Derby, Preakness winners hit the board
The Triple Crown series produced three different winners, but the Belmont Stakes lived up to its name as "Test of the Champion" in the sense that upset winner Palace Malice finished just in front of Preakness winner Oxbow and Kentucky Derby winner Orb, thus separating them neatly from the rest of the 3-year-old crop.
Orb went off as the favorite, but after running next to last in the field of 14 behind a speedy 46.66 half-mile pace, his trainer, Shug McGaughey, said he was too far back to reach the winner's circle.
"He put a pretty good run in to get to where he was," McGaughey said of his third-place finisher. "Those horses weren't coming back. If they had come back, we would have been fine, but they shook loose. We were just too far back to catch them.
"It's difficult to make a run like that over this race track, especially when it got a little bit looser as it did today when it was drying out. You've got to be there, and we weren't there. It's nobody's fault. It's just the way it turned out."
Jockey Joel Rosario saw early pacesetters Frac Daddy and Freedom Child give way near the end of the backstretch and was hoping Palace Malice and Oxbow would follow suit. That didn't happen. Orb moved past Revolutionary into third at the head of the stretch but could do no more.
"I was a little far behind," Rosario said. "[Palace Malice] was handling everything fine, very nice. He made a move on the outside on his own. When I came to the three-sixteenths, I could see my horse was getting tired a little bit."
Coming off the Preakness win, jockey Gary Stevens wanted to rate his horse down the backstretch, but Oxbow insisted on challenging Frac Daddy and Freedom Child. Stevens knew better than to fight him after doing that in the Arkansas Derby and finishing fifth.
"He had to be tired, but he never gave up," Stevens said. "He didn't quit. When Palace Malice finally pulled up after the race, he galloped by him. He wasn't going to stop until he was back in front again.
"We were going entirely way too fast to even be competitive. That's why I'm so proud of this colt. I didn't think I'd hit the board going down the backstretch that fast. I started to get into a bit of a fight with him, and I said, 'I'm not going to fight you little buddy.' He put away Freedom Child and two other horses. Mike set up on the outside and had to be loving what he was seeing in front of him."
McGaughey plans to freshen Orb and point to the Travers Stakes in August at Saratoga. He expressed pride in what Orb accomplished in the Triple Crown series but said it might be too difficult against such large fields to produce a Triple Crown winner.
"It's a pretty good trend right now," McGaughey said, "and that might be why we haven't had any Triple Crown winners since 1978."