With Animal Kingdom winning the Derby and Shackleford victorious in the Preakness, there is no Triple Crown on the line. But the race has stirred significant interest for several reasons – not the least, the showdown between the winners of the first two "jewels".
"Without a Triple Crown on the line, this is going to be one of the most exciting Belmonts I can remember," Shackleford's trainer, Dale Romans, said at Wednesday's post-position draw.
A verbal "throwdown" also has enlivened the Belmont's preparations. Romans and Barry Irwin, who manages the syndicate that owns Animal Kingdom, have exchanged some pointed barbs.
Irwin said Tuesday he is not worried about competition from Shackleford in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. Instead, he said, he expects the main challenge will come from Mucho Macho Man, who finished third in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness.
"That may not be the stupidest thing Barry has ever said," Romans retorted Wednesday. "But it's close."
Graham Motion, who trains Animal Kingdom, said his horse is ready for the rematch after failing to catch Shackleford in the stretch run of the shorter Preakness. He said Animal Kingdom, who broke poorly in the Preakness, had so much blowback from the leading horses, "the dirt was literally caked in his blinkers. It was extraordinary. I don't think that's going to happen in the Belmont."
Mucho Macho Man will join the "big two" as the only horses to have contested all three Triple Crown Events, finishing third in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness. "We think we have the best horse in the country," said co-owner Dan Reeves. "We just need to prove it and hope Saturday, we'll do that."
Master of Hounds, who shipped from Ireland to finish a fast-closing fifth in the Derby for trainer Aidan O'Brien, has shipped back for the Belmont. "He'll definitely put on a good show here," said assistant trainer T.J. Comerford. "The 1 1/2 miles will hit him on the head."
Nehro has been second in the Louisiana Derby, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby in his last three starts. "We hope to shed the bridesmaid's tag and get the win," said Brad Weisbord, racing manager for Zayat Racing, which owns Nehro. "Nehro is very versatile, so he really can be anywhere." In fact, he drew right in the middle, in post position No. 6.
The Belmont Stakes, with a post time of 6:35 p.m. EDT, will be televised nationally by NBC with earlier and later coverage on the VERSUS network.
The field for Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Belmont Stakes, 1 1/2 miles, for 3-year-olds, by post position, with trainer, jockey and morning-line odds. All carry 126 pounds:
1. Master of Hounds, Aidan O'Brien, Garrett Gomez, 10-1
2. Stay Thirsty, Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano, 20-1
3. Ruler On Ice, Kelly Breen, Jose Valdivia Jr., 20-1
4. Santiva, Eddie Kenneally, Shaun Bridgmohan, 15-1
5. Brilliant Speed, Tom Albertrani, Joel Rosario, 15-1
6. Nehro, Steve Asmussen, Corey Nakatani, 4-1
7. Monzon, Ignacio Correas, Jose Lezcano, 30-1
8. Prime Cut, Neil Howard, Edgar Prado, 15-1
9. Animal Kingdom, Graham Motion, John Velazquez, 2-1
10. Mucho Macho Man, Katherine Ritvo, Ramon Dominguez, 10-1
11. Isn't He Perfect, Doodnauth Shivmangal, Rajiv Maragh, 30-1
12. Shackleford, Dale Romans, Jesus Castanon, 9-2