2011 Belmont Stakes Results: 5 Things We Took from the Race
The Belmont Stakes is over, and with it, the 2011 Triple Crown season.
But the horse racing season most certainly isn't over, and this race only opens up many more questions for the last six months of 2011.
What can we take from the Belmont?
Well, a lot.
The Horse of the Year award is still up for grabs, and a lot of these horses still have a lot to prove.
Was it a fluke for Ruler on Ice? Will Shackleford come back strongly? Was Animal Kingdom just unlucky?
The Triple Crown season may be finished, but horse racing is as exciting as ever.
1. The Sloppy Track, as Expected, Changed Everything
Ruler on Ice and Stay Thirsty, who were throwaways on a good or fast track, were able to stay close to the pace and still have something left turning for home.
Speed horses and close stalkers were winning all afternoon, and there was no reason to think it wouldn't happen in the Belmont.
Even Shackleford was able to hold onto fifth, only missing fourth in a photo.
The deep closers, Animal Kingdom and Master of Hounds, were virtual non-factors, with Animal Kingdom never able to overcome early trouble and Master of Hounds never getting into the race.
It really doesn't tell anything about these horses considering just how heavy the bias was in favor of the top two finishers.
2. Shackleford Will Be Unbeatable the Rest of the Summer
Assuming Dale Romans doesn't try anything stupid, like, say, ship him to Australia to run in the two-mile Melbourne Cup, Shackleford will be unbeatable at any distance of 1 1/4 miles or less.
That includes the Haskell Stakes and Travers Stakes in August, two major races for three-year-olds that should be considered the next two major tests for Shackleford.
He is far and away the best three-year-old at those distances, and unless some horse improves dramatically between now and then, the only chance he has of losing before 2012 is if a top European horse ships in for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
And with that settled, you can also bet that Shackleford will be 2011's Eclipse Winner for Horse of the Year.
3. NBC/Versus Should Be the Home for Horse Racing
Comcast's properties of NBC and Versus have always done a better job with the Triple Crown races than ABC and ESPN, but now that they are the exclusive home (including undercard races) for the first time ever, they vamped up their coverage and really did a tremendous job.
They've already committed to showing eight days of racing at Saratoga this summer, and I've got to think going forward this is only the beginning.
Expect NBC and Versus to air most if not all of the major Kentucky Derby prep races next spring, as well as to continue to increase their summer and fall broadcasting.
Sure, not as many people will watch these other races, but they do get a decent following and television ratings will only improve with a more regular time slot.
4. Master of Hounds Doesn't Like the Slop
And he shouldn't. He's a horse bred for the turf. He's not bred to understand how to run on an off-track.
You've got to think if Aidan O'Brien brings him back to the United States for the Breeders' Cup, he'll cross-enter him in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Breeders' Cup Turf, with the preference to the previous unless it looks like there's an off-track.
I don't think this is the last we're going to see of Master of Hounds, as Aidan O'Brien seems more and more inclined to run horses on this side of the pond.
And with So You Think waiting in Europe in O'Brien's barn, he might as well keep Master of Hounds running here for the rest of the summer.
Then again, if he runs like he did in the Belmont, would we really want to see him running here?
5. Brilliant Speed Should Have Won
There's no question Brilliant Speed should have won, coming right up on the outside, and for a split second, taking the lead with three-sixteenths to go.
But he faded, finishing third.
Joel Rosario did a poor job, sending him three and four wide throughout the entire race and sending him a little early with still three furlongs to go.
Some of that, maybe, had to do with an unfamiliarity of the track. Rosario races mostly in California and has only rarely had a mount on this 1 1/2-mile behemoth of a track.
As his career develops, Rosario will only get better, but this was a poor, poor ride.
Or maybe I'm just bitter since I didn't win anything.