06/07/2011 5:39PM

Belmont Stakes 2011: Shackleford vs. Animal Kingdom, the rubber match

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In Saturday’s Delaware Handicap, Blind Luck (left) edged out Havre de Grace by a nose in the sixth chapter of their intertwined racing careers. But, how do their rivalries stack up to some of the great ones in racing history? In the six races in which they both competed, the two horses have finished next to each other each time. Blind Luck has won three times, while Havre de Grace has twice. The other race, the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, Blind Luck and Havre de Grace finished second and third respectively. Only once has more than a length separated the two horses. Check out the rest of DRF’s Racing Rivalry gallery and judge for yourself – see where this modern rivalry ranks among some of the great in the sport’s history.

"I'm not worried about Shackleford. I'm worried about Mucho Macho Man. He's the horse to beat." -- Barry Irwin, Animal Kingdom owner.

"I'll meet him anywhere, on any track, at any distance." -- Dale Romans, Shackleford trainer.

Those words were said a mere four days before the 2011 Belmont Stakes, which will be headlined by the much-anticipated Round 3 between the winners of this year's Kentucky Derby (Animal Kingdom) and Preakness Stakes (Shackleford). Also in the mix is formidable Mucho Macho Man (third in Derby, sixth in Preakness) and Derby runner-up Nehro. To say the least, it's a stacked field: For the first time in history, the top seven finishers from the Kentucky Derby will race in the Belmont Stakes.

The Shackleford-Animal Kingdom rubber match is taking most of the attention -- Romans walked over to Irwin and stated, "I want you!" in his best Apollo Creed impersonation in front of the assembled national media on Tuesday in New York City -- and deservedly so. Animal Kingdom passed frontrunner Shackleford in the Derby only to fall painfully short down the stretch in the Preakness. The Triple Crown bid lost, at least we have the next-best thing: The rematch between the Derby and Preakness winners, the first since 2005 and only the 16th time since 1950. DRF's Steven Crist notes that the Eclipse Award could be on the line as well.

According to DRF executive columnist Jay Hovdey, this Belmont ranks as a solid Level 5 (Level 1 being "Code Secretariat") in the Belmont excitement meter: "Level 5 – Different winners of Derby and Preakness, having swapped tough decisions, use the Belmont to settle the score." Belmont Stakes rematches of the past have echoed the 2011 showdown

As for how the Belmont shapes up, Animal Kingdom advocates believe the extra distance will be the equalizer, much like it was in the Derby. But Shackleford's connections disagree. "Even if the Preakness were longer, they weren't going to catch us," Romans said.

Retired jockey Richard Migliore, a New York racing legend, also likes what he saw out of Shackleford down the stretch in the Preakness.

For video of the most memorable Derby-Preakness winner showdowns in the Belmont, see below:

Belmont Stakes video: Derby-Preakness winner showdowns

Latest Belmont Stakes 2011 news

Steven Crist's pick: Look past favorite in Belmont Stakes
Master of Hounds was fifth in the Derby, beaten 5 1/2 lengths. He and Animal Kingdom were both making their first starts on a dirt track, but while Animal Kingdom was in the clear on the outside throughout the race, Master of Hounds was stuck inside most of the way and took a lot longer to hit his best stride. He ran the same final quarter-mile time as Animal Kingdom, seeming to show real interest when he finally saw some daylight.

Animal Kingdom's roller coaster comes to last stop
The last stop on Motion’s Triple Crown odyssey is Belmont Park for Saturday’s 143rd Belmont Stakes, in which Animal Kingdom will be favored to win the race. To do so, though, he will have to beat Shackleford and 10 other 3-year-olds, including Derby runner-up Nehro, Irish invader Master of Hounds, and Triple Crown road warrior Mucho Macho Man.

Nehro gives Nakatani his third Belmont Stakes mount
ELMONT, N.Y. – When Corey Nakatani rides Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, it will be just his third mount in the third leg of the Triple Crown. The others were Green Alligator, who finished 10th in 1991, and Buckle Down Ben, who finished seventh in 2001.

Belmont Stakes jockeys appear on Howard Stern's show
Jockeys Ramon Dominguez and Jesus Castanon, both of whom will ride in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, appeared on Howard Stern’s immensely popular satellite radio show Wednesday, in a 15-minute segment laced with profanity that included frank discussions about weight management, rider’s earnings, and racetrack groupies.

