Updated on 06/09/2011 9:52AM

Belmont Stakes: Animal Kingdom looks royal in work

Barbara D. Livingston
Animal Kingdom (left), with John Velazquez riding, works out with a stablemate Monday morning at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. – 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.

BELMONT STAKES: Replays, contenders, and news updates »

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.

“I’m running here because I think if he wins, he’ll be the champion,” Barry Irwin, the president of the Team Valor syndicate that owns Animal Kingdom, said Monday morning.

That and, Irwin stressed, the belief that Animal Kingdom has held up well to the rigors of the Triple Crown.

“To look like that,” Irwin said shortly after Animal Kingdom returned to his temporary home in Barn 49, “is unbelievable.”

Animal Kingdom figures to be the favorite, as he was in the Preakness. On Monday morning, Animal Kingdom was timed by Daily Racing Form working a half-mile in 47.79 seconds, and he continued out strongly, going five furlongs in 1:00.45, and six furlongs in 1:14.20, under jockey John Velazquez.

Owner Barry Irwin discusses Animal Kingdom's training. More video: Animal Kingdom arrives for Belmont »

Belmont Park clockers credited Animal Kingdom with an official time of 47.76 seconds, which was the fastest drill of the morning among 32 at the distance.

“I thought he did it on his own and galloped out strong,” said his trainer, Graham Motion. “He’s taken everything in stride.”

Animal Kingdom worked in company with the claiming horse Corredor Dela Isla, who is also owned by Team Valor. Animal Kingdom started just to the outside of Corredor Dela Isla, and was always going easily throughout.

“He was halfway running off with me,” Velazquez said. “He was very competitive with the other horse inside him. After the work, he galloped out very well. He had me at hello. I didn’t think he’d get that strong going to the pole. I guess he knew a different person was on top of him.”

Indeed, this was the first time Velazquez had ever worked Animal Kingdom. He had been on him just twice previously, in the Derby and Preakness. Velazquez worked him Monday largely because of logistics. Velazquez is based here, and Animal Kingdom got here only over the weekend after training in recent weeks at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland, where an exercise rider would work him.

The work also afforded Animal Kingdom an opportunity to get used to the new surroundings and surface. The Belmont is one lap around Belmont Park’s 1 1/2-mile main track.

“He has natural stamina,” Irwin said. “He should like this more than the Derby.”

Motion said Animal Kingdom would jog on Tuesday, then gallop on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. He said Animal Kingdom would have a gate schooling session one morning, most likely Wednesday.

“The start of the race is in front of the stands, and sometimes horses get skittish, so I think that’s important,” Motion said.

DRF national correspondent Jay Privman looks at the Belmont Stakes picture less than a week out from the race.

Animal Kingdom worked shortly after the mid-morning renovation break. Earlier in the morning, Nehro went a half-mile in 50.85 seconds, according to Daily Racing Form, while working alone. Exercise rider Cesar Garcia was aboard for trainer Steve Asmussen, whose New York-based assistant, Toby Sheets, supervised the drill. Nehro’s fractions were 13.18 seconds for the opening furlong and 25.74 seconds for a quarter-mile. He went out five furlongs in 1:03.97.

Nehro skipped the Preakness, a decision over which owner Ahmed Zayat on Monday morning said he had “no regrets.”

“We’re looking forward,” said Zayat, who was at Belmont for the early morning drill. “We did the right thing by the horse. We want to have a productive 3- and 4-year-old.”

Coming into the race fresh is a strategy being used by Nehro, Master of Hounds (fifth in the Derby), Santiva (sixth), Brilliant Speed (seventh), and Stay Thirsty (12th), all of whom have not run since the Derby.

“It’s common sense that they would have a freshness edge,” Motion said. “If I had one of those horses, I’d feel good about that. But my horse hasn’t given any indication that he’s had enough.”

At Churchill Downs on Monday, Prime Cut, third in the Peter Pan Stakes last month, was timed in 1:01 for five furlongs. Exercise rider Dane Noel was aboard for trainer Neil Howard.

“I’m very, very happy,” Howard said by telephone. “He came home beautifully. It was a nice work, just strong enough. I had him going out in 1:14 and three.”

Prime Cut returned to Churchill Downs immediately after the Peter Pan. He was scheduled to fly from Kentucky to New York on Tuesday morning on a flight that was also expected to include Santiva. Also Tuesday, Master of Hounds was scheduled to arrive from Ireland.

Both Monzon, who is in Maryland, and Ruler On Ice, training at Monmouth Park, are scheduled to be sent in vans the morning of the race.

It was a delightful morning Monday at Belmont Park, but the heat is expected to rise appreciably the next few days before relief arrives just in time for the Belmont Stakes. According to Weather.com, high temperatures in the lower 90’s are forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, but storms on Friday and into Saturday are expected to bring the temperatures to a comfortable 76 degrees on Saturday afternoon. There is, however, a 50-percent chance of scattered thunderstorms on Saturday.

– additional reporting by David Grening