Iâm not saying he was the finest horse Iâve ever seen. That would be Seattle Slew, who might never have lost if the owners hadnât shipped him anywhere for a buck, then change trainers when their misguided ventures blew up in their faces. Slewâs consistent brilliance gives him the edge in my eyes over Secretariat.
Riva Ridge was more a blue collar hero. Iâm still convinced he would have been a year ahead of his more heralded stablemate in becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948 if it hadnât rained on Preakness Day 1972.
I received an advance screener for the movie âSecretariat.â I have not watched it and probably never will because others have told me how it treated Riva Ridge as a non entity. Maybe itâs because three Triple Crown winners followed him onto the scene in the â70s, âThe Decade of Champions.â
Riva Ridge might not have completed a Triple Crown but he was an Eclipse winner at 2 and 4, track record setter four times and still co-holder of the world record for a mile and three sixteenths. He was a millionaire when that was a mark of distinction.
He didnât need to take his track with him, as long as it wasnât wet. He won in New York, of course. But he also won the Laurel Futurity and Garden State Stakes, when those races were juvenile championship deciders, the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs and Hollywood Derby in addition to the Kentucky Derby. He rebounded from the muddy debacle in Baltimore to win the Belmont by 7.
I see a similar thing happening, albeit under opposite circumstances Saturday. Orb won the Derby on a sloppy track, ran out of the money on a fast Pimlico surface, and is almost certain to be confronted by another off track Saturday.
Wet or dry, Iâm convinced Orb will dominate the Belmont Stakes and I wouldnât be surprised if he does it by daylight, just as Riva Ridge did.
My faith is based on several factors. The optimism after his Derby triumph that he was Triple Crown timber was steeped to a great degree in the fact that his pedigree and style screamed Belmont Stakes, the race that has tripped up so many would be Triple Crown winners. This hasnât changed because of what happened at Pimlico.
Shug McGaughey brings horses along slowly, so when they get good, they stay good. Point of Entry, who will be odds-on to win the Manhattan one race before the Belmont, is a prime example.
There is no hotter rider in America than Joel Rosario. He might not have put in the ride of his life in the Preakness but those who blame him for Orbâs failure are way off base. While Oxbow was cruising along on a ridiculously easy lead, it seemed some of the other riders were as much determined to keep Orb pinned inside on a tiring track as they were to get the best of their mounts. Orbâs No. 1 post abetted this conspiracy. Great riders like Rosario donât allow this to happen twice.
There should be no walking on the lead by Oxbow or anyone else this time. Ken McPeek has said publicly that he is telling Alan Garcia to go to the front from the rail with Frac Daddy. Freedom Child won the Peter Pan gate-to-wire on a sloppy track. Midnight Taboo, who has only a maiden win in three starts but was quick enough to run second at Saratoga in his 5 Â˝ furlong debut, seems to be in the race to assure an honest pace for Mike Repoleâs more dangerous stablemates, Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze and outstanding filly Unlimited Budget. On credentials, Midnight Taboo has no business in a Grade 1 classic at this stage of his career.
Most of all I like Orb because I still feel he is the best horse of his generation. I was on a crowded bandwagon three weeks ago. One defeat in a race with an unchallenged leader setting sundial fractions and almost everyone jumps off. Not me.
Orbâs Derby capped a remarkable five-race run, the final three wins in stakes that separate the best of the crop from the rest.
Revolutionary, third in the Derby, is the biggest threat on accomplishments. But three of the others I fear most come from among the new shooters. Freedom Child has that win in the prep over a sloppy track. Incognito's Peter Pan was better than it looks on paper and he is being sent out by Kiaran McLaughlin, who is hot enough lately to spontaneously combust. The son of Belmont winner A.P. Indy and Octave, who ran second to Rags to Riches in the 2007 Kentucky Oaks and third at 10 furlongs in the Alabama, should love the distance. Unlimited Budget is built like a colt.
Repole, a figs guy, says her numbers stand up to the colts. Females beat males so often in Europe it isnât considered noteworthy when it happens. The big reason it doesnât happen on this side of the Atlantic is it is more rarely attempted.
Todd Pletcher has already beaten a champion, Curlin, in the Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches. However, I would feel better about the chances of Unlimited Budget if I was convinced the decision to run her was Pletcherâs and not Repoleâs. The ego-driven New Yorker said at the post position draw that he wants to win the Belmont more than the Kentucky Derby, which explains him throwing three horses at it.
Then again, as D. Wayne Lukas often says, you have to be in it to win it. No matter which horse earns the blanket of carnations, âThe Coachâ is the towering human figure of this Belmont. Nine of the 14 starters can be traced to him.
In addition to Oxbow and late-running Will Take Charge, a couple of former assistants, who honed their craft under Lukas, will start seven others: five for Pletcher (Repoleâs three, Palace Malice and Revolutionary), Incognito for McLaughlin and Derby runnerup Golden Soul for Dallas Stewart.
Iâve never been a fan of uncoupled entries. But if Team Pletcher had been combined as one unit, as they would have been in days gone by, and Lukasâ pair also were coupled, there would be only nine betting interests and I wouldnât collect as much as I expect to on Orb.