Shackleford at Belmont on June 1.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Shackleford at Belmont on June 1.
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Rick Samuels

Derby, Preakness Winners Still Going Strong

Animal Kingdom and Shackleford keep bouncing back and looking for more action.

Although most Triple Crown trainers admit their concern about having to run three grueling races in five weeks, Graham Motion and Dale Romans, trainers of Animal Kingdom  and Shackleford , respectively, actually can’t wait for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).


Motion had expressed his concern about the two-week gap between the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I), but now says the Derby winner is “doing so great” he wouldn’t mind having two weeks between the Preakness and Belmont as well.


Romans said he is surprised how Preakness winner Shackleford keeps bouncing out of his grueling races and keeps moving forward after each race.


Despite Animal Kingdom’s second-place finish in the Preakness, Motion still speaks of the son of Leroidesanimaux with the same reverence he did after his impressive Derby victory.


“He’s doing great and he looks super,” Motion said. “He actually dropped his rider at Fair Hill yesterday, so I think he’s feeling pretty good. I have to be honest, I have not seen a kink in this horse’s armor. I was a little worried immediately after the Preakness, but part of that was because I had just visually seen him have a hard race. But he’s never given me any indication to say he’s backed up after these races. Really, he looks magnificent and he’s training great. I still strongly believe this is a very special horse.


“No one more than me would like to win the Belmont and to have the horse validate his Derby victory. I can’t wait until next week. I’m excited about it and almost wish I didn’t have to wait three weeks. I wouldn’t just mind just doing two weeks again.”

Animal Kingdom galloped 1 1/2 miles over the Fair Hill Training Center dirt track June 2 under regular exercise rider David Nava on June 2.

"He was very strong today," Nava said. "He feels very good, feels the same as he has. I am looking forward to his breeze."

Romans said Shackleford continues to amaze him.


“I am a little surprised how well he’s come out of his last three races,” he said. “It seems like he’s even moved forward with the more work he’s done. Very few horses can do what he’s done and come out of the race better than he went into it. He’s not showing any signs of wear and tear and fatigue. He’s eating good and holding his weight good, and with the energy he’s shown training he seems very happy right now.”


So that sets up an excellent rubber match in the Belmont Stakes, assuming Shackleford works satisfactorily on June 4.


“As long as I don’t see something negative and he keeps training like he has and comes out of it with the same energy he has in the past few weeks, we’ll be in the race,” Romans said.


Both trainers have a great deal of respect for Belmont Park’s 1 1/2-mile oval, which is why they will make sure their horses have plenty of training over the surface. Shackleford, owned and bred by Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge, has been at Belmont for almost a week, and Team Valor International's homebred Animal Kingdom will ship in a week before the race and have his only pre-Belmont work on Monday, June 6.


Belmont is such a unique track we agreed it makes sense for him to be there for several days, and with the fact that he needs to have a work I just felt it made more sense to have the work over the track he’s going to run on. It’s a very different scenario than trying to get to Preakness in two weeks,” Motion said.


Romans said, “Coming in here early is important, especially when the track is deep and dry and cuppy like it’s been the last week. That’s why I wanted to get him in here early to train over for a little while. It’s difficult to put a lot of water on this track because it’s so big. That’s how it got its name, Big Sandy. If the track is a little dry maybe it’ll give us a bit of an edge.”


As for strategy, both colts have totally different running styles and neither will make any dramatic changes, despite the distance. Motion said he’s happy to have a rider (John Velazquez) with a great deal of experience at Belmont and success in the Belmont Stakes.


“It’s such a unique race on such a unique racetrack, there’s no doubt it helps to have a jockey who’s familiar with the course and who’s already won the race,” Motion said. “So I definitely feel that’s an advantage and it certainly makes me more comfortable with the situation. I’m leaving strategy in Johnny’s hands. With this race being a mile and a half I’m sure he’s not going to drop out of it anything like he did at Pimlico.”


As for the prospect of Shackleford having to negotiate the 12 furlongs on the lead, Romans is quite content with that scenario.


“I feel pretty good about it,” he said. “He showed in the Preakness he has a high cruising speed and he’ll probably be on the lead and just try to keep galloping around there. It’s not a bad race to be a speed-type of horse. I used to think he’s better with a target, but now that he’s matured with racing I think he knows what the game is all about now and he’ll be OK on the lead by himself.”