Headlined by Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and his Preakness Stakes vanquisher, Shackleford, the field also is expected to include some potential spoilers to that budding rivalry.
Among them is Master of the Hounds, back from across "the Pond" for another try after finishing well in the Kentucky Derby to get home fifth. Nehro, second in the Derby, is expected back, along with Brilliant Speed (seventh in the Derby), Much Macho Man (third in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness), Santiva (sixth in the Derby) and Stay Thirsty (12th in the Derby). Several others are joining the long Triple Crown fray at its tail end.
The outcome of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont could help shape the rest of the Thoroughbred season. With the retirement at the end of last year of several top stars, including Zenyatta and Blame, the handicap division is looking for stars and rivalries. Three-year-olds often have stepped up to fill such voids late in the year -- including in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
This will be the 22nd time winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness have squared off in the Belmont.
Animal Kingdom arrived at Belmont Park on Sunday.
"He looked great and shipped fine, cool as a cucumber as usual," said David Rock, assistant to trainer Graham Motion. "He is a very laid-back horse so we wouldn't expect anything else, really. We are excited for the Belmont. You gotta be here. If you are doing good, you're here."
Mucho Macho Man worked 5 furlongs Sunday at Belmont Park under his new rider, Ramon Dominguez and trainer Kathy Ritvo said she hopes her colt, who has lost a shoe in two of his race this year, can change that in the Belmont. "His feet have never been a concern. Just losing the shoes," she said. "We've just got to make sure they stay on."
Meanwhile, last year's 2-year-old champion, Uncle Mo, finally has a diagnosis for the ailment that knocked him out of the Kentucky Derby field. Owner Mike Repole said Thursday a team of vets has determined Uncle Mo has cholangiohepatitis -- a malady of the liver and lymph nodes -- and is recovering nicely. Since being turned out and treated, Repole said, the colt "has gained 67 pounds, his blood work is going in the right direction, his energy level is up and his attitude has improved. We are optimistic about his prognosis and getting back to the track and continuing his racing career." He said he hopes Uncle Mo can be back in training by late summer.
In weekend racing:
French-trained Pour Moi bested Treasure Beach by a head to win Sunday's Group 1 Investec Epsom Derby. Carlton House, owned by Her Majesty the Queen and sent off as the 5-2 favorite, lacked a late punch and settled for third. Pour Moi, an Irish-bred son of Montjeu, picked up his third win from five starts, including victory in the May 7 Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud over 10 furlongs. He finished Sunday's 12 furlongs in 2:34.54 with Mickael Barzalona up for trainer Andre Fabre, who won his first Epsom Derby in the 232nd running of the race. "Finally," the trainer said. "This is the horse I would like to win with because he is such a good horse and it is not by hazard that he has won. What surprised me is that he had two accelerations -- the first one to catch up and then he hit another extra gear. This was the sign of a champion and it was his first time at a mile and a half." Asked about beating the Queen's horse, he added gallantly, "It is a race between horses, not between persons. Otherwise, I would have finished far behind Her Majesty." He said Pour Moi will have a summer break, then return for the Arc in the fall with one prep. Sir Michael Stoute, who trains Carlton House, said Her Majesty's steed is "still a high-class horse and he will have a big day."
Dancing Rain, at 20-1 odds, made all the going in Friday's Investec Epsom Oaks and held on to win by 3/4 of a length over Wonder of Wonders. Izzi Top finished third and Blue Bunting was fourth. With Johnny Murtagh up for trainer William Haggas, Dancing Rain set a cool pace and reserved just enough for the late going. The Danehill Dancer filly finished in 2:41.73. "It's just a matter of getting the right horse and, on this occasion, the right jockey," Haggis said. "She's a big, long-striding filly and we got lucky because we were left alone in front." Murtagh said with the uncontested lead, "She was ducking and diving forever so I knew there was loads left in the tank." Haggas said Dancing Rain, who now has two wins and two seconds from four starts, will be pointed to the Irish Oaks.
