Slop at Belmont might suit upstart Freedom Child

Freedom Child, with jockey Luis Saez, captured the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on May 11, winning by 13 lengths
  • Freedom Child%2C trained by Tom Albertrani%2C could excel if there is rain as forecast Saturday.
  • Freedom Child won the May 11 Peter Pan Stakes by more than 13 lengths.
  • The colt skipped both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
  • ELMONT, N.Y. — Terry Finley is a major player and do-gooder in horse racing, involved in many influential organizations and industry charities. The president of the West Point Thoroughbreds syndicate knows how sunshine can positively impact the sport’s signature days, such as a Belmont Stakes when there is no Triple Crown on the line.

    But Finley is hoping the weather prognosticators are correct about their forecast for several inches of rain Friday, with it tapering off Saturday morning. A wet track wouldn’t be a detriment to Kentucky Derby winner Orb, but it might give West Point colt Freedom Child his best shot at winning the 145th Belmont Stakes.

    After all, Freedom Child won the May 11 Peter Pan in the Belmont Park slop by 13 1/4 lengths to earn his shot at Orb, Preakness winner Oxbow, Derby runner-up Golden Soul and trainer Todd Pletcher’s quintet in the 14-horse field.

    “I really need to win the Belmont Stakes, so I couldn’t want it to rain more any day than Saturday,” Finley said at Belmont Park.

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    Finley thinks Freedom Child, who is 8-1 in the Belmont morning line and will be ridden by Luis Saez, is a strong contender even over a fast track.

    “I’ve learned over the years, why not be confident? Even if you’re 15- or 20-1,” he said. “In all likelihood we’ll be disappointed, right? But if we’re not disappointed, it would be a pretty cool day. But this is the first time we’ve really had a ‘buzz’ horse like this in a really big race.”.

    Trainer Tom Albertrani loves what he’s been seeing with the flashy-looking chestnut, with three white socks and a big blaze, bowing his neck and prancing on the track.

    “He’s showing all the good signs,” he said. “He’s got his ears up, is on the muscle. All things are working well. … But yeah, everybody has been talking about this horse quite a bit all week.”.

    Albertrani won the 2006 Preakness with Bernardini, a horse who skipped the Derby and did not run in the Belmont but went on to win Saratoga’s Travers and Belmont Park’s Jockey Club Gold Cup to earn 3-year-old champion honors over Derby winner Barbaro, who suffered catastrophic injuries in the Preakness.

    “I just had about the same level of confidence as I do going into this race with this horse — not knowing what the outcome is going to be,” Albertrani said. “As it turned out, Bernardini did win. When you know your horse is training well and doing good, you get that confidence that they should perform well.

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    “The only thing about the Belmont is the mile-and-a-half distance. That’s where everyone is not sure how far their horse will go. If it was a little shorter, I’d probably be a little bit more confident even.”.

    West Point partnered with breeder Spendthrift Farm and St. Elias Stable to buy Freedom Child for $350,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga yearling sale. It took the colt four starts to win, a 51/4-length romp at 11/8 miles. (In his second start, Nov. 24 at Aqueduct, Freedom Child was second to Orb while beating Revolutionary, the Louisiana Derby winner who was third in the Kentucky Derby.).

    But any Kentucky Derby aspirations flamed out spectacularly at the start of Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial, when the assistant starter in the gate with Freedom Child grabbed and held onto the colt as the other horses took off. Freedom Child, who had the extreme outside post, was twisted sideways, spotting the field several lengths and completely taken out of his game of speed. He finished last, and all bets on him were refunded.

    “I think when the inside horse tapped the gate, the assistant starter grabbed him not thinking they were going to break,” Albertrani said. “He thought Freedom Child was going to react to the inside horse.

    “He had pretty much no chance right from the start,” Albertrani said. “You’re a little upset to watch, because you’re coming off a good maiden win, hoping you might be going to the Derby with a horse like that. All you can do is regroup and take it on the chin. As it worked out, he came back with a strong Peter Pan race.”.

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    West Point’s best Triple Crown finish was second in the 2008 Preakness with 40-1 Macho Again, who the next year won Churchill Downs’ Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap.

    If Finley could be guaranteed in advance of finishing second in this Belmont, would he take that? Or take his chances and hope for victory?

    “Absolutely, we’d roll the dice without a doubt,” he said. “With an operation like ours, you don’t get that many shots on that stage. If we’re not as good, or it doesn’t set up as well as we’d like, just turn the page. But … You can’t play it safe here.”.

    Since Thunder Gulch became the last Derby winner to win the Belmont in 1995, 15 of the next 17 Belmont winners won neither the Derby nor the Preakness.

    “That’s a good stat for us,” Finley said. “But on the flip side, it’s been since A.P. Indy (in 1992) that a horse has won the Peter Pan and Belmont. It’s kind of like the economists on CNBC. They take the data they want to take. All that stuff is immaterial at the half-mile pole.”.

    Rees also writes for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal.

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