The sensational chestnut Preakness winner will be taking to the track at Belmont in front of thousands this Memorial Day. No, the 2012 Belmont Stakes didn’t get moved up a few weeks, but this weekend’s line-up will rival that of the June 9 race card.
Shackleford comes fresh off a thrilling stretch run in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G2) on Derby Day, where he defeated Amazombie by a length. Shackleford will hit the Belmont dirt Monday but this Preakness champ will not have a Triple Crown on the line, and instead will face a small but classy field of horses for the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile. This will be another New York rematch for the trio of Jackson Bend, Caleb’s Posse, and Shackleford; they hit the board in that order in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct earlier this year. Jackson Bend won by a nose, and perhaps Nick Zito feels he may have found his distance niche in the 7-8 furlong range, after he finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2011.
To Honor and Serve throws his hat into the ring as well for this race. He has posted two big wins this year, one in the Cigar Mile (G1) and most recently, an emphatic 5 length win at Belmont in the Westchester Stakes (G3). The Met Mile is often a key race in determining the top contenders for the older male divisional honors and this year has already shaped up to be a very competitive one for that group.
Two graded races for sophomore fillies are also featured on Monday’s race card. In the Sands Point Stakes (G2) on the turf, Somali Lemonade will be switching riders from Alex Solis to John Velazquez after finishing second in the Grade 3 Appalachian at Keeneland in April.
Later on the Acorn Stakes (G1) will showcase Bob Baffert’s filly Contested, who won last time out in Churchill Downs’ Eight Belles Stakes (G3). Meanwhile, On Fire Baby and Sacristy look to improve their form after finishing 5th and 7th, respectively, in the Kentucky Oaks.
Turning to the older females, the Ogden Phipps Handicap offers Grade 1 action for ladies at 1 1/16 miles. It’s Tricky was last year’s Acorn Stakes winner and even during her 3-year-old season It’s Tricky showed she can hang with the big girls when she finished second in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. But she will face the 2011 Ogden Phipps winner Awesome Maria, and the veteran and reigning champion rolls into Belmont Park off a six race win streak. Out of Maria’s Mon, this half sister to Monarchos was on an eight month layoff until February, but after she crushed the 2011 Breeder’s Cup Ladies Classic winner Royal Delta by eight lengths at Gulfstream Park, Awesome Maria looks better than ever.