St. Nicholas Abbey scored 1-length victory over Midday in Friday's Group 1 Coronation Cup. Midday, winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf in 2009 and runner-up last year, will improve with racing this season, said trainer Henry Cecil. St. Nicholas Abbey's trainer, Aidan O'Brien, said he mismanaged the horse last year and "didn't want to mess him up again." The winner got the 1 1/2 miles in 2:37.18.
Reliable Man won Sunday's Group 1 Prix de Jockey Club, or French Derby, with a late move that caught Bubble Chic shortly before the wire. With Gerald Mosse up, Reliable man raced near the back of the field until the top of the lane, worked through some traffic to get into the clear and eventually got home first by 3/4 of a length. Baraan finished third, 2 lengths behind Bubble Chic. Reliable Man, a son of Dalakhani, finished the 1 5/16 furlongs in 2:07.70 over turf rated soft. Making just his third career start, Reliable man remained unbeaten with the win. Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre said despite the lack of experience, Reliable Man is "a horse of great quality." He said the Grand Prix de Paris on Bastille Day is the colt's likely next start.
Real Impact upset Sunday's Group 1 Yasuda Kinen, the final leg of the Asian Mile Challenge, at Tokyo Racecourse, beating a field of older horses including the filly Apapane. After racing close to the pace, Real Impact joined the battle for the lead heading for the final furlong. With Keita Tosaki in the irons, the 3-year-old got the best of things thereafter and held off a late rally by Strong Return to win by a neck. Smile Jack was third. Apapane, who beat super mare Buena Vista last month in the Victoria Mile, finished sixth with a belated rally. The mile took 1:32.0. Noriyuki Hori, who trained the first two finishers, said he wasn't confident a 3-year-old could win against top older competition. "Perhaps the advantage of carrying less weight and being still fresh, coming off only two starts this season, has helped," he said. Tosaki said once he got Real Impact into the race, "he flowed into the rhythm and I urged him forward early at the stretch because he's not the explosive type but rather he extends his strides within the rhythm." The four legs of the Asian Mile Challenge went to four different horses -- More Joyous in the Feb. 26 Futurity Stakes at Caulfield in Australia, Presvis in the Dubai Duty Free in March and Xtension in the BMW Champions Mile in April in Hong Kong before Real Impact's win Sunday.
Inglorious rallied by long shot Spooky Kitten in the late going to win Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Oaks by 3/4 of a length. Marketing Mix finished third. Inglorious, an Ontario-bred Hennessey filly, got the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.77 with Luis Contreras aboard. Contreras said he was "not really worried" about racing behind horses. "I was in the best position in the race. I was behind the horses waiting for my move. She's amazing. What can I say? She can run anywhere she wants. Doesn't matter." Winning trainer Josie Carroll originally planned to run Inglorious in the Kentucky Oaks but switched gear after she finished fourth as the favorite in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Now, he said, he is seriously considering taking on the boys in the $1 million Queen's Plate on June 26. "We'll see how she comes out of it and we'll play it by ear," he said.
And, speaking of the Plate, Check Your Soul recovered nicely after a bad start in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Plate Trial and passed most of the field en route to a 3 1/4-length victory over Bowman's Causeway. Strike Oil finished third. Check Your Soul, an Ontario-bred Perfect Soul colt, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:51.16 with Patrick Husbands in the irons. "Actually, I was kind of glad he missed the break," winning trainer Roger Attfield said. "I wanted him to come from off of it. It was nice to see him run that way."
New Normal closed determinedly through the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Alywow Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, getting clear at the end to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Speightstown Lady. Classy Zip finished third. New Normal, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Forestry, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:15.87 with Husbands up.
Bay to Bay got clear in the stretch run in Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian) Nassau Stakes for fillies and mares and the favorite, Never Retreat, wasn't able to catch her. At the wire, it was Bay to Bay by 2 lengths over Never Retreat, with Valli With a Vow third. Bay to Bay, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Sligo Bay mare, ran the mile on yielding turf in 1:36.48 under Contreras. "There was a little bit of speed in there and today I imagined you wouldn't want to be too far away," said winning trainer Brian Lynch. "We kept her a little bit fresh hoping she'd put herself into the race a little more. It's great when it goes to plan and it did today." Lynch said he feels Bay to Bay can handle longer distances, adding, "We'll put her through the fillies and mares program up here, keep our fingers crossed that she might be an E.P. Taylor filly," referring to the $1 million (Canadian), Grade I event on Oct. 16.
