From beginning to end, both on track and off, chaos ruled the day, just as it ruled the
entirety of the 2011 Triple Crown season.
But even when viewing it through that whimsical prism, Ruler on Ice’s conquest of Saturday’s 143rd Belmont Stakes still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Ruler On Ice, a gelded son of Roman Ruler, splashed his way home to a ¾ length victory over Stay Thirsty in a running of the Belmont Stakes that will go into the books as logic-defying -- even by this historically puzzling race’s standards. The final time for Ruler On Ice’s triumphant lap around the mammoth 1½ mile oval was 2:30.88. 55,779 weather-worn souls were on hand to witness it.
His victory clearly was confounding to the masses. Count his trainer, Kelly Breen, among the perplexed. Even he was hard-pressed to explain his charge’s victory in the moments immediately following the race.
“Sometimes, the bulb just goes on.”
The bulb went on and it burned bright enough to light the Empire State Building.
Ruler On Ice sat just off of Preakness winner Shackleford who, as expected, set the pace. The fractions were honest but not horribly taxing. They went the first quarter in :23.4, and they were able to slow the half down to :49.0. Jockey Jose Valdivia. Shackleford was able to hold the lead for a full mile. But this time, with four whole furlongs left instead of the one-and-a-half he was faced with in Baltimore, he wasn’t able to close the deal.
“I have no excuse,” Preakness winning jockey Jesus Castanon admitted. “He was doing it easy. He tried not to let anyone pass him but he got a little tired.”
And it was Ruler on Ice who benefited from Shackleford’s fatigue. He inherited the lead as the field rounded the far turn. And the easy manner in which he did it stunned even his jockey Jose Valdivia.
“At the half-mile pole, I was hearing whips cracking behind me, and I could hear guys chirping to their horses, and all I’m doing is picking up the tempo. I still felt like I (had) a lot of horse under me.”
He had plenty of horse under him, and he needed it, because he also had a rival. Stay Thirsty, who was also pretty close to the pace, was coming on from the inside. But Valdivia knew he had the goods as they hit the top of the stretch.
“Turning for home, everything started going in slow motion. When I got past the eighth pole, I just happened to take a little glance at the big screen TV, and I saw Stay Thirsty coming up the rail.”
Todd Pletcher trainee Stay Thirsty made a solid move up the rail, but didn’t have enough to
get past the determined Ruler On Ice. Stay Thirsty’s jockey, Javier Castellano, could do nothing but take his hat off to the winner.
“I have to give credit to the winner. He was very impressive. He never gave up. (Stay Thirsty) responded so well today. He gave everything he had.”
But it wasn’t enough to pass the determined winner. Winning jockey Valdivia indicated that it was inside the sixteenth pole when he began to get the feeling that the winner was underneath him.
“Once we took the lead, we never gave it up. At the sixteenth pole, I thought ‘This is the true Test of the Champion.””
It was a test that Ruler On Ice passed with flying colors.
“I looked up at the wire,” Valdivia said, “and I was like ‘Oh my God! I’m going to win the Belmont Stakes!’”
Meanwhile, Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom had a very tough journey. He finished 6th, after a scary moment early on in the race when he clipped heels.
“It was unbelievable. They came over on me and clipped heels and I almost came off. I had a horrible trip. “
But the day belonged to Ruler On Ice, who was the eighth longest shot in the history of the race to win.
“It was a perfect storm of things going right,” Breen said. “That’s how we got there.”
Due respect to Breen, and the stellar job he clearly did with Ruler On Ice, to call that perfect storm anything less than a monsoon is a massive understatement.