Belmont Stakes: Prado aims to join elite group with third win
ELMONT, N.Y. – If Edgar Prado is able to pull off another upset in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, not only will it make him just the 10th rider to win this race at least three times, but he may actually be able to enjoy the victory. In his previous two Belmont Stakes successes – in 2002 aboard Sarava and 2004 on Birdstone – Prado wore the proverbial black hat, denying the Triple Crown bids of War Emblem and Smarty Jones, respectively. On Saturday, when there is not a Triple Crown on the line, Prado will ride 15-1 shot Prime Cut, who comes out of a third-place finish in the Peter Pan Stakes here May 14.

At Belmont, Velazquez has big edge in experience
Over his 20-year-career, John Velazquez has amassed 1,501 of his 4,577 career victories at Belmont Park, where he also has won seven meet riding titles. (Because of insufficient records, it is unknown where Velazquez ranks in terms of wins at Belmont.) Perhaps that experience will give Velazquez an edge over Jesus Castanon when the two square off in Saturday’s $1 million Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown. Velazquez, 39, will ride Animal Kingdom, the Kentucky Derby winner, and Castanon, 38, will ride Shackleford, the Preakness winner. Castanon is 5 for 41 at Belmont, and all five wins came in the summer of 2009, when he rode here for about three weeks.

Quiet man Jesus Castanon waits his turn, pays his dues to reach elite status
After more than two decades of watching other jockeys prosper on the kind of horses he always believed he could win on, Castanon finally saw his perseverance pay off when he guided Shackleford to victory in the May 21 Preakness at Pimlico. And when the 143rd Belmont Stakes is run Saturday in New York, Castanon, 38, a native of Mexico City, could be a pivotal figure once again when Shackleford will be the horse to catch.

Dick Jerardi: Animal Kingdom adept at running down speed
Animal Kingdom is the most likely winner of the Belmont Stakes. The colt has raced six times at six tracks on grass, Polytrack, and dirt and never run anything close to a poor race. Those waiting for a bounce very likely will still be waiting after Saturday.

Belmont Stakes latest stop on Master of Hounds's world tour
ELMONT, N.Y. - Master of Hounds arrived just days before the Kentucky Derby, then left town the day after his fifth-place finish in the race, bound for his home in Ireland, where he has been out of sight in the weeks leading to the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. "He's had fast work twice a week every week," T.J. Comerford, the traveling lad who brought Master of Hounds to Kentucky and then here to New York, said Wednesday morning at Belmont Park. "It's the same schedule he had for the Kentucky Derby. He came out of it well. And we think the distance of the Belmont will suit him."

First seven Kentucky Derby finishers load up for Belmont
Animal Kingdom, Nehro, Mucho Macho Man, Shackleford, Master of Hounds, Santiva, and Brilliant Speed were the first seven across the wire in the Kentucky Derby on May 7, and if all come back, as now scheduled, on June 11 in the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, it will mark the first time ever that the first seven finishers in the Derby also competed in the Belmont Stakes.

Belmont Stakes: Brilliant Speed works half-mile
Blue Grass Stakes winner Brilliant Speed, seventh in the Kentucky Derby in his last start, tuned up for Saturday's Belmont Stakes by working a half-mile in 50.59 seconds on Tuesday morning at Belmont Park.

Animal Kingdom, Nehro work out for Belmont
Animal Kingdom was first in the Kentucky Derby, then second in the Preakness Stakes, and judging by the way he worked and looked on Monday morning here at Belmont Park, he has retained all his edge and fitness heading into the 143rd Belmont Stakes on Saturday. Nehro, the runner-up in the Derby, also worked here on Monday, and at Churchill Downs, Prime Cut turned in his final drill for the Belmont. A large field, numbering 12 or 13, is expected to be entered on Wednesday morning for the final leg of the Triple Crown, but the best selling point of this race is a showdown between Animal Kingdom and the Preakness winner, Shackleford, the acknowledged leaders of the 3-year-old male division.

Steven Crist: 6 furlongs + 6 furlongs = The Belmont
What was so magnificent about Secretariat's unapproached clocking of 2:24 while winning the 1973 Belmont and Triple Crown was not just the final time itslef but that he did it after running the first six furlongs in a blistering 1:09 4/5. The second-fastest opening six furlongs by a Belmont winner in the last 40 years was Bold Forbes's 1:11 1/5 in 1976 -- and it then took him 1:17 4/5 (and every ounce of Angel Cordero's skill and pleading) to get him home first under the wire.