Hilda's Passion made all the going in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Vagrancy Handicap, drawing off at the end to win by 5 1/4 lengths. Curlina was second, well ahead of Tidal Pool in third. Hilda's Passion, with Javier Castellano up, stumbled a bit at the start but had no trouble thereafter and finished the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.81 -- just 0.34 second off the track record. The Todd Pletcher trainee is a Kentucky-bred Canadian Frontier filly. It was her third graded stakes win of the year and seventh victory in 12 lifetime starts. "She was conceding from six to 10 pounds to everyone in the race. But she's a strong filly and doing well," Pletcher said. "I was a little concerned when she stumbled a bit at the start, but she recovered so quickly. It looked as if she was at the top of her game today." He said he is targeting the Bed o'Roses at Belmont July 3 and the Ballerina at Saratoga Aug. 27.
Darrin's Dilemma stalked the pace set by favorite Bold Deed in Sunday's $75,000 Spectacular Bid Division of the New York Stallion Stakes, got by when asked by jockey Ramon Dominguez and went on to win by a length. Bold Deed held second by 2 1/4 lengths over Warrior Up. Darrin's Dilemma, a Freud colt, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:21.94.
Hessonite tracked the pace in the $75,000 Cupecoy's Joy Division for 3-year-old fillies, then came out to get around the leaders and drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Lady On the Run was second and Freuds on Holidays finished third. Hessonite, a Freud filly, was clocked in 1:22.78 under Dominguez.
Friend or Foe collared pacesetting Rail Trip in the final yards of Sunday's $60,000 Easy Goer Stakes, winning by a head. Convocation and Tahitian Warrior completed the order of finish. Friend or Foe, a 4-year-old, New York-bred Friends Lake colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:40.13 with Alex Solis in the irons.
Bellamy Star shook loose from traffic in deep stretch just in time to get up and win Sunday's $60,000 Xtra Heat Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1 1/4 lengths over Sunlight Sonata. Ruthenia finished third as the favorite, Bellamy Star, a Florida-bred Bellamy Road filly, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.00 for Ramon Dominguez, who won six on the card and finished second in the Easy Goer.
Salty Strike got past pacesetting Fantasy of Flight on the turn in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Dogwood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and had things all her way in the stretch, winning off by 3 3/4 lengths. Fantasy of Flight held second, 1 1/4 lengths better than Gran Lioness. Might, a fully sister to Blame, went to the post favored but was never a factor and finished fifth of six. Salty Strike, a Kentucky-bred Smart Strike filly out of the Salt Lake mare Lake Huron, got the one-turn mile on a fast track in 1:35.39 under Manoel Cruz. It was her first career stakes win but third victory in four tries under the Twin Spires. "She has really come around," said winning trainer Kenny McPeek. "I'd like to keep her sprinting on the dirt. I think we will look at sending her to the Test at Saratoga."
Noble's Promise, always close to the pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Aristides Stakes, got to the front with a furlong to go and worked clear to win by a length over Atta Boy Roy. Capt. Candyman Can could do no better than third. Noble's Promise, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Cuvee colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.76 with Alan Garcia in the irons as McPeek swept the day's stakes. In his 2011 debut, Noble's Promise finished a close fifth to Aikenite in the Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day. Saturday's win improved his career record to five wins in 14 starts and pushed his earnings past $1 million. "I think we did a good job of trying to stretch him out for the Triple Crown last year," McPeek said. "He only got beat six lengths in the Derby … . I think he's found his niche with sprinting." He said he hopes to try Noble's Promise in the Vanderbilt and Forego at Saratoga "and then bring him back here in the fall for the Breeders' Cup Sprint."
