It’s been a long trail, but since I wrote about Animal Kingdom in my 2011 Kentucky Derby Outlook last December, I always believed that he had the potential to become a Classic Champion Thoroughbred.
Animal Kingdom didn’t disappoint when he made a powerful stretch run in Kentucky Derby 137 to win by 2 ¾ - lengths over runner-up Nehro.
In the Preakness Stakes, Animal Kingdom broke slowly and was settled by Jockey Johnny Velazquez in 13th place, far back off of a quick pace set by Flashpoint and Shackleford. Velazquez began moving Animal Kingdom up at the three-quarter pole and the pair made another powerful move in the stretch but came up one-half length short of victor Shackleford.
Velazquez made the move too late but that was only the second time he had ridden Animal Kingdom and he still was learning how to best ride him.
Tomorrow, Velazquez and Animal Kingdom will go to the starting gate as the 2-1 morning line favorite in the 143rd running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park and this time, I believe that Velazquez will have Animal Kingdom closer to the pace. (In early wagering, Animal Kingdom is the 5-2 favorite.)
Animal Kingdom has a good cruising speed and he has shown that he can be competitive and win from off the pace and even from dead last – just now as far back, though, as he was in the Preakness.
Animal Kingdom has the breeding and mental toughness to easily handle the demanding 12-furlongs of the Belmont Stakes and he’s my pick to reign supreme in the Belmont – he’s always reigned supreme on my list.
Trainer Dale Romans said he will send Shackleford to the front and use the same winning strategy that worked in the Preakness Stakes.
In The Handicapper’s Edge news story Romans said "I think if he [Shackleford] can get a nice, slow, rhythmic pace, it would be perfect. But we don't want to go too slow. Going 1 1/2 miles, fast or slow, they're going to be getting tired at the end.
"We may have gone too slow in the Derby, because everyone came home so fast and we couldn't hang on. The Preakness was different and they struggled a little bit at the end, and we had the stamina to finish," added Romans.
That strategy almost worked last year when Romans sent First Dude to the front in the Preakness and he finished second, beaten by only three-quarters of a length, to Lookin At Lucky. Romans wheeled First Dude back in the Belmont where he finished third - beaten by only three-quarters of a length, to Drosselmeyer.
That strategy worked this year in the Preakness but it did not work in the Kentucky Derby and I don’t believe that it will work in the Belmont either. In regard to my wagering strategy, I will use Shackleford in the fourth spot of the exotics and maybe in the third spot.
Three horses I like and will use in the exacta and trifecta wagers with Animal Kingdom are Master Of Hounds (10-1), Brilliant Speed (15-1) and Mucho Macho Man (10-1). (In early wagering, Brilliant Speed, who was 15-1 on the morning line, offers the best value at 9-1. Master Of Hounds is 5-1 and Mucho Macho Man is 6-1 in the early wagering.)
With the shorter Belmont field, I believe that all three of those horses will get a better trip than they did in the Kentucky Derby.
Master Of Hounds, along with Animal Kingdom, made the most improvement in the Kentucky Derby. Animal Kingdom, in 10th place at the three-quarter pole, passed 10 horses to finish first and Master Of Hounds, in 14th place at the three-quarter pole, also passed 10 horses to finish fifth. If Master Of Hounds is closer to the pace, I believe that he has a good chance of finishing in the money.
Master Of Hounds also has a pedigree that is well-suited to the 12-furlong Belmont Stakes. Kingmambo, the sire of Master Of Hounds, is a Chef-de-Race and well-known classic influence. His damsire, Sadler’s Wells, is also a Classic Champion Thoroughbred and sire of the Classic Champion Thoroughbreds Montjeu and Galileo.
Lyphard, the sire of the second dam Danilova, also sired the Classic Champion Thoroughbreds Dancing Brave and Three Troikas.
Brilliant Speed also has a pedigree that is well-suited to the Belmont Stakes. Dynaformer, the sire of Brilliant Speed, sired the Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. But the distaff side of the pedigree is loaded with a lot of stallions and mares that have had an impact on the Belmont Stakes.
Gone West, the damsire of Brilliant Speed, sired the Belmont winner Commendable. Deputy Minister, the sire of the second dam Daijan is also the sire of Belmont winner Touch Gold. In addition, Deputy Minister is the damsire of Belmont winners Jazil, Rags To Riches, Sarava and Belmont runner-up Curlin.
Passing Mood, the third dam of Brilliant Speed, is also the dam of Belmont winner Touch Gold.
Mucho Macho Man is hard-luck, hard-knocking colt on this year’s trail who lost a shoe in the Louisiana Derby and Preakness Stakes. But, despite the luck, Mucho Macho Man is 2-3-3 in 10 career starts and I look for him to be competitive in the Belmont Stakes.
And when Barry Irwin, President of Team Valor International, says that Mucho Macho Man is the horse that poses the biggest threat to Animal Kingdom, I take notice.
In the Kentucky Derby, Mucho Macho Man was in 8th place at the three-quarter pole and he passed five horsed to finish third – a neck behind Nehro.
From the mile post in the Kentucky Derby, Nehro ran in second place tracking Shackleford and he barely held on for second to a closing Mucho Macho Man and I don’t look for him to improve much off of that performance.
In the early wagers, Nehro is 5-1and I most likely will play him in the third and fourth spot of the exotic wagers. I might play Nehro in a small exacta ticket as well.
Good luck with your Belmont wagers.