06/05/2013 2:19PM

Dick Jerardi: Here's hoping the Belmont Stakes pace will be easier to figure

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Barbara D. Livingston
I was confident there were several legitimate speed horses in the Preakness, none of them named Oxbow.

I was very confident the Kentucky Derby pace would be moderate and closers would be at a disadvantage. I was equally confident that there were several legitimate speed horses in the Preakness, none of them named Oxbow.

If you are going to be wrong, you may as well be spectacularly wrong. If you are not cashing, you are not cashing.

In my defense, did anybody see Palace Malice in front and flying? Did anybody see Oxbow with an easy lead?

Certainly, Mike Smith (Palace Malice) and Gary Stevens (Oxbow) did not imagine any of it. Smith could not stop it. Stevens could not believe it.

The results, obviously, had something to do with the respective paces. The issue for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes is to decide how much.

Orb was nearly 10 lengths better than Oxbow in the Derby, nine lengths worse in the Preakness.

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

I walked out of Churchill Downs with some wise DRF minds, and we all concluded that Oxbow had run best of the horses that the paper would indicate did not run well. He had been near the hot pace, right there at the quarter pole and did not fade as badly as most others.

What I thought that meant for the Preakness is that Oxbow might have a chance to hit the board at an overlaid price. I did not see him cruising to the front and dominating the race.

I walked out of Pimlico thinking that Orb never looked comfortable on the inside. I did not realize until later when I looked at all the replays and read the chart footnotes that the rail was really no place to be on Preakness Day.

If Orb had won the Derby in a vacuum, I would have assumed the hot pace made him look far better than he actually is. But it was the colt’s fifth consecutive victory.

If there was one thing I was certain of in the Preakness, it was that Orb would run his typically solid race. He did not have to win, but I never considered a floundering fourth.

Were five straight wins the aberration or one bad loss? That seems like an easy answer, especially if you accept that the rail really was bad and that Orb really was uncomfortable not being outside and able to unleash his long stride without traffic.

My feelings about Orb are not that much different than after the Derby. When I started to hear superstar, I cringed. I thought then and think now that Orb is a tough, consistent horse with a world-class trainer and world-class jockey, but not a transcendent horse that is going to be able to dominate.

Those kinds of horses reveal themselves by how fast they run. We do Beyer figures to identify the horses that are on another level.

Orb is not that horse. Neither is Oxbow. Or any other horse in this 14-horse Belmont field.

What we have are some pretty solid horses that are still running after the prep race grind and the crucible of the Triple Crown itself. We can only hope most of them are still running by fall.

Ten horses in this Belmont field ran in the Derby, which suggests this is a more resilient group that we have had in recent years. That, by itself, is cause for celebration.

So would a win by Orb or Oxbow. Or Freedom Child, who certainly appears best of the horses that are new to the Triple Crown.

Like Orb and Oxbow, we know Freedom Child can run fast under optimum conditions. Did Freedom Child win the Peter Pan by 13 1/4 lengths and get a 99 Beyer because the race was in the slop and he caught a field with no early speed? Or did Freedom Child just announce he has caught up to the others and may be about to pass them?

There are so many questions going into the final Triple Crown exam for 2013. I can explain the results of the first two legs pretty easily now that I have seen how the races were run.

If they only had “in-race’’ betting here, I would have been all over Orb and Oxbow after a quarter mile. Alas, we still have to bet before they come out of the starting gate. And this spring, how they started has had everything to do with how they finished.