In the end, the numbers were on Todd Pletcher's side
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Of course, trainer Todd Pletcher was working with entirely different odds than anyone in the Belmont Park crowd of 47,562 Saturday: 5-to-9. Five of the thoroughbreds in the Belmont Stakes field were his -- a record number -- nine were not.
Not that his chances to win were necessarily the best. Four of his horses were longshots -- from 10-1 to 30-1. The other, Revolutionary, was 5-1, the bettors' second choice behind Kentucky Derby winner Orb.
Naturally, then, it was Pletcher's 13-1 Palace Malice who cracked the code, beating both Orb (who was third) and runner-up Oxbow, the Preakness champ, and reinforcing the truth that picking a Belmont champion is no more scientific than predicting the weather. (It didn't rain and the track wasn't muddy.)
Five times voted the nation's top trainer, Pletcher, 45, can monitor a thoroughbred race with the best of them, but looking for five horses at once -- all moving at roughly 35 miles per hour at binocular distances along the backstretch -- has its challenges.
Palace Malice, he said, "was the easiest one to see. Just because of the position he was in" -- running among the top three by the one-mile mark and quickly into the lead after that. "I tried to monitor where some of the others were.
"I saw Revolutionary making a move down the back side. Looked like Overanalyze [seventh] was kind of stuck down inside. Couldn't really see Unlimited Budget [sixth] because she was kind of blocked on the outside."
And Midnight Taboo was altogether out of the picture, gradually fading from eight to an eventual 12th-place finish.
"Certainly," Pletcher said, "I felt by the 3/8th pole that Mike was moving really comfortably, headed for home."
A month ago, Pletcher fielded five horses in the Kentucky Derby, and got close to the winner's circle with third-place Revolutionary. With Palace Malice, he said, "I probably overthought the Derby a little bit, putting the blinkers on him. But you live and you learn and it paid off today.
"Of the five horse we ran in the Derby, Palace Malilce was the one that bounced out of it the quickest, and he would've been the one I would've chosen in the group" to run the Preakness.
But, because Palace Malice had had a rough day at the March Louisiana Derby (7th place) and had just run second in the Blue Grass a month before the Derby, Pletcher and owner Cot Campbell chose to wait for Belmont.
The result was Pletcher's second Belmont victory after the filly Rags to Riches won in 2007, Pletcher's first Triple Crown success. (He won the 2010 Derby with Super Saver.)
"Rags to Riches," he said, "was sort of getting the monkey off your back. I hadn't won a classic up to that point and, after a while, it starts to build on you a little bit. That one was tremendously exciting, but also a relief. This one was just exciting."