Showdown Looms At Belmont
SHACKLEFORD & ANIMAL KINGDOM MAY RENEW RIVALRY AT BELMONT
While the upset victory by Shackleford in the 136th Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico denied Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom a chance to shoot for the Triple Crown, there is a good chance that the final leg of the Triple Crown, the June 11 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, will feature a showdown between the Derby and Preakness winners, a matchup that has not taken place in the Belmont since 2005.
As of Monday, the connections of both Shackleford and Animal Kingdom said their intentions were to run in the Belmont, which at 1 1/2 miles is the longest of the Triple Crown races. Shackleford was fourth in the Derby before his victory in the Preakness. Animal Kingdom finished second in the Preakness after winning the Derby. Should either win the Belmont, they would become the early divisional leader for champion 3-year-old male.
There has not been a Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line since Big Brown in 2008. The last time the winners of the Derby and Preakness met in the Belmont was 2005, when Giacomo won the Derby, and Afleet Alex the Preakness. Afleet Alex won the Belmont, and that helped propel him to the Eclipse Award.
“The next best thing to a horse going for the Triple Crown would be to have those two horses meet again,” Graham Motion, trainer of Animal Kingdom, said of the budding rivalry with Shackleford. “It would be a cool thing for everybody. I think they’re two very good horses.”
Both Shackleford and Animal Kingdom returned to neutral corners following the Preakness bout. Dale Romans, trainer of Shackleford, on Saturday night contemplated sending Shackleford straight to Belmont Park, where he has a division this spring, but he re-considered by Sunday morning and instead had Shackleford flown back to Kentucky, where Romans is based at Churchill Downs.
by Jay Privman
DURABILITY KEY TO TRIPLE CROWN
Is the Belmont Stakes snake-bit? Let's face it, when a horse isn't going for the Triple Crown, the "Test of the Champion" loses its sizzle. That will be the case again June 11 at Belmont Park, even if there is a rubber match between Animal Kingdom and Shackleford -- both of which are eyeing a trip to New York.
Since Smarty Jones in 2004 -- the third straight year there was a Triple Crown bid, following War Emblem and Funny Cide -- only Big Brown in 2008 won the first two jewels.
Yet in three of the last five years, the Kentucky Derby winner finished an agonizingly close second in the Preakness. Street Sense was beaten a head by Curlin in 2007, Mine That Bird missed catching Rachel Alexandra by a length in 2009, and Animal Kingdom fell a half-length short of Shackleford on Saturday.
Too bad close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, of course, were better than the Derby winners they beat. Both went on to earn Horse of the Year honors.
Perhaps Shackleford will become the 11th straight Preakness winner to win a championship. But he is the first horse since Louis Quatorze in 1996 to score his first stakes win in the Preakness.
Will there ever be another Triple Crown winner? Dale Romans, Shackleford's trainer, says yes -- but "it will take a super horse to do it."
Or maybe it will take a trainer ruthless enough to train his classic candidate like he is a super horse leading up to and through the three races.
Remember the old-school concept of giving a horse a workout over the track? A week before the Derby, Animal Kingdom zipped six furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:13, galloping out seven in 1:26 2/5. Without that stiff drill, he wouldn't have even run in the Derby, much less won it.
But he lolly-gagged the next two weeks galloping at the Fair Hill training center. What if he'd shipped to Pimlico and breezed over the track?
Maybe he would have been sharper for the Preakness, wouldn't have dropped so far off the early pace, and would have had less ground to make up in the stretch.
Six days before the 1973 Preakness, Lucien Lauren worked Secretariat five furlongs at Pimlico in :57 2/5. Before the Belmont, Big Red went six furlongs in 1:11 3/5. Similarly, Billy Taylor and Laz Barrera tightened the screws on Seattle Slew and Affirmed, respectively, before they swept the Triple Crown.
Animal Kingdom's trainer, Graham Motion, is a great horseman, and it's not his style to squeeze the lemon dry. He likes to keep them around for a while. But history tells us that a successful Triple Crown campaign takes its toll.
After the 1977 Belmont, Seattle Slew didn't win another stakes race until the Marlboro Cup in September 1978. Affirmed won the Jim Dandy, then lost five in a row.
Many horses that won two of the three -- Majestic Prince, Bold Forbes, Risen Star, Hansel, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Big Brown -- were pretty much cooked for the year or never raced again.
by Ed Fountaine
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