Animal Kingdom (left) and Shackleford (center) battle in the 2011 Preakness Stakes (Gr.I). The two will compete once again in the Belmont Stakes (Gr.I) this Saturday.
We are now officially in the final three days of the 2011 Triple Crown season. Although the year has been somewhat lackluster as far as three-year-olds go, and there will be no Triple Crown winner for the 33rd year, the 2011 Belmont Stakes (Gr.I) this Saturday is shaping up to be an exciting event.
Headlining the field of 12 at Belmont Park, in Elmont, N.Y., are Kentucky Derby (Gr.I) winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness Stakes (Gr.I) winner Shackleford. Both horses are scheduled to contend the race despite already running extremely tough campaigns and competing very well in the first two races.
Animal Kingdom enters the Belmont after a bang-up race in the Preakness. He was a fast closing second to Shackleford after running out of ground in the race, which is one-16th of a mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby, which he won. The son of Leroidesanimeaux will break from post nine as the 2-1 morning line favorite under John Velasquez.
Shackleford ran his heart out on the front end in the Preakness. A son of Forestry, he was not expected to get the distance, much less carry his blazing speed that far, but he dug in and held off the furious charge of Animal Kingdom.
For Shackleford to maintain that speed 1 ½ miles in the Belmont would be unexpected, but Shackleford has denied many doubters thus far. He will break from post 12 as the 9-2 second choice under Jesus Castanon. From that gate he may have to hustle to the front so as not to get caught wide on the turn, and this may hurt his chances.
Breaking from post six with Corey Nakatani on board will be Nehro, considered by many to be one of the best shots to win this race. Nehro is a closer who practically begs for longer distances. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby, but was plugging away very nicely at the end, and it seems the increase in distance combined with Shackleford’s speed will make this one a danger.
Other serious contenders for the race include Blue Grass Stakes (Gr.I) winner Brilliant Speed, a son of Dynaformer who, like Nehro, should enjoy the added distance. Master of Hounds will return after his fifth place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
Of course, no one in their right mind can leave out Mucho Macho Man, who finished a very nice third in the Kentucky Derby, and like Shackleford and Animal Kingdom has competed in the first two races of the Triple Crown.
A few newcomers will attempt to dethrone the top horses here, including Monzon, who won the Count Fleet Stakes earlier this year, and Prime Cut, who has finished on the board in two graded stakes this year. The newcomers are longshots, however, and most of the field (nine of the 12 horses) consists of those who have already competed in the Triple Crown races.
The $1 million Belmont Stakes will be the last chance for any of these three-year-olds to stake their claim as the best of their generation before heading to tougher competition against older horses later this year. Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and exciting run down the final stretch of the 2011 Triple Crown.