Saturday marks the third and final leg of the Triple Crown. While there is no Triple Crown possibility this year, there is plenty of intrigue.
Will Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom be back in the winners circle after an impressive second place finish in the Preakness? Can Shackleford handle the mile and a half distance and repeat his Preakness performance and win the Belmont? Will one of the newcomers surprise and take this race? We will have these answers by Saturday night.
In the meantime, let's take a closer look at some of the horses who we will be seeing for the first time in this Triple Crown event.
Ruler On Ice
Jockey- Jose Valdivia Jr.
Trainer- Kelly Breen
Finished third in two races back in the Sunland Derby before finishing second in the Tesio three weeks ago at Pimlico. This is the first attempt at a Grade 1 race. Will be adding blinkers for the first time on Saturday. This horse has some talent and should only get better, but not this race. Look elsewhere.
Jockey- Jose Lezcano
Trainer- Ignacio Correas IV
Horse's sire, Thunder Gulch, won the Belmont in 1995. That is the only connection to this race that Monzon should be linked to. This will be his fourth graded stakes attempt, and he has flopped in the previous three tries. Move on.
Jockey- Edgar Prado
Trainer- Neil Howard
Very interesting possibility. Prime cut had gate trouble in the Peter Pan. Recovered enough to finish third. With a better trip, this horse has a very real chance to upset. Let's not forget that jockey Edgar Prado has a knack for upsets in this race. Prado brought home the longest shot in the history of the Belmont when Sarava scored the victory in 2002. Two years after that, Prado did it again with Birdstone, who went off at 35-1. Prime cut is a good bet to be in the mix.
The race sets up to be a good one. I believe Animal Kingdom will go off as the favorite, with Shackleford ending up as the second choice. Make no mistakes, though; this will not be a two horse race.
There are a number of familiar faces here as well. Mucho Macho Man will again be respected at the windows. He gets a major jockey switch to Ramon Dominguez and should like the Belmont main track. Nehro is always respected but hasn't gotten the job done in terms of winning. Loves to finish second.
Santiva was my Derby upset pick. He finished sixth but was never really in the race. A number of handicappers don't really like him in this race. Maybe I'm stubborn, but I disagree. While I don't think he will win this race, I think he has a great chance to be in the mix. The distance will help, and i expect him to be a little closer to the pace in the Belmont than he was in the Derby.
Here is how I think the Belmont will shape up. Take the picks for what they are worth. I threw out Animal Kingdom in the Derby, and look what happened. I guess we all need egg in our face sometimes.
First - Animal Kingdom- I'm coming full circle. I admit, I'm a believer. I believe this horse has enough to handle the mile and a half distance. If the Preakness was a little longer, Animal Kingdom would have gotten to Shackleford. I'm betting AK will take two out of the three Triple Crown races.
Second - Prime Cut - Really like this horse. I would have liked to see how he would have finished the Peter Pan if he had a clean trip. That being said, I think Prado will guide Prime Cut to a top three finish, and if he gets any luck, may even upset once again.
Third - Santiva - Still not giving up on my Derby pick. Santiva finished third in the Derby, and while he did pass tiring horses, the fact is, he still passed them. I like this horse with the distance, and he should at least give you a chance to collect on exotic wagers.
Fourth - Mucho Macho Man - Always gives an honest effort, and I like his chances on the Belmont surface. The jockey switch to Dominguez only adds to his chances. Worth a bet.
I'm sure some of you are wondering why i didn't put the Preakness winner Shackleford in the top four. I honestly don't think he can handle the distance. If he had a better post position, I would have given him a better shot. When you get the outside post, you basically have no choice but to go to the lead. This distance will be much too much for this front runner to handle in my opinion. Just my opinion, though. As you all know, I've been wrong before.
Enjoy the race, everybody!