Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

From the Preakness to the Belmont

Posted by Brian Appleton on May 25, 2011

It’s Wednesday, April 25th, 2011 and, just like that, the Preakness Stakes is four days in the past and all eyes are turned toward the June 11th, 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes (Gr.1) and the potential for an exciting matchup between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners. But for a moment I would like to look back at the Preakness Stakes before surging ahead to the Belmont and try to make some sense out of exactly what happened.

On May 21st, Preakness Stakes day, I was flying back home from Ireland with no cell phone service after a week of spotty internet service in Dublin and was literally on the edge of my seat waiting to debark and embrace cell coverage and internet availability with open arms. Within minutes of landing the seatbelt sign flashed off, cell phones came out en mass and startup screens blinked to life as beeps, bleeps, buzzers and rings announced a flood of notifications. The first thing I did with my long lost internet use was go straight to the BloodHorse.com and check up on the latest Preakness updates. Very quickly I realized that it was after 4:00 P.M. and the Preakness was set to go off in a matter of hours so I switched to Twitter and read the minute to minute updates from my faithful racing fanatic friends. Most of the prerace twitter concerned the antics of Shackleford, who was putting up quite a show and was completely drenched in sweat during the post parade. By the time the field had reached the gate nearly everyone was saying to toss the son of Forestry. The drive from Logan International Airport in Boston to my house in Connecticut takes about two hours and by the time familiar landscapes were flying past my car window the Preakness field had left the gate and we were less than two minutes away from crowning a new champion.

“Shackleford wins!” I had refreshed Twitter for the hundredth time since the Preakness field had broken from the gates and my screen was now filled with the surprised exclamations of pronouncing Shackelford the winner. I actually gave a short whoop of delight; Shackleford had been one of my top three picks for the Preakness and one of three colts I had been planning to profile while in Ireland on my blog. His gritty front-running Kentucky Derby effort had won me over completely when he hung on for fourth after leading from the start, finishing 8 ½ lengths behind Animal Kingdom.

The bell rang and Flashpoint streaked out of post four in the Preakness field like he had been shot from a cannon with a flaming tail to boot. Shackleford was hot on his heels from post five, Dialed In had dropped back to last with Animal Kingdom 13th of 14 as they entered the first turn. The opening quarter was a rapid :22.69 as the leading pair continued to blaze along. Astrology sat just behind the top two with Midnight Interlude to his outside as Mucho Macho Man rated about 7 lengths off the frontrunners. Down the backstretch positions remained relatively unchanged, Shackleford edged to within a neck of Flashpoint, pushing him through a half that went in :46.87. As the far turn loomed ahead Shackleford made his move and quickly put Flashpoint away as Animal Kingdom swept around the horses from the back. The field thundered into the homestretch with Shackleford leading by one length and pulling away. From behind the leaders Astrology was finally able to find some running room and made a bold move for the lead but from the center of the track it was Animal Kingdom moving the best of all. Closing swiftly with every stride the Kentucky Derby winner inhaled the field in a matter of seconds while Shackleford pulled two lengths clear of Astrology. Down to the wire the two colts laid it all out on the line, the roars of the crowd roaring across the track in wave upon wave as neither rival gave an inch. The final margin of victory came down to a half length in favor of Shackelford who showed millions of fans across the country just how big his heart is and how much talent he possesses. Animal Kingdom ran a terrific race in defeat and came within half a length of continuing his Triple Crown pursuit, proving to any doubters that he is indeed the real deal.

Now we turn our eyes ahead to the Belmont Stakes and for the first time since 2005 it appears both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners could be headed for the 1 ½ mile classic. Shackleford doesn’t seem well suited for 1 ½ miles but has proven it is stupid to underestimate his skills. Training and attitude should give us a decent idea of how he comes into the race if he does indeed head for the Belmont but stamina issues can only be answered by running so there I will just have to take a “wait and see” approach. With his distinctive broad white blaze across his face and flaming chestnut coat Shackleford looks the part of a champion and is easy to spot in a crowd.

