(MCT) On the 40th anniversary of Secretariat's Belmont Stakes win, when the colt ran off 31 lengths in front of the field into an unknown realm, we wait in vain for the next Secretariat or Seattle Slew or Affirmed, the Triple Crown still elusive.
No Triple Crown is on the line in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, but we do get a rematch between the winner of the Kentucky Derby (Orb) and Preakness (Oxbow), as well as a terrific betting race, promised by a 14-horse field with much intrigue and more than a few question marks.
Orb finished 9 } lengths in front of Oxbow in the Derby, 9 lengths behind him in the Preakness. Trying to decipher what those margins mean might be the critical component in determining Saturday's outcome. Or a horse that did not run in Louisville or Baltimore could change the equation entirely.
The horse could be Freedom Child, owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, a partnership managed by Bucks County, Pa., native Terry Finley.
When last seen in a race, Freedom Child was winning the Peter Pan Stakes by 13 \ lengths at Belmont Park. It was not Secretariat, but it was impressive.
"When you own horses, whether you're in partnerships or you're doing it yourself and you have a chance to run in a big race like this, it's really humbling and really super cool," Finley said. "These are the opportunities that really get us all out of bed in the morning. So as it relates to this colt, he's really given us a good vibe overall. He's a May 18th foal, and he's gotten really better and better in each start."
No horse has drawn more praise from the clockers who watch the horses in the morning than Freedom Child. So, West Point, which was formed in 1991 and named after the school where Finley earned a mechanical engineering degree in 1986, has its best chance at its first Triple Crown race win.
The West Point partners have won major races through the years. But these three races hold a special place in American sport that transcends horse racing.
Freedom Child is named for an entertainment company of two West Point clients _ Tom Wilson and singer Misty Gonzales.
Freedom Child has an attribute that can't be taught. The colt has early speed, a quality that historically is more important in the longest of the Triple Crown races when conventional wisdom might suggest otherwise.
Freedom Child has led all the way in his two lifetime wins. In the other race in which he cleared the field, he was run down in the stretch last Nov. 24 by a horse that did not lose again until the Preakness. That would be Orb.
"You've got to be fairly close to the pace, if not on it," Finley said "It's not a race where real deep closers have done well, so in that respect, yes, we'd like to feel that we're in pretty good shape."
Trainer Tom Albertrani made no secret of his intentions after Freedom Child got the No. 2 post in yesterday's post-position draw.
"I don't know if he is a horse that wants to be behind horses because he's got a free running style," he said. "He'll probably want to find himself clear going into the first turn."
Freedom Child might have ended up in the Derby, except for a starting-gate disaster in the Wood Memorial in April that was so bad, the stewards concluded the horse had no chance and refunded all bets on him.
"Those kinds of things you just kind of shake your head and it just was a bang-bang issue," Finley said. "The starter, he pressed the button just as the horse on the inside of us broke through the gate, and as a result, our [assistant ] starter reached down and really kind of tightened up on our strap and, as a result, when we broke he was holding on for two or three strides."
Despite being left behind the field, Freedom Child made a gigantic middle move in the race to get within a few lengths of the lead. Predictably, he tired badly after that. So, he missed the Derby and won the Peter Pan on the weekend between the Derby and Preakness.
Freedom Child is a son of Malibu Moon, same as Orb. He cost $350,000 in the 2011 Saratoga sale. The Belmont is a $1 million race.
At this stage of the season, you have a pretty good idea of the ceiling for most of these horses. That is not true of Freedom Child.
It is possible that the Peter Pan was a fluke, that he caught a sloppy, speed-favoring track against a field of plodders. It is also possible that Freedom Child is just now catching up to his contemporaries. It also sounds as if the track could be sloppy again Saturday.
The Belmont Stakes should tell that story. Would Finley like to see a Peter Pan-like scenario developing again?
"Would we be uncomfortable if he was on the lead and he got comfortable very quickly? I think we'd be smiling going down the backside if that happened," Finley said.