In the 143rd running of the Grade 1 $1,000,000 Belmont Stakes Animal Kingdom, the Graham Motion trained Kentucky Derby winner, will again face Shackleford, trainer Dale Romans' Preakness Stakes winner. Although Animal Kingdom has been installed as the morning line favorite at 2-1 and Shackleford as the third choice at 9-2 behind 4-1 Nehro, many are touting this race as a match-up of the two Classic winners. Without the Triple Crown on the line, pitting the Kentucky Derby winner against the Preakness winner is the next best option for race fans.
After sitting mid-pack through most of the race, Animal Kingdom roared to the finish and overpowered a tiring Shackleford to win the Kentucky Derby 2 ¾ lengths in front of Steve Asmussen's Nehro. Nehro sat out of the Preakness Stakes for a bit of a breather after running three big races over a six-week period, but Animal Kingdom and Shackleford were there. This time, Shackleford sat just behind the leader and kept up with a very fast pace while Animal Kingdom stayed closer to the back of the field. When Animal Kingdom made his move, he had too much ground to make up and was unable to catch Shackleford before the wire.
The Preakness Stakes was a shorter distance than the Kentucky Derby, so timing was likely Animal Kingdom's undoing. Saturday, the two will again meet but, the garland of white carnations may not be the only prize on the line. If either wins the Belmont, he will stand a much greater chance to be crowned this year's Three-year-old Male Champion.
Mucho Macho Man is another horse that will compete in all three Triple Crown races. He finished third in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Preakness. He certainly seems like a horse that is sitting on a big performance. It didn't happen in the Preakness, but that could have been because he lost one of his front shoes (something that also happened in the Louisiana Derby when he finished third). For the Belmont, he will wear new synthetic shoes that will act more like an extension of his own feet. He will also have a new rider aboard when the country's second leading rider, Ramon Dominguez, steps into the irons.
Nehro, as mentioned earlier, did not compete in the Preakness. After making the leap from maiden special weight races to graded stakes races, he has finished a strong second in each of his three stakes attempts. It appears he has a case of seconditis, but as the strongest of the freshened contenders, he may find his cure on Saturday.
This 12-horse Belmont field boasts eight entries that ran in the Kentucky Derby, which includes the top seven Kentucky Derby finishers. In addition to Animal Kingdom, Nehro, Mucho Macho Man, and Shackleford, the others are Master of Hounds, Santiva, Brilliant Speed, and Stay Thirsty, who finished 12th. The newcomers completing the Belmont entries are Ruler On Ice, Monzon, Prime Cut, and Isn't He Perfect.
If history means anything, the Derby and Preakness winner have met in the Belmont 21 times. Out of those 21 times, the Preakness winner has won 10 times and the Derby winner only five. There have been 22 Derby winners that have also won the Belmont and 29 Preakness winners to also win the Belmont. However, this is the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes, so that leaves over 90 meetings in which the Belmont was won by neither the Derby or Preakness winner.
The race is the 11th on the Belmont card with a scheduled post of 6:35 PM. The race will be aired live on NBC. Churchill Downs is offering live racing mixed with "a taste of that 'Ole New York'” with gates opening at 11:30 AM.
Photo: Courtesy Belmont Stakes