Stepping Out

‘Todd Squad’ provides sizeable intrigue at Belmont Stakes

In absence of Triple Crown, Todd Pletcher headlines pack with talented lineup


As the days wind down to the 145th annual Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 8, a number of notable horses are dominating the training scene – with some even surprising their owners by surpassing expectations.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, for example, boasts a lineup of horses that is far from anything to sneeze at: five starters are a distinct possibility for Pletcher heading into Saturday’s Grade One, one-and-a-half mile race.

Here’s a look at the main show-stealers as of the last training week heading into the million-dollar-race day.

Pletcher’s prized gem and overachiever thus far is Palace Malice, who, on the morning of Memorial Day, led his contingent with a five-furlong breeze in 1:00.24 after the renovation break. Palace Malice was 12th in the Kentucky Derby earlier in May but easily beat Micromanage, who managed only a 1:01.17 in comparison and was withdrawn from the race by owner Mike Repole. Micromanage will be appointed to the Easy Goer class on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

Repole said he will instead be represented by Overanalyze, who won the Arkansas Derby in April and finished with a 1:00.77 in training on Memorial Day, and perhaps Midnight Taboo and Unlimited Budget.

“Right now, I’d say Overanalyze is 100 percent if everything stays right,” Repole said. “Unlimited Budget is 75 percent and Midnight Taboo is 60 percent [for Belmont]. It’s a tough decision.”

Pletcher’s other show-stealer is Revolutionary, who placed third in the Kentucky Derby and was the Grade Two Louisiana Derby winner. Revolutionary placed 48.55 in a half mile.

Trainer Bob Baffert is in charge of Code West, who won an allowance race at Pimlico on Preakness Day.

Freedom Child, racing for the first time since Belmont’s Grade Two Peter Pan earlier this month, ran five furlongs on Memorial Day in 59.87.

Incognito, owned by Darley Stable and being trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, is still in limbo for the Stakes. The male horse ran a half-mile in 50.01 on Memorial Day.

“He [Incognito] worked well and Jimmy Bell [President of Darley America] was here, so we’re going to talk about it in the next day or two and see if we can give it a shot,” McLaughlin said. “The main reason we’re even talking about it is that he truly wants a mile and a half and you don’t get many opportunities.”

Also, trainer Chad Brown declared that Peter Pan runner-up Saint Vigeur is doubtful for the Stakes after he developed a quarter crack. That, coupled with the fact that Saint Vigeur is not ready for the Grade One, according to Brown, made for an easy decision.

Other contenders for running in the Stakes are Derby winners Orb and runner-up Golden Soul, Preakness winner Oxbow and stablemate Will Take Charge, who placed seventh in the Preakness, Giant Finish, who was 10th in the Derby, and Always in a Tiz, who placed ninth in the Grade One Wood Memorial.

In other Stakes news leading up to race day, jockeys from Belmont Park visited the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island on Friday. Jockeys went in to visit the children and families staying at the house and pose for pictures, distribute gifts and autograph memorabilia. This year’s participating jockeys include Javier Castellano, Rajiv Maragh, Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz and Manuel Franco.

On June 7, the day before the actual races, Belmont will be coming to Manhattan. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the east side of Vanderbilt Hall will be turned into a mini version of Belmont, with four interactive event zones open to 750,000 of New York’s daily commuter, tourists and visitors. Fans will have the opportunity to win prizes and share excitement before the big day.

That fast-approaching big day promises to keep fans on the edge of their seats. May the betting begin!