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Triple Crown or Not, 5 Things to Watch for in Belmont

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Horses head out to the track at  the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 9, 2012 in Belmont, New York. (Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

Horses head out to the track at the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 9, 2012 in Belmont, New York. (Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK — A large field of 3-year-olds is set to run in the $1 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday. Among the competitors are Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Preakness winner Oxbow and a record five horses trained by Todd Pletcher, including Unlimited Budget with Rosie Napravnik attempting to become the second female jockey to win a Triple Crown race.

A rematch between the Derby and Preakness winners sure didn’t scare off the competition. The field of 14 matches the largest since 1996, one shy of the record set in 1983.

There may not be a Triple Crown on the line, but here are five things to watch for while the field is negotiating one long, mile-and-a-half race known as the “Test of the Champion.”

— HELLO, MUDDER: The New York area got a soaking on Friday. There’s also a chance of afternoon showers on Saturday, leaving the possibility of a wet track by post time at 6:36 p.m. So who likes the mud? A bunch of ‘em, starting with the top three finishers in the Derby. Orb romped past 16 horses in the final half mile and won over slop at Churchill Downs. Golden Soul, who was 2 1/2 lengths back in second, obviously had no issues with the track, and Revolutionary finished strong after a bumpy start to get third. The most intriguing mudder could be Freedom Child, who flourished in the slop at Belmont and led wire-to-wire in a stunning 13 1/4-length romp in the Peter Pan four weeks ago. Vyjack won on the slop at Aqueduct, but did not handle it well in the Derby, finishing 18th. The filly Unlimited Budget opened her career with a win over a good track at Aqueduct back in November.

— HELLO, FATHER: If you’re looking for champion bloodlines, here’s a bunch: Incognito is a son of 1992 Belmont winner and Horse of the Year A.P. Indy; Preakness winner Oxbow is a son of 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again; Palace Malice is a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin; and Unlimited Budget is a daughter of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense. Also, Derby winner Orb and Peter Pan winner Freedom Child were both sired by Malibu Moon.

— FILLY, FEMALE: Unlimited Budget will attempt to become the fourth filly to win the Belmont, and the first to win a Triple Crown race with a female jockey in Rosie Napravnik. The two got together at the Fair Grounds in February and won the Rachel Alexandra, and the filly is the co-fourth choice at 8-1. Napravnik finished third in the Derby and fifth in the Preakness aboard Mylute, and will attempt to join Julie Krone (winner of the 1993 Belmont aboard Colonial Affair) as the only women to win a Triple Crown race.

— THE O FACTOR: Don’t tell us you should have bet the imaginary O-trifecta when one of the three horses in the field whose name begins with the letter O wins. Orb won the Derby, Oxbow won the Preakness, and Overanalyze is back for the Belmont after an 11th place finish in the Derby. The only time O horses ruled the Derby, Preakness and Belmont was 1935, when Omaha became the third of 11 horses to win the Triple Crown.

— ANOTHER TRY 5 FOR TODD: For the third time, trainer Todd Pletcher will send out five horses in a single Triple Crown race. He’s done it twice in the Derby and came back a 10-time loser, and he’s got a few big chances to get it done in the Belmont because he has five of the 14 horses (35.7 percent of the field) — Revolutionary, Unlimited Budget, Palace Malice, Overanalyze and Midnight Taboo. His Derby losers in 2007 were Circular Quay (sixth), Any Given Saturday (eighth), Sam P. (ninth), Scat Daddy (18th) and Cowtown Cat (20th). In last month’s Derby, it was Revolutionary (third), Charming Kitten (ninth), Overanalyze (11th), Palace Malice (12th) and Verrazano (14th).

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