Winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness will battle Saturday in the 143rd Belmont Stakes for the first time in six years. In 2005 Preakness champ Afleet Alex triumphed while Derby upsetter Giacomo finished seventh.
Animal Kingdom, the 2 ¾-length winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby under jockey John Velazquez, is attempting to become the 12th horse in history to complete the Derby-Belmont double. The feat was last accomplished in ’95 when Thunder Gulch won en route to being crowned that year’s champion 3-year-old colt. Animal Kingdom is the morning line 2-1 favorite and breaks from post 9. The New York-based Velazquez won the Belmont in ’07 with the filly Rags to Riches.
Shackleford is trying to become the eighth Preakness winner to take the Belmont since Damascus in ’67. In 21 previous meetings the Preakness winner triumphed 10 times while the Derby champ prevailed five times. New York oddsmaker Eric Donovan said he considered making Shackleford the second choice off his half-length defeat of Animal Kingdom in the Preakness. But Donovan said he opted for Nehro as second choice because of questions about Shackleford carrying his speed 1 ½ miles. I agree and don’t expect him to hit the board.
Derby runner-up Nehro, who breaks from post 6, is 4-1, while Shackleford, fourth after setting the pace at Churchill Downs, breaks from the outside 12 post and is the early third choice at 9-2.
Eight of the dozen entries in the Belmont ran in the Derby. For the first time in history, the top seven finishers will contest the Belmont. The other Derby runners include Mucho Macho Man, third; Irish invader Master of Hounds, fifth; Santiva, sixth, Brilliant Speed, seventh; and Stay Thirsty, 12th.
The largest field to compete in the third leg of the Triple Crown was 15 in ’83 when Caveat defeated Slew O’ Gold by 3 1/2 lengths. The second largest field was 14 quite a few decades apart: In 1875 Calvin beat Aristides, a stablemate who that year captured the inaugural edition of the Kentucky Derby, while in 1996 Editor’s Note was a length winner over Skip Away.
Mucho Macho Man might step up, but has had bad luck with shoes. He gets new ones — a set of synthetic glue-ons — after losing his left front shoe in the Louisiana Derby and a right front shoe in the Preakness. He’s worth including in exotics at 10-1. So is Brilliant Speed, one of the best bred for distance, at 15-1.
Nehro, 4-1, could finish second for the fourth straight time. I’m forced to use him underneath in trifectas.
Ah, but my main horse is Animal Kingdom, the only runner that has a pair of triple digit speed figures in his last two trips. Remember he’s lightly raced: 3-3-0 of 6. I plan to key Animal Kingdom in exactas and trifectas and hope Mucho Macho Man and Brilliant Speed finish in the money. Saver bets will include win wagers on both longshots.