Take note bettors: Freedom Child won Peter Pan at Belmont in slop
David Wilkenfeld became a horseplayer while growing up in Hewlett Harbor, and over the years he went from small bettor to serious speculator. He calls his stable Pick Six Racing because of the massive scores he's made from his favorite wager.
He hit it for $3.3 million at Santa Anita in 2008, five years after a $1.3-million windfall at Churchill Downs. Besides owning promgirl.com, reportedly the largest online seller of formal dresses, Wilkenfeld, 55, owns the gelding Vyjack, who will run Saturday in the Belmont Stakes.
This guy can select six consecutive winners for seven-figure payoffs. So he must have the formula for cashing on the "Test of the Champion," right? Sorry, no.
"The Belmont is always a puzzler to me," Wilkenfeld said. "There's no rhyme or reason to how the race is run."
Making the 145th edition even trickier is a 14-horse field, largest since 1996, and nasty weather. According to The Weather Channel, heavy rain will arrive sooner than originally anticipated, with a 60-percent chance of morning showers Saturday after a 90-percent chance of rain Friday.
Glen Kozak, the New York Racing Association's track superintendent, planned to roll and seal the main track after Thursday's races "in anticipation of heavy rains. What we actually get in terms of rainfall will determine how we manage the track on Friday."
All right, you say, give us the important forecast: Who will finish first. The future is never more uncertain than when you try to pick a winner 48 hours before post time, but here goes.
I've already touted you on Freedom Child, so I'll stick with him, and his profile has much to recommend him. Like 10 of the last 11 Belmont winners, he skipped the Preakness, and he won the Peter Pan Stakes by 13 1/4 lengths on a sloppy track at Belmont Park. He can lead or rate just off the pace, and the last two Belmont winners on an off track, Empire Maker and Ruler on Ice, sat second most of the race.
Perhaps you're nervous because his jockey, Luis Saez, is in his first Belmont. That's a legitimate concern. As Shug McGaughey, trainer of 3-1 favorite Orb, said, "I think what separates the top riders is they know what to do in a mile-and-a-half race, even though they don't ride that far very often." Then again, four of the last eight to win the Belmont -- Jeremy Rose, Fernando Jara, Alan Garcia and Jose Valdivia Jr. -- were first-timers.
Two years ago, Ruler on Ice was one of two in the field with a wet-track victory. He paid $51.50 despite looking hopeless on paper. This group has more and better form in mud, although only Kentucky Derby hero Orb and Freedom Child won a graded stakes in those conditions. Revolutionary, Incognito, Unlimited Budget and Vyjack have wins on off going, and Golden Soul was second in the Derby muck.
Freedom Child drew post 2, so he must break well or risk being shuffled back heading into the first turn. Trainer Ken McPeek said 30-1 shot Frac Daddy will gun for the early lead. If he gets it, maybe Freedom Child can stalk and pounce when the overmatched Frac Daddy tires. Freedom Child has been training brilliantly and has a stayer's pedigree -- by Malibu Moon, also Orb's sire, out of a mare by mud-loving Deputy Minister. And at 8-1 in the morning line, he offers value.
Here's my superfecta vision: Freedom Child holds off Orb's rally by two lengths, with Revolutionary third and Golden Soul fourth. If I steer you wrong, I didn't mean to, and I'll be shredding tickets, too.