Belmont Stakes 2011: Did the Race Hurt or Help Horse Racing?

Melissa Bauer-Herzog@mbauerherzogCorrespondent IJune 12, 2011

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 11:  Jose Valdivia, Jr. rides Ruler on Ice #3 (L) to victory over Javier Castellano and Stay Thirsty #2 (R) during the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 11, 2011 in Elmont, New York.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Coming off a whirlwind Triple Crown, many people still don't know what to think of the three races that are the highlight of a three-year-old's year, if not career. But did the Belmont Stakes, the last race in the series, help or hurt horse racing?

It helped.

While it would be a big boost to the sport to have a Triple Crown winner, having three winners of the Triple Crown races was probably the best thing that could happen for the crop. Having three unexpected horses finish in the top three of the Belmont shows just how open this crop is.

For the first five months of this year, people have cried about how bad this crop is and that there were just a few standouts.

Unfortunately, like many years, the standouts got hurt, and people really started in on ranting and raving about the crop. But both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness proved that we do still have good three-year-olds running, and the Belmont just helped that image.

Sure, the best horse may have been hurt by an early mishap, but he showed his grit and heart by finishing ahead of half the field after being compromised and running far in the back during most of the race.

Animal Kingdom's sixth-place finish, while not what most people were hoping for, shows that we have gritty horses running that don't want to give up (look at Shackleford's Preakness win as well for an example of this).

But while the Animal Kingdom camp was disappointed, three horses showed up in a big way, shining light on more horses to watch in the second half of the year.

Ruler On Ice was a horse almost no one would have picked to win, yet he stepped up and ran the race of his life in the Belmont.

His sire, Roman Ruler, also did well at 10 furlongs (finishing third in the G1 Travers).  So long distance wasn't totally off the horse's breeding radar, even if two extra furlongs takes long to a whole new level for American horses.

Stay Thirsty has been lurking in the shadows all year long, winning a stakes race, but still running like a baby most of the time. Most people had thrown him out of doing anything in the race, but it pays to remember that these horses are still babies and they can really mature and grow in the five weeks of the Triple Crown.

Brilliant Speed was another horse that not many people expected to win or do anything in the race. However, he did gain spots in the Derby (going from 14th at the 3/4 pole to seventh at the end) and the extra distance looked like it could favor him. So, his finish also was not too much of a fluke.

Overall, the top three in this field may have been a shock to everyone (as were possibly the rest of the placings), but it definitely opened up a whole new group of horses to watch for the rest of the year, and possibly next year.

While the Belmont seemed anticlimactic, with the big matchup between Animal Kingdom and Shackleford not happening, the way the race turned out helped racing more than the matchup could have.

It could be argued that the Belmont was the grudge match that proved which horse was better between the two, but their rivalry will still live throughout the season for even more great racing from them and others in the coming months.

So, did the Belmont help horse racing with the shocking finish? Did it also help the three-year-old crop no one believed in?

Yes, it did, and fans should be excited to watch these horses continue to develop as the season progresses. It will be one heck of a ride.