Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Belmont Stakes Wrap-Up: The Icing on the Cake

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 13, 2011

Ruler On Ice was the only horse in the Belmont Stakes field with a win on a wet track and when the mud settled at the end of the day, he was still the only horse with a win on a wet track, except now he had two. In a year that has proven to be one of the most interesting and unique Triple Crown quests of the last decade, we have seen three exciting performances from three different colts in each leg of the Crown.

On Saturday evening twelve sophomores lined up in the starting gate for the 143rd Belmont Stakes (gr.1) to run the longest race of their careers.

I watched the Belmont Stakes (gr.1) with a friend of mine and her parents this year and for the first time had a “Belmont Bash”. We missed watching the Acorn Stakes (gr.1) live as I didn’t get out of work until 15 minutes before the race was run but we caught all the other graded stakes on the card. Trappe Shot easily had the most impressive win of the day at Belmont in my opinion. He absolutely demolished a strong field in the True North, winning by 8 ½ lengths. I was actually able to pick the top three in the True North except that I had Trappe Shot second behind Calibrachoa.

Justin Phillip ran the third slowest winning time in the history of the Woody Stephens Stakes and J J’s Lucky Train still wasn’t able to catch him. At least he finished ahead of my friends pick (Derivative) who finished last and gave us a good laugh, all in fun of course.

The Just a Game Stakes was a pleasant surprise when my longshot pick, C. S. Silk led almost all the way to handily defeat the field at odds of 12-1 with Amen Hallelujah finishing third. Aviate apparently missed the memo and finished far back in sixth, ruining what would have been a perfect top three for me. My friend took second with Fantasia.

Gio Ponti and Prince Will I am were my 1-2 picks in the Manhattan. Gio Ponti has been a favorite of mine for the last several years and I love that even though he may not win all the time he’s always close and driving hard at the finish. In his first trip back from the Dubai, Gio Ponti rallied with a huge effort from far back to finish a fast closing third behind Bim Bam in second. This time my friend smoked the field with her choice of Mission Approved to win as that one wired the field at odds of 21-1.

It was on to the Belmont Stakes (gr.1) and the toughest decision of the night. I went with Mucho Macho Man along with my friend’s father while she went with her winning Preakness stakes pick Shackleford and her mother stuck to the Animal Kingdom bandwagon. As the horses came through the tunnel and the crowd began to cheer, 24-1 longshot Ruler On Ice began to act up just a bit, tossing his head and kicking his heels. I knew my friend loves a fractious horse before the race so I turned to her and started joking that she should choose him which she was already thinking about the minute he began his pre-race antics. Ultimately she decided to stick with Shackleford when we both realized it was Ruler On Ice, who had been one of our “there’s no way he’s going to hit the board” targets in the paddock. One thing we all agree on was that Isn’t He Perfect had the best chance to finish last.

We each gave our supporting horses a whoop for support as the field loaded into the gate to the vast swelling roars of the more than 55,000 strong in attendance at Belmont Park.  The bell rang and immediately it was Shackelford who bounced away from the gates like a shot, getting clear of the field within the first few strides and angling toward the inside rail. As I tried to spot my top three choices my eyes flitted to Animal Kingdom just as Mucho Macho Man came over onto him from the 10 post and the Derby champion clipped heels with Monzon, throwing jockey John Velazquez onto his neck and yanking his feel out of the stirrups. It was a miracle the two athletes didn’t go down and a credit to both that they were able to still find their way toward the inside rail as they entered the first turn. It took Velasquez almost 1/16 of a mile to get his foot back in the stirrup and by that time he knew all chances at victory had been lost for his valiant steed.

Meanwhile upfront Shackleford led the field through a steady opening quarter mile in :23.92 with Ruler On Ice just behind in second and the Mike Repole owned Stay Thirsty just to his inside third. Mucho Macho Man raced mid-pack with Nehro one spot ahead in fifth. Animal Kingdom was far behind in last as the field raced through a much slower half in :49.08, about 7 lengths from the back of the pack.

As the field approached the far turn Shackleford continued to lead with Ruler On Ice just a half length behind and Stay Thirsty right there. Brilliant Speed began to move up from fourth as Animal Kingdom came alive midway around the turn and began passing horses with resolve. Into the stretch it was still Shackleford but Ruler On Ice edged up to take the lead on his outside. Stay Thirsty came through on the inside as Brilliant Speed charged on the far outside to challenge Ruler On Ice but quickly weakened as Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty turned it into a two horse race with the wire approaching. Shackleford had had it with just 200 yards to go, quickly backing up to Animal Kingdom who was also showing signs of fatigue after his amazing rally. With the roar of the crowd washing over the track, the two leaders fought it out tooth and nail down to the finish where Ruler On Ice squeezed out a victory by three parts of a length over a very game Stay Thirsty with Brilliant Speed another length back in third.

The winner paid $51.50, $26 and $13.60 while a $2 exacta paid a whopping $928, the $2 trifecta paid $8,268 and the $2 superfecta paid a mind boggling $74,052.

Nehro was able to get up for fourth, nabbing Shackleford by a nose while Animal Kingdom finished close behind in sixth. Both the Preakness and Derby winner proved their class more than ever to me in the Belmont. Animal Kingdom overcame what could have been a disastrous start to still post a strong, albeit short lived rally that saw him finish far ahead of the rest of the field. Shackleford led the field all the way into the stretch and well past the 1 ¼ mile mark and still tried to hang tough when challenged, but in the end the distance proved too much.

Overall the Belmont Stakes appeared to be a big success this year as total handle, attendance and TV ratings especially were way up, coming in at 55% higher than 2010 ratings. NBC/Versus did a terrific job for the most part I thought, my only complaint was when the Manhattan was about to run they didn’t show the field coming onto the track and warming up.

Except for Drosselmeyer’s finishing time of 2:31.57 in 2010, Ruler On Ice posted the slowest running of the Belmont Stakes since 2000, further confirming many people’s belief that this is indeed a very weak crop of runners. I disagree, I think it’s just an average crop that is unusually competitive and you can’t argue that Shackleford and Animal Kingdom haven’t been consistent.

So all in all an exciting and invigorating Triple Crown run this year that kept us all guessing and on our toes. The Belmont was a complete miss for me and sadly I was going to choose Stay Thirsty as my Belmont win pick early last week but decided against it but he proved he is very game. He either likes the wet conditions or moved forward in a big way from his horrible Kentucky Derby finish.

There was one thing I was right on the money with in the Belmont Stakes; Isn’t He Perfect finished dead last.

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2 Responses to “Belmont Stakes Wrap-Up: The Icing on the Cake”

  1. Hannah said

    You really must introduce me to the nice people who had you over to watch the Belmont. 😉 I’d love to join them at the next Belmont Bash. It was a lot of fun watching the races this year, but I wish I had gone with my gut and picked Ruler On Ice. I really didn’t believe Shackleford could pull off the longer distance, but I made the choice to stick with him anyway. Oh well, maybe next time.

    • You’d probably like them but you have to have a competitive streak to survive! 😉 It was very fun, I had a blast, a “Belmont Blast”!
      I kick myself after races all the time when I second guess but at least you were loyal and stuck with Shackleford, that counts for something. Plus I’m betting Shackleford will be better than Ruler On Ice down the road (I hope).

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