Animal Kingdom - Anne M. Eberhardt

Animal Kingdom might have been able to catch Shackleford in the Preakness if the race had been 1/16 of a mile longer like in the Derby but regardless he has shown an affinity for dirt and a devastating late kick that propels him better than the entire class of 2011 so far. 1 ½ miles should be right up his alley. Mucho Macho Man finished sixth in the Preakness after losing his left front shoe, the same thing that happened when he finished third in the Louisiana Derby earlier in the year. Either this big guy likes to run barefoot or he just has bad luck. In the Derby he closed well but late to get up for the third and I think he will be better suited for the longer 1 ½ miles at Belmont than either the Derby or Preakness winner.

Notable Derby and or Preakness starters not listed as possible for the Belmont Stakes right now are Dialed In, who finished 8th in the Derby and 4th in the Preakness, and Astrology, who finished a very promising third in the Preakness after being unable to sustain his strong early move in the stretch.

Returning to the classic scene are five Kentucky Derby alumni led by second place finishing Nehro along with European Master of Hounds (5th), Santiva (6th), Brilliant Speed (7th) and Stay Thirsty (12th). Nehro looks like a monster just coming into his own and his closing Derby run was brilliant. He should love the added distance of the Belmont Stakes more than any other returning contender.

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14 Responses to “From the Preakness to the Belmont”

  1. Mary Clark said

    Shackleford is a lion. That has been proven now and anyone who saw the Derby parade would have been wowed at his fitness and appearance. He is so competitive that the Preakness was his. He has to lead and at a mile and a half, my concern would be him running his heart out. This is when injuries happen. The comfort here is that Romans is very experienced and has sense. That team remains my favorite pick. I was a First Dude fan and I will pick Shackeford over any competitor. This horse has a ton heart.

    • Hi Mary,

      Shackleford actually reminds me a little of Hard Spun in the way he has performed, though I think Hard Spun was much better overall. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the Belmont, if he’s throwing a fit before the race and is drenched in sweat look out! 😉

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • SHACK is more of a galloper at a high rate of speed…HARD SPUN was a brilliantly fast sprinter/miler (more like a QUALITY ROAD) with just enough stamina and lots of class to carry his speed to runner-up finishes @ 10f twice in his career (Derby, BC Classic). I wish he’d have run at 4…he’d have been so tough in the Older Horse division from the Donn, to the Met Mile, and the BC Classic. His babies should do well on any surface.

      • Hi Rob!
        I agree, and I think Hard Spun was also much more versatile in his running style, he didn’t need the lead to produce his best effort. If Curlin, Hard Spun and Street Sense had all stuck around for their 4 year old campaigns it would have been a season of rare and unprecedented performances! I can’t wait to see the Hard Spun offspring on the track.

    • Mary,

      Your mention of FIRST DUDE is apropos considering SHACK’s similar style. They’re both seemingly gallopers who are best at the classic distances and beyond. With the right touch, they’ll stay the route no matter the pace. However, they may always get out-quicked at 9f or less by sprinter/miler types. The Pennsylvania Derby last year is a prime example. FIRST DUDE was the 8-5 favorite exiting his speed/fade Preakness/Belmont placings. He couldn’t match the spurts of 7-2 MORNING LINE (now a G.I winner @ 7f) and 5-2 A LITTLE WARM (G.II Jim Dandy winner) at top of the stretch and looked destined for 3rd beaten ~ 2 lengths, but he kept grinding to finish 2nd and galloped out ahead of MORNING LINE.

  2. Hannah said

    Well said. 🙂 It was such an exciting race to watch. Can’t wait to see the Belmont.

  3. Brian,

    Glad you’re back safe/sound from Ireland. I hope it was a great time.

    Good recap…love that picture of Castanon peeking over to ANIMAL KINGDOM at the wire.

    I’m of the opinion that AK doesn’t get by SHACK with an extra 1/16…he expended too much energy through the middle of the race and was slowing down at the wire. On the other hand, SHACK ran more of a steady beat the final mile that allowed him to keep his momentum.

    In the Belmont, both should give great performances given their wins at rather slowish renewals of the Derby and Preakness…AK will be able to have his speed doled out more evenly by John V. like in the Derby and he may produce a DROSSELMEYER kick at the head of the lane and keep right on going. NEHRO could play the role of FLY DOWN while SHACK reprises FIRST DUDE’s Belmont 3rd. DIALED IN could also reproduce FLY DOWN’s runner-up effort for Zito/LaPenta while ASTROLOGY is absolutely bred for the Belmont Stakes, sired by a Belmont winner out of a dam by a Belmont runner-up.

