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“He’s always impressed us in his training, and he’s shown hints of that in some of his races although he hasn’t completely followed through and won a big race that we feel like he’s capable of doing,” said Pletcher. “We think he’s well meant for this race.”

The Belmont is known as a rider’s race because it takes a savvy jockey familiar with the lay of the land to navigate the nation’s only 1½ -mile oval. Belmont Park is like the Grand Canyon of racetracks, a much wider track than Churchill Downs or Pimlico, with long, sweeping turns.

It’s also deceiving. Judging distance can be difficult. For example, at the top of the turn at Belmont, there’s still a half mile left in the race. At other tracks, there’s only a quarter mile to go.

Gary Stevens, who will be aboard Oxbow, knows all about the intricacies of the track. In 1997, he moved too soon aboard Silver Charm and had his Triple Crown spoiled by Touch Gold. A year later, he spoiled Real Quiet’s Triple bid when Kent Desormeaux moved too early and Stevens’ Victory Gallop won by a nose.

“”Belmont Park is like the ocean,” said the recently unretired Stevens. “You can have a lot of fun in it, but it can hurt you if you don’t respect it.

“It’s a tricky place. It may look simple, but it’s not simple. I think the best horse usually wins the Belmont, other than jockey error.”

In the Preakness, Oxbow took charge from the start, set a slow pace and had enough left to win by 1¾ lengths. He should have plenty of company if he decides to gun for the lead on Saturday.

Look for Freedom Child, Frac Daddy and Palace Malice to give chase, with Orb, Golden Soul and Revolutionary back in the pack, most likely behind the mid-packers such as Unlimited Budget, Overanalyze and Will Take Charge. As the leaders move into the far turn, the real race riding should begin, with jockeys trying to pick the precise moment to ask their horse for a winning move.

Pletcher’s Rags to Riches became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont in 2007. He believes any of his starters has a chance depending on how the race unfolds.

“The Belmont can be a very demanding race,” he said. “Pace was a factor in both the Derby and Preakness and it’ll dictate who is going to do what. A slower pace will allow some of these horses to run a little further and a fast pace will really expose some of them.”

Despite the absence of a Triple Crown attempt, there’s still a lot riding on the outcome. Says New Yorker Mike Repole, who owns Unlimited Budget, Overanalyze and Midnight Taboo: “Some owners get Kentucky Derby fever. I get Belmont Stakes fever.”