Belmont Stakes Recap
BELMONT STAKES RECAP
Ruler on Ice wasn't allowed to run in the Kentucky Derby because he lacked graded earnings. The 3-year-old gelding won't have to worry about those earnings anymore.
Jose Valdivia Jr. followed trainer Kelly Breen's directions perfectly, Ruler On Ice stalking pacesetter Shackleford before taking control down the stretch and rolling to a three-quarter length victory over Stay Thirsty in Saturday's Belmont Stakes in front of 55,779.
The rubber match between Animal Kingdom and Shackleford at Belmont Park, run over a sloppy track, was ruined at the break when the Derby winner clipped heels with Mucho Macho Man, almost unseating jockey John Velazquez, who lost his left iron temporarily.
Wearing blinkers for the first time in his career, Ruler On Ice took the lead at the top of the stretch, holding off the late rail bid from Stay Thirsty to give Valdivia and Breen the biggest win of their lives. 'I have no idea, I'm at a loss for words,' an emotional Valdivia said. 'You've got to be part of it. You can't win it from the jocks' room.'
The frustration was evident in Velazquez, whose forest green and crimson silks were covered in mud. 'The race was lost right from the start,' Velazquez said. 'No chance. I was done.'
While Animal Kingdom, the 2-1 favorite, toiled in the back of the pack, Shackleford looked comfortable on the lead, splashing through a half-mile run in :49.08 with Ruler On Ice chasing in second and Stay Thirsty in third along the rail.
As the field turned for home, the order remained the same, with Brilliant Speed and Animal Kingdom starting to make up ground, but the bad start did in Animal Kingdom. 'He was so far back,' Velazquez said. 'He had too much to do.' Animal Kingdom eventually flattened out to sixth.
The Belmont's mile-and-a-half distance caught up in the stretch to Shackleford, who retreated to fifth, while Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty continued to race to the wire, which allowed Valdivia to entertain thoughts of a victory. 'Everything seemed like it was in slow motion,' Valdivia said. 'I'm thinking, 'Oh my God, oh my God, I'm going to win the Belmont.' 'The jockey did so, in his first-ever try.
'He ran just an unbelievable race,' Breen, who was saddling his first Belmont starter, said of Ruler on Ice. 'I'm very fortunate. He wouldn't grow up. We were trying to see if with time he would mature without having to put blinkers on him.'
Brilliant Speed lasted for third, with Nehro, the 5-1 second choice, catching Shackleford on the wire for fourth.
Ruler On Ice returned $51.50, $26 and $13.60, running the 10 furlongs in 2:30.88. He was the lone horse to have a victory over a sloppy track, having broken his maiden last Oct. 4 at Delaware Park. He was being considered for last month's Preakness, but was scratched for health reasons.
'He came back with a low red blood count,' Breen said. 'All of a sudden the last two weeks his red blood count was starting to come up and this week he had the best report he's had in months.'
Stay Thirsty paid $19.40 and $10.80. Brilliant Speed returned $7.90 to show. The $2 win payoff was the eighth-highest in Belmont history. Sarava's payoff of $142.50 in 2002 is the record.
by Jerry Bossert
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