Belmont Stakes 2011: Can Shackleford Hold off Animal Kingdom?

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Belmont Stakes 2011: Can Shackleford Hold off Animal Kingdom?
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Can Animal Kingdom win the Belmont Stakes?

What will Shackleford do today? 

In the Kentucky Derby, the pace was slower and he faded at a longer distance.  In the Preakness, he challenged for the lead with faster fractions and held off Animal Kingdom in at a shorter distance.

Today, we should see a replay of the Kentucky Derby.

Even if Prime Cut or Stay Thirsty pushes Shackleford, the pace will be brutally slow.  I wouldn't be surprised to see six furlongs run in 1:17 or slower. 

While this might appear to help Shackleford, I don't see any reason to believe he can handle the 1 1/2 mile distance today.  I'm not a huge fan of post 12 and while I really like the June 4 work of 1:00.1 for five furlongs, the race features horses who prefer the distance a lot more.

So, who do I like?

Four horses have my full attention.

Master of Hounds really interests me, especially at 10:1 with Garret Gomez.  Despite having only one career win, this talented colt has only one career start on dirt, which was the Kentucky Derby.  In that race, he closed beautifully, so the added distance should only help him.

Nehro is currently 4:1 and should be a factor in the stretch.  Since his second place finish in the Derby, this horse has been showing great workouts, including the six furlong bullet work at Churchill on May 30 in 1:12.1.  For Nehro to have a chance, he needs to be close to Animal Kingdom and not that far back.

Animal Kingdom is even better than I thought.  After correctly picking him in the Derby, I went in a different direction for the Preakness and his strong second place finish proved me wrong.  The distance is obviously not going to be a problem but the weather concerns me.  Moisture in the dirt could really decrease his chances.

Mucho Macho Man has two huge eye opening positives since the Preakness.  The first is the jockey change to Ramon Dominguez.   Nothing like having the best New York jockey taking over on a talented horse.  I also love the five furlong work in 59.2 on June 5.

I won't be shocked if this race is run in 2:32.2.

Shackleford won't win but he's a gritty horse that will have to be caught and passed.

I struggled with Santiva and Brilliant Speed, two horses I think have a lot of potential, but I don't think the deep closers will have any help today with the slow pace. 

Pick: Mucho Macho Man in a close finish over both Animal Kingdom and Master of Hounds.  Nehro will be right there but finish fourth in just under 2:33.

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