NEW YORK - Curlin won the Preakness by beating the Kentucky Derby winner. To win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, the strapping colt will have to beat the Kentucky Oaks winner, and five other challengers.
Derby winner Street Sense won't be around for the 1½-mile Belmont, but Oaks winner Rags to Riches will be in an attempt to become the first filly to win a Triple Crown race since Winning Colors took the 1988 Derby.
Curlin's trainer welcomes the competition.
"She's just another quality horse in the race,'' Steve Asmussen said, "and Curlin is going to have to run extremely well to win.''
Curlin was made the 6-5 morning-line favorite Wednesday, and will leave from the No. 3 post position under jockey Robby Albarado.
Hard Spun, the second choice at 5-2, and Curlin are the only 3-year-olds to run in all three Triple Crown races. The bay colt finished second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, four lengths behind Curlin.
"I've said this already, that we may hail Curlin by the fall as a superstar,'' said Larry Jones, Hard Spun's trainer, before adding: "Hopefully the pace scenario will be a little different going a mile-and-a-half.''
What was looking like a dull Belmont a few days ago, now boasts a quality seven-horse field that also includes Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago (10-1), trainer Nick Zito's C P West (12-1) and a pair of 20-1 long shots in Imawildandcrazyguy, fourth in the Derby, and Slew's Tizzy, winner of the Lexington Stakes and Lone Star Derby.
"It's one of the stronger fields we've had in the three years I've been here,'' New York Racing Association president Charles Hayward said. "It's a compact field of seven but you have to give a lot of horses a shot. That makes it a great race with a very accomplished field.''
Curlin came into the Kentucky Derby as the morning-line favorite after three overpowering victories, including a 10½-length romp in the Arkansas Derby. He finished third by eight lengths at the Kentucky Derby, but rebounded with an astonishing stretch run in the Preakness to edge Street Sense by a head in the final stride.
And he seems to be getting stronger.
"He's definitely changed a lot from February until now,'' Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi said. "He's very chiseled. He does have a beautiful stride and a nice way of going.''
Without a Triple Crown on the line for the third straight year, Curlin has a chance to become the third horse in the past seven years to win the Preakness and Belmont after losing in the Derby. Point Given did it 2001, Afleet Alex in 2005.
Hard Spun, second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, drew the No. 6 post and will be ridden for the first time by Garrett Gomez, who replaces Mario Pino.
Rags to Riches will become the 22nd filly to run in the Belmont and the first since Silverbulletday finished seventh in 1999. The filly drew the No. 7 post.
Two fillies have won the Belmont - Ruthless took the first running in 1867 and Tanya won in 1905.
"The biggest upside is we feel this filly is bred for this race,'' Rags to Riches' trainer Todd Pletcher said. The filly is a daughter of 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy and a half sister to last year's Belmont winner, Jazil.
Pletcher, meanwhile, is 0-for-28 in Triple Crown races, including 0-for-6 in the Belmont.
Asked what it would mean to win and end the drought, Pletcher said, "It would mean I would stop having to answer this question.''
Rags to Riches, who will be ridden by John Velazquez for the first time, receives a 5-pound weight allowance, and will carry 121 pounds. The others carry 126.
Tiago, seventh in the Kentucky Derby, is a half brother to 2005 Derby winner Giacomo. Like Giacomo, Tiago is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, trained by John Shirreffs and will be ridden by Mike Smith.
C P West finished fourth in the Preakness for Zito, who won the 2004 Belmont with Birdstone.
Imawildandcrazyguy was last along the backstretch in the Derby, but passed 16 horses going wide and finished a surprising fourth. The gray gelding seems to thrive at longer distances, and the Belmont is the longest of the Triple Crown races.
"We've been looking at the Belmont for him since January,'' said trainer Bill Kaplan, a New Yorker based at Calder Race Course in Miami. "From the first time he came back from a work, he's never taken a deep breath. He never shows he's tired.''
Slew's Tizzy, trained by Greg Fox, comes into the race off victories in the Lexington Stakes and the Lone Star Derby.
The field for Saturday's 139th Belmont Stakes, with post position, horse's name, jockey's name and odds:
1. Imawildandcrazyguy …Guidry…20-1
2. Tiago …Smith…10-1
3. Curlin …Albarado… 6-5
4. CP West …Prado…12-1
5. Slew's Tizzy …Bejarano…20-1
6. Hard Spun …Gomez…5-2
7. Rags to Riches …Velazquez…3-1
Trainers (by post position): 1, Bill Kaplan. 2, John Shirreffs. 3, Steve Asmussen. 4, Nick Zito. 5, Greg Fox. 6, Larry Jones. 7, Todd Pletcher.
Owners (by post position): 1, Lewis Pell & Michael Eigner. 2, Mr. & Mrs. Jerome S. Moss. 3, Jess Jackson, Padua Stable, George Bolton & Midnight Cry Stable. 4, Robert V. LaPenta. 5, Joseph Lacombe Stable Inc. 6, Fox Hill Farms Inc. 7, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.
Weights: Rags to Riches carries 121 pounds, others 126 pounds. Distance: 1½ miles. Purse: $1 million. First place: $600,000. Second place: $200,000. Third place: $110,000. Fourth place: $60,000. Fifth place: $30,000. Post time: 6:25 p.m. EDT.