1:46 pm Jun. 10, 2011
A horse-racing season that has been filled with so much unrealized potential is getting a pleasant and surprising jolt of energy from the buildup to tomorrow’s Belmont Stakes.
While there is no chance to see a Triple Crown winner (Shackleford beating Animal Kingdom in the Preakness ended that possibility), the first seven finishers in the Kentucky Derby are all running in the Belmont—something that has never happened before. This familiarity among the competition may have bred a little contempt, leading to actual smack-talk this week between the trainer of one horse (Dale Romans, of Shackleford) and the owner of another (Barry Irwin, of Animal Kingdom).
But the good-natured hyperbole isn’t the only source of entertainment leading into the race. There is a strong question of whether Shackleford (who is built for speed) won’t fade in the final stretch of the 1 ½ mile race, the longest race in the Triple Crown. The other question is whether trainer Graham Motion (a genial Mr. Chips of a horseman) can coax another strong performance out of Animal Kingdom, who had never run on a dirt surface until the Kentucky Derby.
The 12 entrants include a horse being shipped across the Atlantic (Master of Hounds, who finished a game fifth in the Kentucky Derby), a hard-running perennial bridesmaid (Nehro) and a strong horse that has trouble keeping his shoes on (Mucho Macho Man).
Beside the Long Island venue, there’s another New York angle. Queens native Mike Repole—who saw his magnificent Uncle Mo fall prey to a liver ailment—has a longshot horse, Stay Thirsty, in the mix. Some of Stay Thirsty’s backers like the horse’s pedigree when it comes to a long-distance race, but he hasn’t shown much since capturing the Gotham Stakes in Aqueduct earlier this year.
Should Animal Kingdom and Shackleford both fail to win, it would just be the latest upset in a season already filled with them. It has not been a good year for the hanidicappers. On that note: I’m picking Nehro to beat Animal Kingdom in a thrilling finish, with Mucho Macho Man claiming third place. It should be a good day at the races.
Bob Hardt is political director for NY1 and Capital's racing correspondent.
More by this author:
- New York racing gets through Stakes weekend, resumes hibernation
- Belmont, darkly: I'll Have Another runs for the Triple Crown as Andrew Cuomo cracks the whip