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Jun 10, 2011

Animal Kingdom and Shackleford meet in Belmont Stakes



Elmont, NY (Sports Network) - Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness Stakes champ Shackleford headline a field of 12 three-year-olds in Saturday's $1 million Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. The 1 1/2-mile Test of Champions is the final leg of racing's Triple Crown.

The 143rd Belmont Stakes will be just the 22nd time that the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown will meet in the final race of the historic series. The last time was in 2005 when Preakness winner Afleet Alex won while Derby champ Giacomo was seventh.

In the morning-line Animal Kingdom is the 2-1 favorite with Shackleford at 9-2 and Nehro the 4-1 second choice.

Animal Kingdom, trained by Graham Motion, will again be ridden by John Velazquez with the pair starting from post nine. A winner of three of his six career starts, Animal Kingdom has banked $1,938,700.

"It certainly makes me feel a lot better," Motion said about having the New York based jockey in the saddle. "I don't know, realistically, how much difference it really makes, but I have to think it does. This is his home track, and he's won the race. It's a very quirky race and a very quirky track to run 1 1/2-miles. I have to think it helps us."

Velazquez won the Belmont Stakes four years ago aboard the filly Rags to Riches.

Owned by Team Valor International, Animal Kingdom posted a 2 3/4-length victory at Churchill Downs in the Run for the Roses, but missed taking the Preakness by only a half-length to Shackleford two weeks later at Pimlico.

"We are excited for the Belmont. You gotta be here," said assistant trainer David Rock. "If you are doing good you're here. Unfortunately we didn't win the last one, but we're looking forward to a rematch."

Owned by Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge, Shackleford will break from the far outside post with Jesus Castanon returning to ride. Trained by Dale Romans, the colt has won three of seven career starts for $1,471,666.

"I am excited he's doing so well," Romans noted, "and coming into the race the right way. I think he's going to be very competitive. It's fun to get a rivalry started (with Animal Kingdom). It's good for racing."

In the Kentucky Derby, the chestnut colt finished fourth after setting most of the pace. He set the pace in the Florida Derby when he finished just a head behind Dialed In and was a distant fifth to Soldat in the Fountain of Youth.

Last year Romans had First Dude in the 1 1/2-mile race. The colt set the pace, but faded to third.

"I think Shackleford's got a little more turn of foot than First Dude had," the trainer said. "First Dude was a little more of a grinder. Even though he showed speed in going to the lead, he was more of a grinder. You had to make him do it a lot more than this horse. Shackleford is more responsive when the jockey asks him."

Returning from a five week break is Nehro, second in the Run for the Roses. Held out of the Preakness by owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Steve Asmussen, the colt will be ridden by Corey Nakatani from post six.

"My horse, I felt that I needed to give him the time to set him up right for this race and for the whole year," Zayat said about skipping the Preakness.

Since breaking his maiden in February at Oaklawn Park, Nehro has finished second in three straight races. He lost by a neck to Pants On Fire in the Louisiana Derby and came back three weeks later to be runner-up to Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby, again beaten a neck.

"I don't want to sound arrogant, because I'm not," Zayat noted, "but we're very confident that he is going to the race the way you want to see a horse going to race, happy, sound, training well, carrying nice flesh, having the right mental attitude."

Despite just the one win in six career starts, the three-year-old has earned $825,140.

Here is the full field for the Belmont Stakes in post position order: Master of Hounds, 10-1, Garrett Gomez; Stay Thirsty, 20-1, Javier Castellano; Ruler On Ice, 20-1, Jose Valdivia, Jr.; Santiva, 15-1, Shaun Bridgmohan; Brilliant Speed, 15-1, Joel Rosario; Nehro, 4-1, Corey Nakatani; Monzon, 30-1, Jose Lezcano; Prime Cut, 15-1, Edgar Prado; Animal Kingdom, 2-1, John Velazquez; Mucho Macho Man, 10-1, Ramon Dominguez; Isn't He Perfect, 30-1, Rajiv Maragh and Shackleford, 9-2, Jesus Castanon.

All 12 horses will carry 126 pounds.

Post-time for the third jewel in the Triple Crown is 6:35 p.m. (et) and will be broadcast by NBC Sports.

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