    I sure hope they stop on MUCHO MACHO MAN…perhaps losing another shoe is a sign that this June foal needs time to mature physically. Losing all these races can’t be doing a thing for his psyche either. I believe he could develop into the best of the Triple Crown contenders if they let his muscles fully develop. He’s still not chronologically a 3y.o.!!! I’ve read he has a frame similar to ZENYATTA’s 17 hands and she didn’t debut until late in her sophomore year. She may have been ruined or not had the near-perfect career in different hands than Shirreffs’. If they race MMM in the Belmont, we may never see his potential realized.

    • Thanks Rob, it was incredible over there!

      I said the same thing when I was able to go over the replay about ten times. Shackleford was still running comfortably and it appeared Animal Kingdom’s momentum was nearly spent a few strides before the wire, plus he didn’t gallop out past him which usually happens if a closer is still gaining in the end (ex. St. John’s River in the Kentucky Oaks).

      I think Nehro and Animal Kingdom are going to be at an advantage with the Belmont Distance as well as Mucho Macho Man, but especially Nehro with the two extra weeks of rest after the Derby.
      Mucho Macho Man is huge, especially for his age but he also seemed to mature early on, running strong ever since his juvenile year when he battled it out with To Honor and Serve so I’m not to concerned about them running him back in the Belmont. He ran a good race in the Derby but really didn’t appear to run very hard in the Preakness after losing the shoe so he might have more left in the tank than we think. He definitely has a ton of potential and I hope he’s able to see it through.

  4. Brian,

    A HARD SPUN 2y.o. filly, a Mexican-bred out of the UNBRIDLED dam YA TARRA (1/2 to Arc winner LAMMTARA), off @ 8-1 won at Lone Star Park going 5 furlongs on dirt in a remarkable/eventful run. Here’s the chart comment: “YVETE SANGALO (MEX) fell to her face at the start, raced well back in the field, swung four wide into the stretch, moved further out once straightened for the drive, rallied into the final furlong, closed fast on the outside, had the rider lose his whip inside the sixteenth-pole and got up late.”

    Everything we typed about!

    • I saw the win announcement Rob (text notification) but had NO idea she went through that much to win…wow! What an effort, and for a juvenile too, that’s incredible! It seems Hard Spun passed on everything in that one, I’ll be keeping a very close eye on her.

  5. Mary Clark said

    Here is my hypothetical: you are riding for Romans and have to devise your best strategy for the Belmont win.

    Given what you know today, what would each of you do?

    • Interesting question. Hypothetically I would want Shackleford to break forwardly and if he gets the lead, to slow it down on the front end and ration out his speed while at the same time trying to compromise the closing moves by horses like Nehro and Animal Kingdom with a slower tempo. If he gets outbroken; rate just behind the leader and save his move for the long, long Belmont stretch, not moving until it’s absolutely necessary but not waiting on the moves from the big guns behind.

    • Mary,

      I think his best chance is to quicken the pace in the initial 3/4 of the race. SHACK’s gonna have to make the closers run at a :47 or less 1/2 mile in order to allow his ability to gallop at steady :25 and change splits at the end of the race to matter as it did more effectively in the Preakness. For example, ANIMAL KINGDOM couldn’t get by after the wire. He hung the final 1/16, because he had to run a :46.72 middle 1/2 (the fastest interior splits in the Preakness) just to get into contention.

      By contrast, ANIMAL KINGDOM cruised around in hand early on during the Derby. He never gave John Velazquez the inclination to ask for his best until the stretch. The result was one of the fastest finishing 1/4’s in Derby history that had many dreaming of a Triple Crown winner.

      If SHACK sits chilly on the lead like he did in the Derby, he’ll allow AK, NEHRO, MASTER OF HOUNDS, BRILLIANT SPEED, DIALED IN, ASTROLOGY and maybe MUCHO MACHO MAN and ALTERNATION to idle comfortably. He won’t be able to match their kicks.

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