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ANIMAL KINGDOM, SHACKLEFORD MAY RESUME RIVALRY IN THE BELMONT STAKES
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Both horses could meet again in the Belmont Stakes on June 11.While the upset victory by Shackleford in the 136th Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico denied Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom a chance to shoot for the Triple Crown, there is a good chance that the final leg of the Triple Crown, the June 11 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, will feature a showdown between the Derby and Preakness winners, a matchup that has not taken place in the Belmont since 2005.

As of Monday, the connections of both Shackleford and Animal Kingdom said their intentions were to run in the Belmont, which at 1 1/2 miles is the longest of the Triple Crown races. Shackleford was fourth in the Derby before his victory in the Preakness. Animal Kingdom finished second in the Preakness after winning the Derby. Should either win the Belmont, they would become the early divisional leader for champion 3-year-old male.

There has not been a Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line since Big Brown in 2008. The last time the winners of the Derby and Preakness met in the Belmont was 2005, when Giacomo won the Derby, and Afleet Alex the Preakness. Afleet Alex won the Belmont, and that helped propel him to the Eclipse Award.

“The next best thing to a horse going for the Triple Crown would be to have those two horses meet again,” Graham Motion, trainer of Animal Kingdom, said of the budding rivalry with Shackleford. “It would be a cool thing for everybody. I think they’re two very good horses.”

Both Shackleford and Animal Kingdom returned to neutral corners following the Preakness bout. Dale Romans, trainer of Shackleford, on Saturday night contemplated sending Shackleford straight to Belmont Park, where he has a division this spring, but he re-considered by Sunday morning and instead had Shackleford flown back to Kentucky, where Romans is based at Churchill Downs.

Animal Kingdom returned Saturday night to the Fair Hill training center in Maryland, where he had been based with Motion following the Derby.

The chances of Shackleford running in the Belmont are “better than 50-50,” Romans said Sunday morning at Pimlico.

“I think it would be great if we could develop a little bit of a rivalry in the 3-year-old division,” Romans said. “I think these 3-year-olds are better than most people realize.”

Animal Kingdom closed from 13th to second in the Preakness, in only his second start on dirt. The faster pace and copious kickback of dirt caused him to drop farther off the pace than in the Derby.

“He really ran a big race to close all that ground,” Motion said.

Motion said it would be at least a week before he made a decision regarding running Animal Kingdom in the Belmont. He said Animal Kingdom was scheduled to go back to the track Wednesday and would simply jog this week before resuming galloping next week.

If Animal Kingdom runs in the Belmont, Motion said he would leave Fair Hill at least several days before the race.

“It’s important on that track to come up and gallop over it,” Motion said of Belmont Park. “It’s such a different track.”

Motion said he had “mixed emotions” in the aftermath of the Preakness.

“Certainly, I’m disappointed, but it’s hard to be too disappointed,” he said. “I think there’s an air of disappointment around the barn. It’s been a real roller-coaster ride from the week before the Derby to the week after the Derby to now.”

In addition to Shackleford and Animal Kingdom, the only other Preakness runner currently under serious consideration for the Belmont is Mucho Macho Man, who finished sixth, despite losing his left front shoe.

Nehro (second in the Derby), Master of Hounds (fifth), Santiva (sixth), Brilliant Speed (seventh), and Stay Thirsty (12th) all skipped the Preakness after running in the Derby and are expected back for the Belmont.

Others likely for the Belmont include Alternation and Prime Cut, and, possibly, Awesome Patriot and Harlan’s Hello.
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