “He seems to be flourishing. Maybe some other horses wouldn’t, but he seems to be flourishing.”

Early Friday morning, Orb had a very controlled, steady gallop under exercise rider Jennifer Patterson at a slower rate of speed than he is normally seen. McGaughey said that was by design.

“I let him pick his gallop up a little bit [Thursday] – he two-minute licked the last half-mile,” McGaughey said. “So, I just told her to gallop him a mile and a half steady.”

Also Friday morning, trainer Rudy Rodriguez vanned Vyjack from Aqueduct to Belmont Park then tacked him up and made it to the main track about 10 minutes before it closed for a 1 3/8-mile gallop.

Afterward, Rodriguez said it was virtually certain that Vyjack, 18th in the Derby, would run in the Belmont.

“As long as the horse eats good and I keep his weight the way it is, I think we’ll run,” Rodriguez said.

Friday was Vyjack’s first day at Belmont, and he appeared to gallop easily and comfortably while being kept close to the rail by Rodriguez.

“He felt like he was comfortable,” Rodriguez said. “He was looking around changing leads back and forth, but that’s to be expected first day at Belmont, but he galloped good.”

Rodriguez has not finalized a jockey for Vyjack. If Orb does not run, Rodriguez would like to get Joel Rosario, who rode Vyjack to victory in the Gotham. If Orb, as expected, does run in the Belmont, then one of the leading candidates to ride Vyjack would be Jose Lezcano.

Garrett Gomez, who rode Vyjack in the Derby, is expected to ride a horse for Pletcher in the Belmont.

Rodriguez, a former jockey himself who gets on about seven or eight horses each morning, joked he might ride Vyjack.

“If I lose can lose three or four pounds, I’ll be ready,” Rodriguez said.

Vyjack will gallop through the weekend and will likely have a timed workout at Belmont on Tuesday.

In other Belmont developments Friday:

◗ Trainer Bob Baffert said that Code West would definitely not compete, a decision he said he was “leaning” toward Thursday. With Code West out of the race, Rosie Napravnik would ride Unlimited Budget if she runs.

– additional reporting by David Grening