06/13/2011 2:51PM

Triple Crown's big three likely to cross paths again

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Justin N. Lane
Ruler On Ice, with Jose Valdivia up, wins the Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The upset victory by Ruler On Ice in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park completed a Triple Crown series in which three different horses won the three classics, leaving the 3-year-old male division still without a clear-cut leader, a position it has been in since the Wood Memorial on April 9, when 2-year-old champ Uncle Mo lost for the first time.

But as of Monday, there was a good possibility Ruler On Ice, Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, and Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford would settle things on the racetrack in upcoming months. The most significant development coming out of the Belmont was a change in summer plans for Animal Kingdom, who was likely to point for grass races this summer before becoming the latest tourist to get mugged in New York.

However, after his sixth-place finish following a disastrous start in the Belmont – where he was bumped and clipped heels – Animal Kingdom will be pointed for races like the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational on July 31 at Monmouth Park, and the Grade 1, $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 27, which also are under consideration for Ruler On Ice and Shackleford.

“We were hoping for a good finish in the Belmont Stakes, after which we would use the Arlington Million or Secretariat Stakes as the first stepping-stone toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” Barry Irwin, the president of the Team Valor International syndicate that owns Animal Kingdom, said Monday morning. “Our goal has been to run the colt where he would have the best chance to be voted an Eclipse Award. Doing well in the Belmont would have made it a whole lot easier.

“So now we have to have a rethink,” Irwin added, saying he will speak to trainer Graham Motion “at the end of the week and we will formulate a new plan.”

“Now I think we have to strongly consider the Haskell or the Travers because of how they figure to impact Eclipse Award balloting,” Irwin said.

Animal Kingdom returned to Motion’s barn at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland on Sunday morning. Motion said Animal Kingdom was “pretty stiff to be honest, which is not totally surprising.”

By contrast, Ruler On Ice came out of the Belmont in terrific shape, “as if he didn’t even run,” trainer Kelly Breen said.

Ruler On Ice got a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 for his Belmont victory. He returned to Breen’s Monmouth Park barn immediately following the Belmont. Breen said no concrete plans have been made for Ruler On Ice, though the Haskell is an obvious target for a horse based at Monmouth. Breen, however, has another potential Haskell starter in Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire, who most recently finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby.

Breen has trained privately for owners George and Lori Hall since 2007. He said he would meet with the Halls before coming up with a definitive plan.

“The people over there in New York were so gracious and everything,” Breen said. “Right away, George said he’d love to see this horse running in the Travers.”

The win by Ruler On Ice, who was purchased as a yearling for $100,000, was the biggest yet for Breen and the Halls, who run one of the most fiscally prudent operations in the sport. They consistently come up with stakes-class runners, and are not opposed to selling for a significant profit when the opportunity presents itself. This year, in addition to Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire, they also had Sweet Ducky, whom they sold in March to Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya. Two years ago, they sold Atomic Rain and West Side Bernie to Godolphin Racing Inc.

Shackleford, who finished fifth in the Belmont after winning the Preakness, has the Haskell on his agenda.

“He looks fine,” his trainer, Dale Romans, said Sunday morning. “We’re going to point to the Haskell.”

The Haskell is run the day after the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga, which is that track’s major prep for the Travers. Stay Thirsty, who finished second in the Belmont, and Brilliant Speed, who was third, are both headed to Saratoga, their trainers said.

“The Jim Dandy and Travers would be the most likely scenario,” said Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Stay Thirsty.

Pletcher was happy Stay Thirsty outran his 16-1 odds, but disappointed he did not win the race.

“When you get to the eighth pole and you’re in the thick of things and got a real shot to win it, it alters your expectations,” he said. “But, at the end of the day he ran very well and it justified our placement of him ambitiously in some of these spots. At the same time we’re not big on consolation prizes.”

Brilliant Speed was one of the few horses in the Belmont to make up any appreciable ground over a surface that seemed kind to front-runners.

“I was hoping to be a little closer early on,” said Tom Albertrani, who trains Brilliant Speed. “Six wide didn’t help either. Going around that turn there – it’s a big old turn – you’re losing even more ground. Overall he ran well. I was very happy with the way he ran. It gives us some hope for the Travers.

“Speed was holding,” Albertrani added. “Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty had a little something when he got on even terms with them.”

Brilliant Speed won the Blue Grass on Polytrack in April, then finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby in his race before the Belmont.

“I think we’re going to keep him to the dirt,” Albertrani said. “The way he ran his last two races, I think we saw that he gets a hold of it.”

Nehro, who finished fourth in the Belmont after running second in the Derby, came out of the race with small chip in his right front ankle and will have surgery in Kentucky on Wednesday, owner Ahmed Zayat reported on Monday.

Nehro on Monday morning was “flying now to Kentucky” from New York, Zayat said, in order to have surgery with Dr. Larry Bramlage on Wednesday morning at the Rood and Riddle equine clinic in Lexington, Ky.

– additional reporting by David Grening