Only two post positions remained open, Post 1 and Post 9, and of the two remaining horses yet to draw was Animal Kingdom. What unfolded next brought plenty of reason for Team Valor and Graham Motion to breathe easy on Wednesday afternoon as Animal Kingdom drew post 9. The post position draw caps a solid pre-race week for the Kentucky Derby winner. On Monday, Animal Kingdom completed his final work, finishing 4 Furlongs in 47.76 over the main track at Belmont Park. The workout was the fastest 4F work of the day at Belmont Park and by all accounts, the colt looked well tuned and ready for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
Drawing last and Post 1 was Master of Hounds. After finishing 5th in the Kentucky Derby, the Irish Colt returns to the states to become the first European to start in the Belmont Stakes since Dr. Greenfield in 2001. The 1 hole isn’t going to be as much a problem for this 3 yr old compared to many others in the field. He has proven himself to be comfortable when racing in traffic and that he can handle the dirt or kickback he is sure to receive. With Garrett Gomez back in the irons, Master of Hounds will try to put Europe back in the winners circle at the Belmont Stakes. It was last accomplished in 1990 when Go and Go drew away in stunning fashion to win by 8 1/4 lengths.
As for the other end of the starting gate, Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford is set to break from Post 12 on the far outside. Due to a lack of true speed horses in the field, expect Shackleford to stay in line with his strategy in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. With his style of being on the lead, expect him to get away from gate, ease across the track towards the rail and be in good shape before heading into the first turn. What happens after the 1st turn should tell us a lot about his chances. It will be interesting to see if anyone pushes the pace a bit more aggressively afer the opening half thus resulting in a faster opening mile than we saw in the Preakness Stakes.
For the first time ever in Belmont Stakes history, the first seven finishers from the Kentucky Derby will be racing on Saturday and a record 8 derby horses will compete in the 3rd Jewel of the Triple Crown. That alone goes to show how much interest surrounds this years Belmont Stakes. With a lot of attention being focused on the Rubber Match between Shackleford and Animal Kingdom, this may also be an indication of how much confidence there is that another horse can claim the final leg. The other Kentucky Derby runners that will be entering the starting gate in the 143rd Belmont Stakes are Nehro, Mucho Macho Man, Santiva, Brilliant Speed and Stay Thirsty.
Breaking right in the thick of things from the 6 Post is Kentucky Derby Runner-Up Nehro. With Corey Nakatani returning on the mount for trainer, Steve Asmussen, the key for this colt will be stalking close to the lead and pulling the trigger at just the right time. As only the 3rd horse competing in all three triple crown races, Mucho Macho Man will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing 6th place finish in the Preakness. Breaking from the 10 Post, Trainer Kathy Ritvo has called on jockey Ramon Dominguez to replace Rajiv Maragh. MMM looks ready to take on the Kentucky Derby and Preakness champs once again. On Sunday, he recorded the fastest 5F time when he bulleted in 59.57.
With the field set and the post positions drawn, get your pencils out and begin the process of picking this years winner. For any of those out there that have yet to decide, stick with us as we post our picks in the next few days.
Written by: Little Brink