I’m getting closer. In the Kentucky Derby, my top pick, Dialed In, finished eighth, and I had the long-shot winner, Animal Kingdom, ranked 13th out of 19. In the Preakness, my No. 1 pick, Animal Kingdom, was a strong second, while I had the winner, Shackleford, ranked fourth out of 14.
This afternoon, I’m making a pedigree play, selecting Master of Hounds. My second choice is Animal Kingdom. I divide the Belmont Stakes field of 12 into a top four, a second group of three horses I think may make an impact and a final five who would shock me, and just about everybody else.
The Top Four
Master of Hounds — This lightly raced European invader has the best distance pedigree of any 3-year-old racing in the Triple Crown in at least the last several years. Quite simply, he is bred to run all day, so today’s mile-and-a-half distance will not be an issue.
Is he good enough to win this? Six of his first eight starts were on grass, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, when he had a rough trip and finished sixth as a tepid 7-2 favorite in a field of 10. He then finished second by a nose to a top filly in a field of 14 in the UAE Derby on synthetic. He made his dirt debut in the Kentucky Derby, and he ran into considerable traffic. Weaving his way between horses, he rallied from 15th to fifth, 51⁄2 lengths behind Animal Kingdom. With an extra quarter of a mile, he can get the job done this afternoon, as long as he gets away OK from the rail.
Animal Kingdom — Sent off the 2-1 favorite in the Preakness, Animal Kingdom broke poorly, falling back to 13th. He then closed 171⁄2 lengths. It wasn’t enough. Though he looked like he would blow by Shackleford in the final sixteenth of a mile, Shackleford gamely held him off by a half-length. Even so, Animal Kingdom confirmed that his 23⁄4-length Derby victory was anything but a fluke. His subsequent bullet half-mile work at Belmont Park suggests that he is absolutely the horse to beat today.
Nehro — He finished second by a neck in both the Louisiana and Arkansas Derbies, then second again in the Kentucky Derby, losing to Animal Kingdom by 23⁄4 lengths. He skipped the Preakness, and his bullet six-furlong work at Churchill Downs May 30 suggests he’ll fire his best shot again. However,
Animal Kingdom made up five lengths on him late in the Derby. Will an added quarter of a mile reverse that? I don’t think so.
Shackleford — He burst onto the Triple Crown scene in the Florida Derby when he led the whole way, fighting Dialed In the last sixteenth of a mile before coming up just a head short at 68-1. In the Kentucky Derby, he coasted on a clear lead through slow fractions and weakened to fourth. His Preakness effort was heroic. Despite pressing much faster fractions, he was able to hold off Animal Kingdom late, and may have actually been drawing away slightly at the wire. The 12 post today doesn’t help. Jockey Jesus Castanon will have to send him immediately.
The Next Three
Brilliant Speed — He began his career racing on dirt and finished fourth and seventh by a combined 40 lengths. But after closing furiously to win the Blue Grass Stakes on synthetic at Keeneland by a nose, he raced OK in the Kentucky Derby, rallying eight-wide from 14th to finish seventh, just a neck behind Master of Hounds. He, too, has a strong distance pedigree and should relish stretching out.
Santiva — He rallied in the Kentucky Derby, too, finishing sixth, a nose in front of Brilliant Speed, at 34-1. In his prior start, he was soundly beaten by Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass.
Mucho Macho Man — His strong third in the Run for the Roses was followed by a dull, wide sixth, in the Preakness after he apparently lost one of his shoes. He had also lost a shoe in his race before the Kentucky Derby, when he was a close third in the Louisiana Derby. Even without shoe problems today, he may pay the price for several hard races this spring.
The Rest of the Field
Stay Thirsty — A favorable distance pedigree should help, but he finished seventh by 163⁄4 lengths in the Florida Derby and 12th by
111⁄4 lengths in the Kentucky Derby.
Prime Cut — He raced evenly late when third in the Grade II
Peter Pan Stakes, his first start at a mile and an eighth. He may be OK going longer.
Monzon — I had him three starts back when he won the Count Fleet Stakes at 6-1 before he finished fifth in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and a well-beaten sixth in the Peter Pan. He does have a closing kick.
Ruler On Ice — He adds blinkers off a second in an ungraded stakes at Pimlico. Today is a huge step up.
Isn’t He Perfect — He wasn’t. In the Preakness, he finished ninth by 111⁄4 lengths at 30-1. Good luck.