A morning after his stunning upset in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 11, Ruler On Ice was back at his Monmouth Park barn in perfect shape, according to his trainer Kelly Breen.
“It’s like he never even ran,” said Breen, a 42-year-old resident of Farmingdale, N.J, on June 12. “It’s amazing how good he’s doing. He just ran a mile and a half like it was nothing.”
Wearing blinkers for the first time, Ruler On Ice, a 3-year-old gelding by 2005 Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner Roman Ruler , sat just off the pace of Preakness (gr. I) winner Shackleford in the muddy Belmont Stakes. Turning for home, Ruler On Ice challenged for the lead before asserting himself in the final furlong to pull away for the Belmont victory. The win by the 24-1 outsider was good for a $51.50 win mutuel.
“It hard to describe winning the Belmont,” said Breen, sporting a Ruler On Ice cap. “I did lose my voice, but it was well worth it.”
Meanwhile, it was back to business at Monmouth for Breen.
“I had a horse flip on one of our riders this morning, and she might have broken her hip,” Breen said. “We’ve got four horses in today at Monmouth. It’s back to reality. No time to waste; just jump right back in.”
Rumson residents George and Lori Hall purchased Ruler On Ice as a yearling for $100,000 out of the Keeneland September sale. The Halls, who have a barn full of horses under Breen’s care, enjoyed their first classic victory when Ruler On Ice took the Belmont. Breen has trained for the Halls since 2007.
“You could see after the race he wanted to do another victory lap,” said George Hall after his horse’s Belmont win. “I think he's a much better horse than the odds showed, and he proved it today.”
"Where does Ruler On Ice head next? Not sure yet,” Breen said. “The Haskell is certainly a possibility.”
The $1 million Haskell Invitational is the signature event of the Monmouth Park season. The 1 1/8-mile contest will be renewed July 31. Over the past four years, the Haskell has produced the year-end champion 3-year-old, including a pair of Horse of the Year winners: Curlin and Rachel Alexandra.
Breen also mentioned Saratoga's Travers Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 27 as a possible goal later in the summer. Ruler On Ice has raced seven times in his career on seven different tracks, winning three. A two-time winner over sloppy tracks, he has earned $766,500.
“I don’t think anybody could put into words or make any calculations for what helped him or what hurt anybody else,” Breen said. “That’s racing, and that’s why they run the races. I’ve been saying that since I’ve been in the business. If it wasn’t, every 4-to-5 shot would just win. You’ve got to be in it to win it, and I was more than happy to be in it.”
Elsewhere, trainer Graham Motion expressed further disappointment that his 5-2 favorite, Animal KIngdom , had his chance for a second jewel in the Triple Crown ruined by bumping out of the starting gate that caused jockey John Velazquez to lose control of his left stirrup.
“It’s just disappointing, because you would have liked him to have a fair shot to run his race,” said Motion of Animal Kingdom. The Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner finished sixth in the Belmont, beaten 9 1/4 lengths.
“When you come this far, you know how much goes into it and the worst thing to me is that he had a pretty tough race yesterday and it was all sort of for nothing. These horses only have so many races in them and to waste a race like that was very disappointing.”
Animal Kingdom fell back to last early in the race after being bumped and clipping heels. Velazquez wasn't able to regain his iron for a sixteenth of a mile.
“With the way things were, Johnny may have well pulled him up,” said Motion, who shipped the son of Leroidesanimaux to the Fair Hill, Md., training center at 8 a.m. June 12. “There was no chance, realistically, he was going to be able to do anything after that situation."
Barry Irwin, founder and CEO of owner Team Valor International, said his goal is to win the 3-year-old championship for Animal Kingdom.
“We want to make this horse the champion. I really thought we were going to win the Belmont or at least run second," Irwin said. "He’s probably the leader of the 3-year-old class right now, but he’s no cinch to be the champion, so I think we’re going to have to put him where he can solidify that. We’re going to have to take a look at the Travers.”
Todd Pletcher expressed both satisfaction and disappointment after Stay Thirsty nearly gave the trainer his second career victory in the Belmont.
Stay Thirsty, victorious in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) earlier in the spring, was a game second in the Belmont, three-quarters of a length behind Ruler On Ice.
“I think it validated his (second) in the Hopeful (gr. I) last year and his win in the Gotham,” said Pletcher, who trains the colt for Mike Repole. “It justified our placement of him this spring, but at the same time anytime you get that close you’re a little disappointed if you don’t actually win. At the end of the day, we’re proud of his effort.”
Pletcher said Stay Thirsty will now be pointed toward Saratoga’s Jim Dandy (gr. II) July 30, with the Travers to follow.
The trainer departs for Royal Ascot June 13 to saddle Melnyk Racing Stables’ Bridgetown in the following day's King’s Stand (Eng-I) and Bobby Flay’s More Than Real in the June 17 Coronation (Eng-I).
Brilliant Speed emerged from his third-place finish in the Belmont in good order, trainer Tom Albertrani said, and will be freshened for a campaign that will likely include the Jim Dandy and Travers.
“We’re going to stick to the dirt,” said Albertrani of Brilliant Speed, who won the Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) over the artificial surface at Keeneland and finished second and third in a pair of grass stakes at Gulfstream Park.
“Overall, I think he fits well with the competition that we’ve been running with, Animal Kingdom and Shackleford. He fits right in there with them and it’s just a matter of changing positions one of these days. He will get his turn.”
Nehro and Shackleford, fourth and fifth in the Belmont, also exited the race satisfactorily, according to their connections.