Jennifer Patterson rides Orb during a training session at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, on June 6, 2013
With Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Preakness champ Oxbow poised for a Belmont Stakes showdown on Saturday, Freedom Child is drawing attention as a potential spoiler in the last of 2013's Triple Crown races.
Freedom Child didn't race in either the Derby or the Preakness. In fact, his last race saw him winning the Peter Pan Stakes by 13 1/4 lengths at Belmont Park.
"These are the opportunities that really get us all out of bed in the morning," said Terry Finley, who manages the West Point Thoroughbreds partnership that owns Freedom Child.
"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."
Trainer Tom Albertrani made his intentions clear after Freedom Child drew the number two post in the 14-horse field for the 1 1/2-mile race dubbed the Test of the Champion.
"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 Kentucky Derby, but his Wood Memorial in April was ruined by a starting-gate incident in which he got out of the gate so slowly that stewards declared him a non-runner, with all bets on him refunded.
"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."
Even so, Freedom Child got to within a few lengths of the lead before tiring badly.
So he failed to make the Derby field and instead won the Peter Pan on the weekend between the Derby and Preakness.
Affirmed in 1978 was the last horse to win US flat racing's coveted treble of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
With a Triple Crown sweep again impossible attention has focused on whether Orb or Oxbow can make it two out of three.
Orb, trained by Shug McGaughey, drew the fifth post and was installed as the early 3-1 favorite ahead of the Todd Pletcher-trained Revolutionary -- third in the Derby -- and Oxbow.
"There's going to be a bit of a pace, so he'll be able to kind of drop out of it and dictate what he wants to do," McGaughey said. "I just hope he has some place to go when the time comes."
It will be the 21st time that the Derby and Preakness winners meet in the Belmont. Derby winners have taken five such meetings with Preakness champions winning nine times and rivals taking the rest.
Despite Orb's failure in the Preakness, McGaughey was cautiously optimistic that the colt could bounce back.
"I think he's training well coming up to the race. And I do think if he runs his race, he's probably the best horse," he said.
In addition, the rain in the forecast means Orb's Derby win at muddy Churchill Downs takes on added significance -- but then so does Freedom Child's triumph over a sealed, sloppy Belmont track in the Peter Pan.