By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Preakness Stakes champion Oxbow will line up in the middle of the pack two gates apart for their showdown in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
Orb, the early 3-1 favorite in the 14-horse field, will start in the fifth position, with Oxbow, rated 5-1, starting from the seventh gate as determined by Wednesday's draw at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
Two more places outside will be Revolutionary, who finished third in the Derby and was made the second choice for the Belmont ahead of Oxbow at 9-2.
The leading contenders in the third and final jewel of U.S. thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown series were all pleased with the draw.
"I like to get the middle and that's about as middle as you can get," said Orb trainer Shug McGaughey. "I'm a lot more satisfied there than I was at Pimlico."
Orb drew the first gate at the Preakness and trapped along the rail behind a slow pace that added up to a disappointing fourth-place finish.
"I just didn't want to get down on the inside where maybe we might get stuck around the first turn, like we sort of did in the Preakness."
D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Oxbow, said he did not think the post positions would be critical in the Belmont, the longest of the Triple Crown races.
"I think we overanalyze (the draw) a lot," said Lukas.
"At a mile and a half with that long run and the sweeping turns, we have a tendency to overanalyze the post position draw. I'm more concerned about who is around me and what they're going to do than what gate we got."
Revolutionary, one of five horses trained by Todd Pletcher in the race, skipped the Preakness and could be fresher over the grueling Belmont that has been dubbed "The Test of Champions."
"I think (the distance) will suit (Revolutionary) well," said Pletcher. "He'll settle in the first part of the race. That's important if you're going to get the mile and a half."
Pletcher, whose other entries are filly Unlimited Budget, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, Overanalyze, Palace Malice and Midnight Taboo, was also pleased with some of his other draws.
Unlimited Budget, a 8-1 choice, was drawn for the 13th gate, while Palace Malice, a 15-1 pick, will start from the 12th spot.
"We were kind of hoping Unlimited Budget would draw toward the outside," said Pletcher. "Palace Malice, maybe, will show some speed, so we're happy to be outside of Freedom Child and Oxbow."
One disappointed trainer was Tom Albertrani, whose Freedom Child drew the second post position.
"We were hoping to get a little further toward the middle," said Albertrani, whose Freedom Child was an early 8-1 choice coming off a victory in the recent Peter Pan at Belmont.
"But we dealt with post one in the Peter Pan so we'll just deal with post two in the Belmont."
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Frank Pingue)