The news came in today that Preakness champion, Shackleford is confirmed as a go for next week's Belmont Stakes. It was not a surprise, as trainer Dale Romans has been saying all along, that provided the son of Forestry was thriving, he would enter him in the third leg of racing's Triple Crown. I took the news as extremely positive nonetheless.
The simple fact that both the Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, and Shackleford are going to run in the Belmont is noteworthy. They are bucking the trend of not only the Belmont, but also a disturbing one that plagues all of thoroughbred racing. Our best horses no longer race as often as they should, and they certainly do not face each other often enough. We are in the age devoid of rivalries. Alydar and Affirmed tested each other ten times, and all by the time that the two hit the wire in the 1978 Travers. Rivalries like that are likely gone forever, but this year's Belmont provides a promising trend reversal.
Believe it or not, only 2 times in the last 15 years, have a Derby winner and a Preakness winner met in the Belmont. Only Afleet Alex and Giacomo in 2005, and Point Given and Monarchos in 2001, decided the rubber match at Belmont. Sad, but true. Granted several of those years were not eligible, as the same horse won the first two legs, but still there have been many opportunities that went unfulfilled.
Because of this trend, I expressed my skepticism of seeing the match-up following the Preakness. Happily, I was wrong. Kudos to Team Valor and Graham Motion for deciding to run their distance bred colt in the Belmont despite having their Triple Crown dreams narrowly dashed in Baltimore. Kudos to Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge, and Dale Romans for deciding to run their flourishing colt in the Belmont despite the grueling test that the race promises for a horse that likes to run fast early.
We've known Animal Kingdom was going to run for a few days now, but the Shackleford announcement just came in, and good news it is. Perhaps more owners will follow suit, do the sporting thing, and run their best horses in more big races.
Shackleford will not be my top pick in the Belmont, but I commend their decision to run. He's a good horse, and he makes the Belmont a better race. His addition allows for a rubber match of our two classic winners in front of a national audience on NBC. It is a match-up that reverses a disturbing trend in racing. There can be no doubt that this is good for racing.
Maybe someday it can be as simple as this again … The Derby winner is a good horse. The Preakness winner is a good horse. Shouldn't good horses run against each other in big races like the Belmont Stakes?