Pletcher May Bring Girl Power to Belmont
In addition to three confirmed Belmont Stakes starters in Palace Malice, Revolutionary, and Overanalyze, trainer Todd Pletcher may be sending a filly to the 1 1⁄2-mile contest. Unlimited Budget remains unconfirmed for the Belmont, but if she goes, Pletcher said it is “very, very likely” jockey Rosie Napravnik will get the mount.
Unlimited Budget would be following in the hoofprints of Pletcher predecessor and 2007 Belmont winner Rags to Riches, who became the first filly in over a century to win the race when she nosed out Curlin at the wire. Although Unlimited Budget has demonstrated solid form and notable speed figures in her previous starts, Pletcher said he is worried her pedigree does not hold up to the Belmont distance as well as that of Rags to Riches.
“It takes a very talented filly to compete with the boys, and I think based on a couple of her wins, she can do that,” said Pletcher, who said that physically she compares well to Rags to Riches. “They’re both strong fillies, which is very important when you’re running against colts, you want to make sure they’re going to stack up.”
With that said, Pletcher told reporters he does not think the 1 1⁄2-mile distance is, in itself, inherently more taxing for fillies than colts. Although Rags to Riches started just once more before retiring after her Belmont win, the conditioner believes the stumble at the race’s start had more to do with her struggle to recover post-race than the distance.
“It certainly gives you added confidence, knowing it’s been done with a filly somewhat recently, and the success that other fillies have had following Rags to Riches—you look at Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, some of these other fillies— they’ve certainly shown that fillies of their generation can sometimes compete with the best colts,” he said.
The Pletcher posse will face Preakness winner Oxbow, trained by Pletcher’s former employer, D. Wayne Lukas. Gary Stevens will again get the mount and plans to fly to Belmont Park on Monday afternoon to give himself time to ride over the surface before the big race.
Following Oxbow’s strong work at Churchill Downs on Thursday morning, Stevens and Lukas are confident about the colt’s chances at “The Big Sandy,” which Stevens thinks can sometimes play similarly to the deep Pimlico track on Preakness day.
Ultimately though, Stevens said he isn’t worried about the surface.
“I don’t really care how it comes up, because I know he’ll handle the mud, he’ll handle a laboring racetrack that there can be at Belmont Park … he does not have to take his track with him,” said Stevens. “He reminds me a lot of (1995 Derby and Belmont winner) Thunder Gulch in that way.”
Peter Pan Stakes victor Freedom Child will add to the race’s depth following his 13 1⁄4-length win over the Belmont surface on May 11. Terry Finley, founder and president of West Point Thoroughbreds, which has a one-third share in the horse, said the ridgling’s running style should help his chances.
“He’s got such a cool middle move; he kind of runs horses off their feet,” said Finley. “It’s not a race where real deep closers have done well, so in that respect we feel like we’re in pretty good shape, but you never know what’s going to be thrown at you in the first part of it.”
Freedom Child did not make it to the Kentucky Derby after being declared a nonstarter in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes. An assistant starter failed to let go of Freedom Child’s bridle when the gates opened, inhibiting his take-off. Finley said he and trainer Tom Albertrani are trying to put the incident out of their minds, and they hope their horse will, too.
In that Wood Memorial start, Freedom Child received Lasix for the first time in five starts, which Finley said was based on the horse’s age.
“We’ve had pretty good luck waiting until the right time to administer Lasix before they run,” said Finley. “We all know if you look at the data, it usually improves a horse by three to four lengths. It’s a performance enhancer.”