Updated on 05/29/2011 7:57AM

Belmont Stakes: Animal Kingdom vs. Shackleford rematch far from certain

Barbara D. Livingston
Animal Kingdom, shown prior to the Preakness, jogged Thursday morning at the Fair Hill training center.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The rematch is on – maybe.

While trainer Graham Motion said Thursday from his Fair Hill Training Center base in northeastern Maryland that he would like to run Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom back in the Belmont Stakes, neither he nor Dale Romans, trainer of Preakness winner Shackleford, is ready to commit to the third leg of the Triple Crown on June 11 at Belmont Park in New York.

Motion said he is very pleased with how Animal Kingdom came out of his half-length defeat to Shackleford last Saturday in the Preakness at Pimlico. “He looks great,” Motion said.

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Romans said Thursday at Churchill Downs that he is unsure whether he will run Shackleford back in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont primarily because of the toll the race might take on the colt’s campaign for the second half of the year.

“If you put all these races in a vacuum, yeah, I’d almost run for sure, but you’re talking about three really tough races in five weeks, something we don’t normally do,” said Romans. “You’ve got the rest of the year to think about – the Haskell, the Travers, the Breeders’ Cup.

I’m not saying we will run or won’t run. I’m going to give it a little more time.”

Romans, who returned to Churchill after staying behind in Maryland to attend the Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic sale Monday and Tuesday, added: “We’re going to ship him up to New York over the next couple of days and act as if we’re running, although that doesn’t mean we will. It doesn’t really matter to me who else is running. I’m just focusing on my horse.”

Motion has said that, if only for the sake of the sport, he hopes fans can witness a rematch of the Derby and Preakness winners. The last time that happened was 2005, when Preakness winner Afleet Alex easily prevailed while Derby winner Giacomo ran seventh.

“I really hope so,” Motion said when asked about running in the Belmont. “I’d like to be there.”

Animal Kingdom jogged in the shed row Wednesday and then jogged over the dirt surface Thursday morning at Fair Hill.

“Knock on wood, everything’s good. I’ll probably just jog him through the weekend,” said Motion.

Motion said that Animal Kingdom left some of his feed Saturday night, but that was to be expected after having run and shipped twice in the same day. But since then, Animal Kingdom has been eating well.

“We’re feeding him a little more than before the Preakness,” Motion said. Motion has previously stated that if Animal Kingdom does run in the Belmont, the colt would ship to New York in time to do some training over the 1 1/2-mile main track.

With or without the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown, the Belmont appears as if it will get a large field for its 143rd running. Clearly the most compelling possibility after Animal Kingdom and Shackleford is Nehro, the Derby runner-up who remains stabled at Churchill. Trainer Steve Asmussen told Churchill officials he intends to work the colt here early Monday before proceeding with his Belmont plans.

Two other Belmont candidates also are at Churchill: Santiva, sixth in the Derby, and Prime Cut, third in the recent Peter Pan at Belmont. Trainer Eddie Kenneally said he intended to give Santiva his second post-Derby work Friday or Saturday, depending on weather, while Neil Howard said Prime Cut is “just possible” to run after breezing an easy half-mile here Wednesday morning in 50.20 seconds.

“We want to wait a little while and maybe see what everybody else is doing,” said Howard.

Other prospects for the Belmont, which would have a maximum field of 16, include Mucho Macho Man, third in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness; Master of Hounds, fifth in the Derby; Brilliant Speed, seventh in the Derby; Stay Thirsty, 12th in the Derby; and Alternation, winner of the Peter Pan. Another half-dozen or so lesser accomplished horses also are under consideration for the race.

This is the third straight year that no Triple Crown will be on the line in the Belmont. Starting in 1997, there were seven failed attempts during a 12-year span, with the last bid coming from Big Brown in 2008.

– additional reporting by David Grening