Over a sloppy Belmont track, 24-1 Ruler On Ice shocked the crowd of 55,779, when he took the Grade 1 $1,000,000 Belmont Stakes. This was the first Belmont Stakes appearance for the connections of Ruler On Ice which include owners George and Lori Hall, trainer Kelly Breen, and jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr. This was the first stakes win for Ruler On Ice. He finished second in his last race, the Federico Tesio Stakes, and third in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby in March.
George and Lori Hall have had a handful of talented three-year-olds this season, which, in addition to Ruler On Ice, have included Pants On Fire, Nacho Saint, Nacho Business, and Sweet Ducky (before he was sold to foreign interests). Pants On Fire won the Louisiana Derby and made it into the Kentucky Derby field, where he finished ninth. Ruler On Ice was excluded from the Kentucky Derby due to a lack of graded stakes earnings. In most instances, the Hall's wins have come without expectation. The same was true in Saturday's race. "It was amazing because we really were the underdog," Lori Hall said after Ruler On Ice's Belmont win.
Throughout most of the 1 1/2 mile race, Ruler On Ice and 12th place Kentucky Derby finisher, Stay Thirsty, sat just off of the leader, Preakness winner Shackleford. Shackleford began to fade as they reached the top of the stretch and it became a duel between Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty. At that time, Brilliant Speed, Keeneland's Bluegrass Stakes winner, was making his bid, but was unable to do better than third. Steve Asmussen's Nehro was able to get a neck in front of Dale Romans' Shackleford to finish fourth.
Winning rider, Jose Valdivia, Jr. said after the race, "The owners, Mr. George and Mrs. Lori Hall, believed in me and believed in this horse. We hit the far turn, and we had a half-mile to go. I was sitting and I had a lot of horse underneath me. I looked up at the wire and was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to win the Belmont Stakes.’"
Where was the Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in all of this? Animal Kingdom was bumped and nearly kissed the ground a few yards from the starting gate which unseated jockey John Velazquez, causing him to slip out of his left iron. The two recovered, but by the time the pair was comfortable again, Animal Kingdom was well back in last place in the field of 12.
As they began to move around the far turn, Animal Kingdom was still at least 12 lengths behind the leader. At the half-mile pole he started to make his move and quickly passed the latter half of the field. He continued his run into the stretch, but there was too much ground to make up and he finished in sixth place, 15 lengths in front of seventh place finisher Mucho Macho Man.
"It looks like he was pinched by the horses on either side. The horse almost fell down. Johnny couldn’t believe the horse stayed up. He lost his iron. It took him until halfway around the turn to get his foot back in the iron. It’s really disappointing. It’s disappointing not to give the horse a chance to run his race. I thought down the backside we didn’t have any shot at all, and then he started to make that incredible move. But it was asking too much too late," said trainer of Animal Kingdom, Graham Motion.
For a $2 wager, Ruler On Ice returned $51.50, $26.00, and $13.60. Stay Thirsty paid $19.40 and $10.80, and Brilliant Speed paid $7.90. The $2 exacta paid $928 and the triple returned $8,268. The super paid a whopping $74,052.
Now, with no horse winning more than one of the Triple Crown races this year, the race for top three-year-old is wide open. This will set up a nice series of summer stakes action as race fans continue to follow their favorites with the apex of the season likely coming in the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs this November.
Photo: Courtesy Belmont Stakes