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Animal Kingdom Fires Bullet For Saturday's Belmont
By New York Racing Association
ELMONT, N.Y. – Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom signaled his readiness for the rematch with Preakness winner Shackleford in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes with a bullet half-mile work this morning in 47.76 under jockey John Velazquez.
The move was the fastest of 32 at the distance over Belmont Park’s main track.
The Derby winner and Corredor Dela Isla, another colt owned by Team Valor International, entered the track shortly before 9 a.m. following the renovation break and proceeded directly to the backside, with Animal Kingdom breaking off about a length behind his workmate on the outside. The pair came into the stretch on even terms, with Animal Kingdom hitting the wire a head in front before galloping out strongly on his own terms.
NYRA clockers caught Animal Kingdom in an opening quarter-mile of 24.18, galloping out in 1:00.60 and up in 1:14.38.
“He was half-way running off with me,” said Velazquez. “I took him as slowly as I could. He got very competitive with the other horse. After he passed him after the wire, he kept galloping very strong. He knew he had the jockey on top of him because he just played with me. He had me at ‘hello.’ I’m trying to gallop him behind the other horse, and he played with me.”
Trainer Graham Motion said he was pleased with the way Animal Kingdom, who was shipped to New York Sunday from his training center Fair Hill, Md., looked in his first serious move over the track.
“I thought it was super; Johnny said he did it all on his own,” said Motion. “He didn’t even ask him to gallop out. That why I only wanted to go a half with him; I thought he would gallop out really strong. I don’t think it could have gone any better.”
Motion said he thought Animal Kingdom has handled his journey along the Triple Crown trail extremely well
“He just hasn’t changed,” he said. “It’s remarkable. He’s taken everything in stride and hasn’t gotten worked up about anything. Physically, I think he’s handled it great. I was worried about him after the Preakness, but it was more because I thought, visually, he’d had a tough race. But he never gave me any indication he’d had a tough race, and he recovered very quickly.”
The trainer added that having Velazquez, who is based in New York and who won the 2007 Belmont with Rags to Riches, aboard was a plus.
“It certainly makes me feel a lot better,” he said. “I don’t know, realistically, how much difference it really makes but I have to think it does. This is his home track, and he’s won the race. It’s a very quirky race and a very quirky track to run 1 ½ miles. I have to think it helps us.”
Animal Kingdom will likely jog tomorrow and then gallop up to Saturday’s race, with a gate-schooling session or two on tap as well, said Motion.
“He’ll go in the gate one day; two if necessary,” he said. “It’s tough starting in the Belmont. They start right in front of the crowd and I’ve seen a lot of horses get skittish. I think it’s important.”
* * *
Nehro, second in the Kentucky Derby, completed major preparations for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes with a 50.88 four-furlong breeze on Belmont’s main track Monday morning.
With exercise rider Cesar Garcia aboard, the son Mineshaft ran the opening quarter in 26.24 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:04.17, according to NYRA clockers.
“I though he worked great, it was just exactly what the boss wanted,” said Toby Sheets, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. “We were very pleased with him. He came back good, so onward and upward.”
Nehro, who also finished second in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, bypassed the Preakness in favor of training up to a start in the Belmont Stakes, a move owner Ahmed Zayat hopes will pay dividends.
“I don’t want to be arrogant because it’s racing, but I wish the race was tomorrow,” said Zayat. “There are variables we can’t control once they gates are open, but we’re ready and we will have no excuses. At a mile-and-a-half, you’re going to see a different horse. That’s the final word. We’re ready.”
* * *
Courtlandt Farms’ Prime Cut turned in a 1:01.00 five-furlong breeze at Churchill Downs Monday morning, one day prior to his expected arrival at Belmont Park.
“It went very well and I’m pleased with how it went,” said trainer Neil Howard by telephone. “We were looking to hold steady with where he’s at right now. He’s fit and relatively fresh. It was a nice, workman-like breeze. He finished the final three-eighths very strongly, which is what you want to see.”
Prime Cut was second in the Grade 2 Lexington at Keeneland and third in the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont.
* * *
Preakness winner Shackleford jogged a full mile-and-a-half circuit of the Belmont Park main track Monday morning as he continues preparations for a rematch with Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in the Belmont Stakes.
“He looked super,” said trainer Dale Romans. “He came out of his [Saturday] workout very well, and we couldn’t be any happier with him right now.”
The 3-year-old son of Forestry, out of the Unbridled mare Oatsee, is scheduled to gallop on Tuesday. He is a half-sister to Lady Joanne (who was by champion sprinter Orientate), winner of the 1 ¼-mile Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga Race Course in 2007.
* * *
Blue Grass winner Brilliant Speed, who finished seventh in the Derby and skipped the Preakness to await the Belmont, is due to complete his preparations for Saturday’s race with a five-furlong work Tuesday morning.
“He’s doing great,” said trainer Tom Albertrani. “He’s due to breeze tomorrow with exercise rider Dan Blacker. Nothing too fancy; just let him stretch his legs. He’ll go out after the break.”
Albertrani said that jockey Joel Rosario will be aboard for the Belmont.
* * *
The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) has reached an agreement with ESPN, Inc. to televise up to 13 weekends of racing to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including Dubai.
The deal, which is for one year with the option for an extension, kicks off with the races during this coming Belmont Stakes weekend and also includes the Belmont Park races during July 4 weekend, including the Grade 1 Prioress.
The agreement, which will send the NYRA simulcast signal to the UAE for the first time, will likely comprise all seven weekends during the prestigious Saratoga Race Course meet, Jockey Club Gold Cup weekend during the Belmont Park fall meet, and the Aqueduct fall meet’s Cigar Mile weekend.