By Gene Kershner
We've had a week to digest last weekend's results in the second jewel of the Triple Crown and reflect on what transpired at Pimlico in Baltimore. In a topsy-turvy Classic season that has been wide open, the Belmont Stakes could serve as the determining race for the 3-year-old champion and could be the impetus for both the Derby and Preakness winners to show up in New York. Both Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness champ Shackleford are still pointing at facing off in Elmont on June 11.
It would mark the 20th time that the Derby and Preakness winners would face off, the Derby champ winning four times -- the last being Swale in 1984 -- and the Preakness champ winning nine times, last done by Afleet Alex in 2005. [UPDATE: NYRA announced early this afternoon that Animal Kingdom is a GO for the Belmont]
The Derby-Belmont double has been pulled off 11 times, the last being Thunder Gulch in 1995, and the Preakness-Belmont double has been achieved 18 times. The last Preakness-Belmont double was won by the aforementioned Afleet Alex when he defeated Derby champ Giacomo.
We may have one of the biggest fields for the Belmont Stakes in recent years. The conditions for the race allow for upwards of 16 entrants. The largest field ever to run in the Belmont Stakes (15) was in 1983 when Caveat defeated Slew o' Gold. The largest field in the past 20 years was in 1996, when a field of 14 lined up and Editor's Note was victorious.
Probables from horses that have run in the first two legs include the two winners and Mucho Macho Man, who threw a shoe in the Preakness. Derby horses that skipped the Preakness pointing toward the Belmont include Nehro (second at the Derby), Master of Hounds (fifth), late closing Santiva (sixth) and Stay Thirsty (12th). Potential newcomers include Peter Pan Stakes winner Alternation and the third place finisher from that race, Prime Cut.
Trainer Bob Baffert will most likely have a horse and possibly several entrants in the race. He could enter Santa Anita Derby runner-up Jaycito in addition to Awesome Patriot or Uncle Sam, the 1-2 finishers in the Alydar at Hollywood Park three weeks ago.
Once again, cable network Versus will pick up several hours of the undercard (3-5 p.m.) before a national television audience will tune in on NBC from 5 to 7 p.m.
* The weekend's biggest race will be on Memorial Day at Belmont Park, the annual running of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile Handicap (aka The Met Mile). The likely favorite, Morning Line, was pulled out of the race by trainer Nick Zito on Thursday due to a foot issue. Those expected in the gate for the Monday's feature race include Aikenite, Caixa Eletronica, Haynesfield, New York Derby champ Ibboyee, Kensei, Rodman, Soaring Empire, Stormy's Majesty, Tackleberry, and Tizway.
* If you enjoy contests, Monmouth Park's annual Survival at the Shore contest starts this weekend. The object is to hit the board in at least one of three pre-selected daily races and to survive to the end of the meeting.
* On the West Coast another mile race takes center stage, but this one will be run on turf. The Grade 2 American Handicap at Hollywood Park will feature the return of Sidney's Candy, who was last seen finishing sixth behind the powerful Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill last November. Strong challengers Liberian Freighter and The Usual Q.T. will contest Sidney's Candy on Saturday afternoon.
* The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has been posting steward decisions since last September in the Stewards Corner section of their website, providing horseplayers with information regarding race information, violations and race decisions of inquiries and objections. This is a major step forward in a sport that had typically not made the public aware of decisions made in the steward's room in the past.