By Gene Kershner
The 2011 Triple Crown season wrapped up just as it started, with a big bomb winning the Belmont Stakes on Saturday afternoon when Ruler On Ice scored in the mud at 25-1. Never has a Triple Crown season seen more double digit winners than the current campaign. From the various prep races to the classics themselves, rarely did a favorite win a race.
Some random thoughts as we put a fork in Triple Crown season 2011 and head into summer racing:
* The 3-year old Eclipse Award will most likely be decided in the summer Grade 1 events such as Monmouth's Haskell Invitation and Saratoga's Travers, where a horse that didn't win one of the Classics could still step up and steal the trophy. Shackleford, the Preakness winner, appears to be headed to Jersey and the Haskell in early August.
* Thursday, the Daily Racing Form reported that Animal Kingdom "sustained an injury to his left hind leg that will keep him out of training for a couple of weeks, but should not prevent him from running again this year." Let's hope he makes it back in time for the Travers.
* Speaking of Animal Kingdom, the move he made around the far turn during the Belmont Stakes was heart-pounding stuff. While he didn't have enough gas left in the tank to finish the job, due to the issues caused at the start of the race by Isn't He Perfect, it was visually impressive and had the press box buzzing.
* Rajiv Maragh, the jockey on Isn't He Perfect, was suspended for 10 days for his careless ride in the Belmont that almost unseated John Velazquez on Animal Kingdom. The jockey's suspension was reduced by three days when he waived his right to appeal. I find it hard to believe that he purposely rode his horse into Mucho Macho Man, the horse he lost the mount on for the Belmont.
* This is the time of year when critics come out of the woodwork asking for changes in the Triple Crown races. Typically the complaints revolve around the distances, the time between the races and even the venues. Several years ago, I was in the camp that the time periods should be adjusted, but after further review I think the difficulty of achieving the Triple Crown is the real allure.
* This weekend's big race is the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. The handicap division, like the 3-year old division, is also still wide open and this race could serve to set the table for a potential division leader. Saratoga's Whitney and Woodward Handicaps will be the summer steps to this divisional title. Giant Oak, the Donn Handicap winner, was listed at the 7-2 morning line and the high weight in the race.
* Could we have a third straight female Horse of the Year? It's not inconceivable as Havre de Grace has been simply spectacular to date in the older female division. She sailed to victory in the Grade 3 Obeah Stakes last weekend at Delaware Park, where she's pointed next to the Delaware Handicap. She'll have to take on the boys to gather some serious consideration later in the year.
* The Breeders' Cup announced this week that it is adding a 15th race to its world championships, to be held at Churchill Downs in November. A Juvenile Sprint will be added to the Friday card. The $500,000 race will be restricted to 2-year old colts, fillies and geldings and will be run over 6-furlongs.
* The mammoth Pick-6 carry-over caused by the long shot winners on Belmont Day attracted more than $4 million of new money for Wednesday's wager. Eleven winning tickets had the correct combination of winners over the last six races on the card, paying over $380,000 each.
* Terry Wallace, race caller for Oaklawn Park for the past 37 years, announced his retirement Thursday.
* As one Triple Crown season ends, another begins for our neighbors to the north. The Canadian Triple Crown kicks off June 26 with the Queen's Plate from Woodbine in Toronto. We'll be heading up Thursday for the post draw and to review the challengers.
* Last Sunday, Fort Erie Race Track reduced its takeout on Pick-4s from 26.2 percent to 14 percent and saw significant increases in betting handle in that wager on a year over year basis. It also cut the ribbon on the newest addition, a Tiki Bar, just in front of the finish line.
* Saratoga opens in exactly five weeks on Friday, July 22.
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.