BALTIMORE — Preakness winner Shackleford and Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom could meet again in next month’s Belmont Stakes, resuming a newfound rivalry among a group of 3-year-old colts that haven’t gotten much respect this year.
Shackleford returned to Kentucky on Sunday after bouncing back from a fourth-place finish in the Derby to outlast Animal Kingdom by a half-length in the Preakness a day earlier.
Dale Romans said he wants to watch Shackleford train for a couple days before making a decision on whether to run in the grueling 1½-mile Belmont in New York on June 11.
“If he trains like he did going into the Derby, I don’t know why we would pass,” he said. “I think it’s better than 50-50.”
Graham Motion plans to give Animal Kingdom a week at his stable in the Maryland countryside to see how he comes out of his latest race. Asked about the possibility of running in the Belmont, the trainer said, “We would love to do it.”
Having the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown face off again in the Belmont would be a good thing for racing, Motion said.
It would mark the 20th time the Derby and Preakness winners chased each other in the Triple Crown finale. Previously, the Derby winner has won four times, most recently Swale in 1984, while the Preakness winner has emerged victorious nine times, with Afleet Alex winning in 2005.
“It’d be great if we could develop a little rivalry within the 3-year-old division,” Romans said. “This is a good group of horses.”
The superstar of this year’s crop of 3-year-olds was supposed to be Uncle Mo, last year’s juvenile champion. But he was scratched the day before the Kentucky Derby because of a puzzling gastrointestinal illness and is currently out of training with no date set for his return.
“These 3-year-olds are a lot better than people are giving them credit for, even without Uncle Mo,” Romans said. “When he gets back in the picture, I think this is a good group of horses.”
Romans believes Shackleford’s front-running style would be well-suited to the Belmont. Animal Kingdom is a closer, and he came charging down the stretch in the Preakness as the only horse with a chance of catching Shackleford in the final strides.
“There is no doubt in my mind, in another sixteenth of a mile we get there,” Motion said. “That’s why it’s a Triple Crown. That’s why there are so many different intangibles to the Triple Crown. That’s why it hasn’t been done for so long.”
Affirmed was the 11th horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1978, and with Animal Kingdom’s loss, it will be at least 34 years before horse racing could see another Triple Crown champion.
“Three different distances at three different racetracks over five weeks. It takes a super horse to accomplish it,” Romans said. “I think that’s why it’s one of the great things in sports.
“It will happen again,” he added, “only when a super horse comes along.”
Both Shackleford and Animal Kingdom are lightly raced colts, which could help them endure the compressed five-week Triple Crown schedule.
The Preakness was Shackleford’s seventh career start, but his first win since Feb. 5 at Florida’s Gulfstream Park.
“Mentally, he was a little immature,” Romans said. “In the Florida Derby he was kind of looking around when he got to the lead. In the Kentucky Derby it looked like he had finally kind of put it all together. It was almost like he figured out what this was about.”
Animal Kingdom’s first race on dirt was in the Derby, which he won by 2¾ lengths two weeks ago. In the 19-horse field, he was up close with his rivals and the flying dirt at Churchill Downs mostly hit him in the chest.
It was a different story in the Preakness. Animal Kingdom broke slowly out of the gate and ran next-to-last, getting pelted in the face by clods of dirt that the colt clearly didn’t like.
“He got shuffled back further than we wanted to and I think it took him a little longer to figure out the track because he got so much dirt kicked back,” Motion said. “They had a lot of new dirt on the track and it made it a little bit harder for him to adjust.”
Shackleford had no such trouble. He sped to the lead and dueled with Flashpoint before putting that colt away and facing down Animal Kingdom’s late charge.
“He was just so game,” Romans said. “Animal Kingdom was running, but at no point did it look like he was going to get to him, in my opinion.”
Other colts being considered for the Belmont are: Peter Pan winner Alternation, Prime Cut, Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro, Ireland-based Master of Hounds (fifth in the Derby), Santiva (sixth in the Derby), Stay Thirsty (12th in the Derby), Anthony’s Cross, Isn’t He Perfect (ninth in the Preakness) and Harlan’s Hello.
Also, Dialed In and Mucho Macho Man, who both ran in the Derby and Preakness.
Trainer Bob Baffert might have as many as three runners, with Jaycito, Awesome Patriot and Uncle Sam all possible.