A sealed, speed-favoring sloppy track and bad racing luck endured by the favorite combined to allow 24-1 longshot Ruler On Ice to claim a stunning victory in the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 11 (VIDEO).
Ruler On Ice is a gelded son of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms’ Roman Ruler out of Champagne Glow (by Saratoga Six). He was bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm and is owned by George and Lori Hall, who purchased Ruler On Ice for $100,000 as a yearling in the 2009 Keeneland September sale.
The race was a disaster for 5-2 favorite Animal Kingdom, who clipped heels after the break and jockey Johnny Velazquez went up over his neck, losing his left stirrup. Animal Kingdom, winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), made a bid with three furlongs to run but tired to sixth.
|2011 Belmont Stakes Slideshow|
The winner stalked pacesetter and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Shackleford throughout most of the 1 1/2-mile race, which started with a moderate quarter-mile in :23.92 then slowed to a leisurely :49. 08 for the opening half, 1:14.51 for three-quarters, and 1:39.95 for a mile.
Ruler On Ice, on the outside, and Mike Repole’s Stay Thirsty , at the rail, tracked closely behind Shackleford to the top the top of the stretch before Shackleford faded and Ruler On Ice took command. Despite a challenge from Stay Thirsty and Brilliant Speed , who had closed through the second turn and was toward the outside, Ruler On Ice held on to win by three-quarters of a length. The final time was 2:30.88.
It was an emotional Belmont debut for winning jockey Jose Valdivia Jr., who rode the winner for trainer Kelly Breen.
“Kelly said, 'We’ve got the blinkers on him and it didn’t look like there was that much speed in there, so put him into the race and just hope for the best.' 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," Valdivia related.
"With a half-mile remaining, I still felt like I have a lot of horse under me. Turning for home, everything started going in slow motion. At the sixteenth pole, I thought, ‘This is the true Test of the Champion.’ It’s a great feeling.”
Valdivia said he started working the horse over the winter and liked him so much that he told Breen he was willing to freeze his butt off every morning to continue working him.
“He acts like he’s something special, and I don’t think we’ve gotten to the bottom of him yet,” he said.
Ruler On Ice was wearing blinkers for the first time, which Breen said was important to get the gelding to focus.
“(Blinkers) was part of the maturity,” Breen said. “He didn’t mature as fast as we wanted to. He’s already a gelding so we can’t castrate him again, so we put blinkers on. The first time out of the gate, Jose was on him. He was still goofing off and didn’t break great. Last week, he broke right and it’s like sometimes, the bulb just goes on. It was a perfect storm of things going right, and that’s how we got here.”
Javier Castellano, riding Stay Thirsty, said he was happy with his mount’s performance.
“I have to give credit to the winner,” Castellano said. “He was impressive. He never gave up. The way the race developed, Shackleford took the lead and the winner was second or third and we tried to stay with him. My horse responded so well today. I was very happy for him. He gave everything he had today. I couldn’t ask anything more from him.”
Animal Kingdom bumped with Mucho Macho Man a few strides after the start, causing him to stumble badly and Velazquez to lose the left iron,
“It looks like he was pinched by the horses on either side,” said Animal Kingdom’s trainer Graham Motion. “The horse almost fell down. Johnny couldn’t believe the horse stayed up. He lost his iron. It took him until halfway around the turn to get his foot back in the iron. It’s disappointing not to give the horse a chance to run his race.”
Velazquez said he had been forced to ask more from Animal Kingdom than he had wanted particularly between the half-mile pole and the quarter-pole.
“At that point, I was just hoping to get a piece of it and that’s why I rode him that way after the start,” he said. “No way he was going to make up that much ground. He’s still a great horse.”
Animal Kingdom ended up finishing behind Nehro and Shackleford, who were fourth and fifth, respectively.
The winner paid $51.50, $26, and $13.60. Stay Thirsty finished second and paid $19.40 and $10.80. Live Oak Plantation’s Brilliant Speed was third and paid $7.90. A $2 exacta paid $928, the $2 trifecta paid $8,268, the superfecta paid a monstrous $74,052.
Ruler On Ice is the second grade I winner for Roman Ruler, and the sire’s third graded stakes winner. Roman Ruler’s other grade I winner is Homeboykris, who won the 2009 Champagne Stakes.
The Belmont Stakes winner went into the race having finished out of the money only once in six starts and has been knocking on the door in graded stakes and stakes company. His last race yielded a fast-closing, second-place finish in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico on May 7 behind Concealed Identity. In March he had finished third in the Sunland Derby (gr. III) to Twice the Appeal and Astrology .
“The funny thing about this horse is that Jose would always come back and say he was goofing off, but he wasn’t really tired,” said George Hall. “After the Tesio, we figured, what better race to come back than the Belmont. Jose did exactly what we asked him to do and stayed close to the lead. You could see after the race, he wanted to do another victory lap. I think he’s a much better horse than the odds showed, and he proved it today.”
Earning $600,000 for the win, Ruler on Ice improved his lifetime purse total to $766,500.
Ruler On Ice’s tail-female line includes only the cream for three generations. His dam, second dam, and third dam all were the best runners or the best female runners produced by their respective dams. Ruler On Ice is out of the stakes winner and grade I-placed Champagne Glow, a daughter of the brilliant runner Saratoga Six and the most talented female runner out of her dam Champagne Ginny, who also produced two grade I winning males—Grand Canyon and Jurado. In turn, grade III stakes winner Champagne Ginny is the top runner produced by her dam, stakes winner Seminole Girl, who was the only stakes winner produced by her dam, Unified.
Roman Ruler is by 2000 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Fusaichi Pegasus , a son of Mr. Prospector. The cross of Mr. Prospector and his sons and grandsons with the daughters of Saratoga Six has produced 11 stakes winners (8%) from starters. Of the 11 stakes winners, four are geldings, including Fourth and Six (by Defensive Play), who raced until 10 and retired with earnings of more than $580,000; Crafty Schemer (by Crafty Prospector), who raced from 3 to 10 and earned more than $496,000; and Kool Humor (by Distorted Humor), who raced from 2 to 6 and earned nearly $243,000.
More classic influences can be found throughout the dam side of Ruler On Ice’s pedigree. Saratoga Six is a son of Alydar, who ran at the throatlatch of Affirmed throughout the 1978 Triple Crown.