Caleb's Posse was reserved well off the pace through the early furlongs of Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Ohio Derby, rallied four-wide into the stretch under Eddie Razo Jr. and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Mario's Fling and Irish Lion finished second and third at long odds. Caleb's Posse, a Kentucky-bred Posse colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.12. "The first part of the backside I was a little bit concerned about being inside there," winning trainer Donnie Von Hemel said. "He had a lot of horses in front of him and beside him, and I was thinking, 'How's he going to get out of this mess?' But on the turn they kind of started separating a little bit where you could see he could get up and out of there." Von Hemel said to look for Caleb's Posse next in the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows.
All For Thee came from last to win Saturday's $75,000 Go For Wand Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 2 lengths over Daring Reality. Oh So Bella led briefly but faded to finish third. All For Thee, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Elusive Quality, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.35 with Jeremy Rose aboard. It was the first stakes win for All For Thee and her third victory in four career starts. "We were extremely pleased with her race today," Anthony Dutrow, the winning trainer, said. "She moved forward and stepped up her game today. If everything goes well, the Delaware Oaks will probably be her next start. The Oaks is a graded race and she has won twice at Delaware Park, so she likes the track."
Judging by his performance in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Californian, Twirling Candy may be ready to step up to fill the void at the top of the handicap division. With Joel Rosario riding, the 4-year-old son of Candy Ride broke from the rail, took back under a strong hold until mid-stretch and then came out and won with authority by 1 1/4 lengths. Setsuko was second, a nose in front of Aggie Engineer. Soul Candy was another nose back in fourth. The 9 furlongs over the all-weather track went in a slow 1:50.00. Twirling Candy now has seven wins from nine starts and avenged a fifth-place showing in his last start, the Santa Anita Handicap. He has not raced outside California. Winning trainer John Sadler said Twirling Candy raced without blinkers for the first time because "we wanted him to relax." But he said the way the race developed was perplexing. "It was a little puzzling to see him that far back," he said. "But then they kind of wanted to box him in, you know, which is race riding. Joel just stayed nice and cool. I'm happy to win this one today and look down the road." Right down the road is the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup July 9.
Wild Mia rallied from well back to win Sunday's $70,000 Redondo Beach Stakes by a neck over Andina. Tanda led most of the way and saved third. Wild Mia, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Wildcat Heir filly, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:34.65 with David Flores up. The race was restricted to non-winners of a Grade I or II at a mile or more this year.
Colony Club stayed close to the pace in Saturday's $65,000 Fort Monmouth Stakes for fillies and mares, rallied to the lead three-wide and won by a half length over Ahvee's Destiny. Cherry On the Top made the early going and held on for third. Colony Club, a 5-year-old, Maryland-bred Lion Hearted mare out of the Wild Again mare Wild Shine, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.17 with Forest Boyce in the irons.
Sean Avery disappeared from his five rivals in the stretch run of Sunday's $75,000 Longfellow Stakes, jetting off to win by 11 3/4 lengths. Awesome Son was second after leading briefly and Hillswick was a neck farther back in third. Sean Avery, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Cherokee Run gelding, finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.27 with Joe Bravo up.
Saturday's $60,000 Prairie Mile for 3-year-olds finished in a nightmare as four horses went down in a chain-reaction mishap at the top of the stretch. At the end, Wild Jacob was racing wide down the lane, missed the accident and got home first by 1/2 length over Fairing. The favorite, Sheriff Cogburn, finished third. Wild Jacob, a Maryland-bred Eurosilver gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:37.88 under Ken Tohill. The accident began when Arcadian, battling for the lead, suddenly fell in front of a tightly bunched field. Grant Jack, Hot Faucet and It's My Party all fell in his wake. Arcadian suffered a fatal injury but the other three horses and all four jockeys reportedly escaped with minor injuries. Miguel Mena was taken to a local hospital for treatment of bruised ribs.
Fast Tip stalked the pace in Saturday's $60,000 Panthers Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, took control in the stretch and won by 4 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Hearts on Fire, was the best of the rest and All About Allie finished third. Fast Tip, a Kentucky-bred Najran filly, got the mile in 1:37.40 with Miguel Mena riding.
Castinette Dancer stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Emerald Downs Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, rallied three-wide to the lead and edged clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Burnin' Britches. Overvalued finished third. Castinette Dancer, a Washington-bred daughter of Minister's Wild Cat, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.39 with Mario Gutierrez up.