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Jun 10, 2011

Step up for the Test of Champions

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One more race remains in thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown. A dozen horses have been entered for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park.

Of the 12 three-year-olds, only three have started in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Preakness champ Shackleford and Mucho Macho Man are the lone horses to step up for each race.

"We think we have the best horse in the country. We just need to prove it, and hope Saturday we'll do that," said Dean Reeves, co-owner of Mucho Macho Man.

Mucho Macho Man is coming out of a sixth-place finish in the Preakness after finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. The colt lost a shoe in both races, which may or may not be significant.

Trained by Kathy Ritvo, Mucho Macho Man will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez after having Rajiv Maragh in the saddle the last four starts. The colt will break from post 10, immediately to the outside of Animal Kingdom.

The Run for the Roses champ is expected to be running late in the 10-furlong test. He was running late to win the Derby and nearly caught Shackleford two weeks later.

"It's going to be a tactical race, no doubt about it," said the colt's trainer Graham Motion. "I think these two horses coming down the stretch would be the ultimate. It would validate the other two races and start a rivalry. It's great for this race. It's a test of champions."

John Velazquez will again be riding Animal Kingdom, two spots from Shackleford who drew the far outside post with jockey Jesus Castanon.

"I think in a 1 1/2-mile race like the Belmont, the post position isn't that important," noted trainer Dale Romans. "With post position 12, he'll be the last one in and the first one out. Hopefully, he'll be able to clear the field. He's fast enough that he'll be able to break and clear everyone anyway.

"The biggest part of racing is the Triple Crown. The Belmont is a grueling test, and you have to have a great horse to do it. Shackleford has been training super. Without a Triple Crown on the line, this is going to be one of the most exciting Belmonts I can remember."

The track oddsmaker has made Animal Kingdom the 2-1 favorite followed by Derby runner-up Nehro 4-1. Nehro has been off for five weeks, a luxury Shackleford does not have. The Preakness winner is 9-2 in the program and Mucho Macho Man is 10-1 along with European horse Master of Hounds.

"The reason we're coming here is he really ran well in the Kentucky Derby," said T.J. Comerford, assistant to Master of Hounds trainer Aidan O'Brien.

In the Derby, Master of Hounds went from 15th to fifth, just ahead of Santiva and Brilliant Speed.

"It's the Belmont. I can't see them crawling. It's a big race. It doesn't generally turn into a crawl in races like that," noted Brendan Walsh, assistant to Santiva's trainer Eddie Kenneally,

"We were pleased with his performance in the Kentucky Derby. He got beat five- lengths and was finishing up well," Brilliant Speed's trainer Tom Albertrani said. "He's fresh, and he runs well fresh. We're enthusiastic about bringing him here for a 1 1/2-mile race, considering his pedigree, and we thought we'd give it a shot with him on the dirt. There's always a question how he'll handle the surface, but I'm pretty optimistic."

Those are the seven top finishers from this year's Run for the Roses. They are the best seven in the race. Of the remaining five just Isn't He Perfect ran in the Preakness and finished ninth in the 14 horse field.

Prime Cut, third in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont, has drawn post eight with Edgar Prado riding. He is expected to press the pace in what his assistant trainer Ricky Giannini says is a race devoid of a lot of speed.

"When you look at the race, there isn't a lot of speed in there except Shackleford; we would possibly be sitting second," Giannini noted. "I don't see that aggressive a pace where he's going to get tired and not have anything left at the end. We opted for the Peter Pan instead of the Preakness in anticipation of the Belmont. We think he's more suited to the two turns than a one-turn, 1 1/8-mile race. We saw Drosselmeyer had some success in the Peter Pan last year and won the Belmont."

The 143rd Belmont Stakes is truly a wide open affair. Betting the race must include Animal Kingdom and Shackleford. After those two horses it's a guess who should be involved in the finish.



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