Updated on 06/14/2011 1:26PM

Belmont Stakes: Ruler On Ice surprises at 24-1; Shackleford fifth, Animal Kingdom sixth

Barbara D. Livingston
Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. celebrates after Ruler On Ice wins the Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. – In a Triple Crown punctuated by surprises, Ruler On Ice scored the biggest shocker in the series, holding on for a 24-1 upset as the 2011 Triple Crown came to a close in the 143rd Belmont Stakes before 55,779 on Saturday at Belmont Park.

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The race was over at the start for 5-2 favorite Animal Kingdom, winner of the Kentucky Derby at 20-1. He clipped heels and stumbled badly, causing jockey John Velazquez to temporarily lose his irons. Though he made a gallant effort on the far turn to get back in the race, Animal Kingdom understandably lost his punch late and finished sixth.

“It was remarkable Johnny stayed on,” said Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom’s trainer.

Shackleford, who won the Preakness as a 12-1 shot, set the pace in the Belmont, but tired to finish fifth.

Instead, a trio of longshots were the first three across the wire. Ruler On Ice beat Stay Thirsty, a 16-1 shot, by three-quarters of a length, and Brilliant Speed, who went off at 10-1, was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Nehro, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, was fourth. After Shackleford and Animal Kingdom came Mucho Macho Man, Santiva, Monzon, Master of Hounds, Prime Cut, and Isn’t He Perfect.

The first three finishers were three of the five Belmont horses who used bends on their hind shoes for improved traction on the sloppy track. The others who wore bends were Master of Hounds and Isn’t He Perfect.

Besides being the last Triple Crown race, the Belmont also is the longest. Ruler On Ice ($51.50), ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., completed 1 1/2 miles on a track rated sloppy in 2:30.88. It rained in the area beginning late Friday night, and there was a light, but steady, rain for most of the day Saturday.

Ruler On Ice, a gelding by the sire Roman Ruler, earned a first prize of $600,000 from the purse of $1 million for his owners, George and Lori Hall, who employ Kelly Breen as their private trainer. George Hall, 50, is a hedge fund manager – Clinton Group Inc. – who lives in New Jersey.

The Brooklyn-Belmont double, combining Birdrun, winner of the Brooklyn Handicap on Friday, with Ruler On Ice, paid $434. The Belmont exacta paid $928, the trifecta returned $8,268, and the superfecta paid $74,052.

From a parimutuel aspect, though, the most significant development was that Ruler On Ice’s victory caused a three-day pick-six carryover of more than $1.13 million when racing resumes here Wednesday. There is no racing Sunday.

Ruler On Ice had raced six times previously, just twice in stakes races. He was third in the Sunland Derby on March 27 and second in the Federico Tesio on May 7 at Pimlico. His only two previous wins were against maidens at Delaware on a sloppy track in October and in a first-level allowance at Parx Racing in February.

Ruler On Ice was one of 22 horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, but he was at the bottom of the list in terms of graded stakes earnings, and thus was excluded from the 20-horse field. The Halls and Breen still were represented in the Derby by Pants On Fire.

Instead of running in the Derby, Ruler On Ice on Derby Day raced in the Tesio Stakes at Pimlico, where he finished second.

He was off for five weeks coming into the Belmont, for which he added blinkers.

“It was Kelly’s idea to try the blinkers,” said Valdivia, who was winning his first Triple Crown race. “He had been hanging a little bit in his races. He loved the slop, blinkers, and a mile and half. New York, the Test of the Champion. Nothing like it.”

Ruler On Ice was feisty in the post parade, when first coming onto the track, and was still a handful after the race when being led into the winner’s circle.

“He’s a little nutty,” Breen said.

But he behaved himself in the Belmont. Ruler On Ice sat second during the early going, just a couple lengths behind Shackleford, who set fractions of 23.92 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 49.08 for a half-mile, 1:14.51 for six furlongs, 1:39.95 for one mile, and 2:05.09 for 1 1/4 miles.

After Ruler On Ice took the lead at midstretch, he put his ears up, frightening Valdivia.

“I said, ‘Don’t go pulling up now,’ ” Valdivia said.

Stay Thirsty, rallying up the rail, and Brilliant Speed, in the center of the track, made bids, but Ruler On Ice stayed on resolutely.

Animal Kingdom, officially 14 1/2 lengths behind after a quarter-mile and 13 1/2 lengths behind after a half-mile, launched a powerful rally in the middle of the track on the far turn and got as close as fifth at the top of the stretch, but his early troubles proved insurmountable.

“He broke okay, but the other horses came in, he clipped heels, and I lost my iron,” Velazquez said. “He dropped too far back. I had no chance after that, no chance. I knew I was done.”

The meeting between Animal Kingdom and Shackleford marked the first match between the winners of the Derby and Preakness in the Belmont since 2005. Animal Kingdom won the Derby and then was second in the Preakness, while Shackleford finished fourth in the Derby before his victory in the Preakness.

This Belmont also marked the first to feature the first seven finishers of the Derby. Eight of the 12 Belmont runners ran in the Derby. But in the end, it was a Triple Crown newcomer who put a coda on this most unpredictable of a Triple Crown series.