Mucho Macho Man works over Belmont main track
Jockey Ramon Dominguez on Sunday morning got acquainted with his mount for next Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, working Mucho Macho Man a solid five furlongs in 59.57 seconds over the Belmont main track. It was the first time Dominguez was aboard Mucho Macho Man, who had been ridden to a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and a sixth-place finish in the Preakness by Rajiv Maragh.

Dave Litfin: In Belmont Stakes, pace is key to victory
So what’s the best way to win the Belmont? Whether a Triple Crown is on the line or not, pace strategy and tactics are usually a key element of the Test of the Champion. This is especially true when prospective contenders have contrasting running styles, as will be the case if Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, and Nehro all make the race.

Graham Motion, Dale Romans defend 3-year-old class of 2011
"I’ve been saying all along that this is the better crop than the press has been giving them credit for," said Dale Romans, trainer of Shackleford. "You all do this every year. Sometimes you’re right, but sometimes you're not. I think history will show that this is a lot better class than it’s been getting credit for."

SETTLING THE SCORE
In the 21 times the Kentucky Derby winner has faced the Preakness winner in the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness winner has won 10 times and the Derby winner 5.

YEAR KENTUCKY DERBY PREAKNESS STAKES BELMONT STAKES
2005 Giacomo 1st Afleet Alex 1st Afleet Alex 1st
  Afleet Alex 3rd Giacomo 3rd Giacomo 7th
2001 Monarchos 1st Point Given 1st Point Given 1st
  Point Given 5th Monarchos 6th Monarchos 3rd
1994 Go for Gin 1st Tabasco Cat 1st Tabasco Cat 1st
  Tasbasco Cat 6th Go for Gin 2nd Go for Gin 2nd
1993 Sea Hero 1st Prairie Bayou 1st Sea Hero 7th
  Prairie Bayou 2nd Sea Hero 5th Prairie Bayou DNF
1991 Strike the Gold 1st Hansel 1st Hansel 1st
  Hansel 10th Strike the Gold 6th Strike the Gold 2nd
1988 Winning Colors 1st Risen Star 1st Risen Star 1st
  Risen Star 3rd Winning Colors 3rd Winning Colors 6th
1984 Swale 1st Gate Dancer 1st Swale 1st
  Gate Dancer 4th (DQ to 5th) Swale 7th Gate Dancer 6th
1982 Gato Del Sol 1st Aloma’s Ruler 1st Gato Del Sol 2nd
  Aloma’s Ruler (did not run) Gate Del Sol (did not run) Aloma’s Ruler 9th
1980 Genuine Risk 1st Codex 1st Genuine Risk 2nd
  Codex (did not run) Genuine Risk 2nd Codex 7th
1975 Foolish Pleasure 1st Master Derby 1st Foolish Pleasure 2nd
  Master Derby 4th Foolish Pleasure 2nd Master Derby 3rd
1974 Cannonade 1st Little Current 1st Little Current 1st
  Little Current 5th Cannonade 3rd Cannonade 3rd
1967 Proud Clarion 1st Damascus 1st Damascus 1st
  Damascus 3rd Proud Clarion 3rd Proud Clarion 4th
1963 Chateaugay 1st Candy Spots 1st Chateaugay 1st
  Candy Spots 3rd Chateaugay 2nd Candy Spots 2nd
1962 Decidedly 1st Greek Money 1st Decidedly 4th
  Greek Money (did not run) Decidedly 8th Greek Money 7th
1956 Needles 1st Fabius 1st Needles 1st
  Fabius 2nd Needles 2nd Fabius 3rd
1950 Middleground 1st Hill Prince 1st Middleground 1st
  Hill Prince 2nd Middleground 2nd Hill Prince 7th
1949 Ponder 1st Capot 1st Capot 1st
  Capot 2nd Ponder 5th Ponder 2nd
1942 Shut Out 1st Alsab 1st Shut Out 1st
  Alsab 2nd Shut Out 5th Alsab 2nd
1940 Gallahadion 1st Bimelech 1st Bimelech 1st
  Bimelech 2nd Gallahadion 3rd Gallahadion 5th
1877 Baden-Baden 1st Cloverbrook 1st Cloverbrook 1st
  Cloverbrook (did not run) Baden-Baden (did not run) Baden-Baden 3rd
1875 Aristides 1st Tom Ochiltree 1st Aristides 2nd
  Tom Ochiltree (did not run) Aristides (did not run) Tom Ochiltree 7th