A Triple Crown that was never short of
surprises came to end on Saturday with another twist of the unexpected. To make the 1 1/2 Mile test even more grueling, the field for the final jewel of the Triple Crown would enter the starting gate and race over a Sloppy Belmont Park track. Immediately following the break from the post, the chances we were in for another unexpected result made us gasp. (Replay and Results)
The Rubber Match
It was a scary start to the Belmont Stakes for John Valezquez. After Animal Kingdom clipped heels and stumbled badly, Johnny V fought to save control and avoid ending up face down in the mud at Belmont. At 5-2, the Kentucky Derby winner and Belmont Stakes favorite seemed to break clean before trouble quickly ensued. When the colt got pinched from both sides and clipped heels, it caused Valezquez to come out of the irons onto Animal Kingdom’s neck until he made a gallant effort to hang on and regain control. Though an admirable effort was made, the colts bid to do the unthinkable came up short. A move was made from last to 5th over the last 3 furlongs but it was simply just too much to ask as Animal Kingdom tired, finishing 6th.
The Preakness Champion, Shackleford, returned in similar fashion at the onset of the race. Breaking clean from the far outside, Post 12, Jesus Castanon moved the colt clear across the track towards the rail and settled on the lead going into the first turn. Although the pace was very moderate, 23.92 for the opening quarter, 49.08 at the half, 1:14.51 through three-quarters and an opening mile of 1:39.95, it was at the top of the lane that Shackleford began to fade. Going into the final turn he looked capable of another first turn to wire win. However, the Belmont Park stretch run and distance were too tough, as Shackleford also tired and finished 5th.
With a little bit of bad luck involved, the highly anticipated showdown between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winners failed to come together. Although it could have been a memorable rubber match, their final showdown may still be possible down the road. I expect these two to meet again.
Stalking the pace setter all the way to the top stretch, when Shackleford began to fade, the Belmont Stakes winner made his move. With the highest odds in the field, at 24-1, Ruler on Ice was the Belmont Stakes longshot. At the top on lane and down the stretch, however, he didn’t look the part. With Stay Thirsty to the inside along the rail and Brilliant Speed making a bid from off the pace on the outside, Ruler on Ice was able to hang on in stunning fashion, clearing Stay Thirsty by 3/4 lengths. Becoming only the 2nd Gelding to ever win the Belmont Stakes it was an emotional win for Trainer Kelly Breen and Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr.
Taking over as the primary exercise rider this winter, Valdivia was rewarded by Breen when he got his first mount on the colt in a AlwOC at Aqueduct in February. After a 2nd place finish, Valdivia returned for the mount in the Sunland Derby, where Ruler on Ice finished 3rd and then again for a 2nd place finish in last months Federico Tesio at Pimlico. In what became his first ever Belmont Stakes ride, Valdivia returned the favor to Breen. The win was their 1st ever Triple Crown victories. Congratulations to Ruler on Ice and his connections, we look forward to possibly seeing you race again in the Haskell on July 31.
The 2011 Triple Crown
It’s been a wild ride. On May 7, Animal Kingdom became the first ever Kentucky Derby winner to have never raced on dirt. Not only did he end that trend, he also became the first horse since Needles in 1956 to win after a six-week layoff. In what will be remembered as one of the slowest opening paces in Kentucky Derby history, the opening three-quarter fraction won’t let us forget it. The time of 1:13.40 was the slowest for that split in 64 years. The win gave Owner Team Valor, Trainer Graham Motion and Jockey John Velazquez their first ever Kentucky Derby win.
And that was just the beginning of teams earning their firsts. In next two jewels of the Triple Crown Shackleford Trainer, Dale Romans, Jockey, Jesus Castanon, and the Ruler on Ice team of Kelly Breen and Jose Valdivia would all notch their first ever Triple Crown victories. For the two jockey’s, they made their first ever mounts in both races a memorable one.
Longshots showed up in 2011. Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, won the at odds of 20-1, followed by Shackleford at 12-1 in the Preakness. Ruler On Ice kept things going in the Belmont Stakes with the highest odds of all three at 24-1. And the high odds didn’t stop at only the winners. In all 3 of the races, 6 of the 9 horses that finished in the money had double-digit odds.
And finally, the Triple Crown failed to produce a 3 yr old that was clearly the leader. For the 3rd year in a row, a different horse won each leg of the Triple Crown. Now that the 2011 Triple Crown has ended and the amount of surprises so many, there is no reason not to wonder if we can get any further away from a Triple Crown possibility. Next year will make it 34 years since Affirmed became the 11th horse to accomplish the feat. Will 2012 be the year of the next super horse?…………we’ll just have to wait and see.
Thanks again to all our readers for joining us on the Kentucky Derby trail and following us through to the 3rd and final leg of the Triple Crown. It has been exciting and a pleasure to bring you our perspective, analysis and news. As the spring racing season comes to end, stick around as the Summer racing season gets underway.
Written by: Little Brink