Teresa Genaro is a high school English teacher and freelance turf writer whose work has appeared in a variety of turf publications. A former and erstwhile resident of Saratoga Springs, she lives in Brooklyn and writes about New York racing at Brooklyn Backstretch.
So once again, we head to Belmont without a Triple Crown on the line. For a few moments in that long stretch at Pimlico, it looked like that the big, sandy oval in Elmont would host racing’s biggest party on June 11, but a determined, gutsy Shackleford held off Animal Kingdom, and so, on we go.
But there’s good news: following the Preakness, the connections of both Animal Kingdom and Shackleford indicated that they were thinking favorably of racing back in two and a half weeks; for only the fifth time in the last 20 years, we might have a race that pits the Derby winner and the Preakness winner against each other.
So what can we expect? Not that past performances will have any bearing on what happens at this year’s Belmont, and I hesitate to even consider the possibility of Animal Kingdom and Shackleford lining up against each other on June 11 (jinxes, superstition, that sort of thing), but I couldn’t resist a dip – OK, a long, deep, submersion – into the Belmont archives to see if we can hazard a few guesses about what might happen in a couple of weeks.
As trainer Dale Romans discussed Shackleford’s chances in a 12-furlong race, he quoted racing legend Woody Stephens, who trained five straight Belmont winners. “You know, Woody Stephens said a long time ago, Belmont is a speed horse's race,” said Romans. He better hope so, and he’s got at least a little history on his side: Eight horses in the last 20 years - Tabasco Cat, Thunder Gulch, Hansel, Touch Gold, Commendable, Point Given, Empire Maker, and A.P. Indy - all won the race by sitting close to the pace. But Animal Kingdom’s connections might be heartened, too, as five of the last 20 winners – Editor’s Note, Jazil, Afleet Alex, Lemon Drop Kid, and Victory Gallop – all came off the pace…though only a few of them from quite so far off as Animal Kingdom seems to like.
If Shackleford wants to take the Test of the Champion, he better be ready to sit back a little and hope that someone else goes for it…in the last 20 years, only one winner has led wire to wire.
That’s right, Da’ Tara, 2008.
We might anticipate some decent payouts. In non-Triple Crown years since 1991, the Belmont winner has paid an average of $15.30. The shortest-priced horse to win was A.P. Indy in 1992, paying $4.20; the biggest payout was Commendable’s $39.60 in 2000. Only three – A.P. Indy, Point Given, and Afleet Alex – paid less than $10.
As for attendance…in non-Triple Crown years, an average of 52, 082 have turned out for New York’s biggest racing day. When the winners of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness show up, so do an average of an additional 3,000 fans.
And in strict head-to-head competition, the Preakness beats the Kentucky Derby hands down (which is a racing term…any thoughts on its meaning?). The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners have met in the Belmont five times since 1991: 1991, Strike the Gold and Hansel; 1993, Sea Hero and Prairie Bayou; 1994, Go for Gin and Tabasco Cat; 2001, Monarchos and Point Given; 2005, Giacomo and Afleet Alex.
In four of those five meetings, the Preakness winner – Hansel, Tabasco Cat, Point Given, and Afleet Alex – defeated the Derby winner. The one Preakness winner who lost, Prairie Bayou, sadly broke down during the race.
Twice – in 1991 and 1994 – the Kentucky Derby winner filled out the exacta: Hansel/Strike the Gold paid $39.20; Tabasco Cat/Go For Gin paid $19.20. Sea Hero finished seventh, Monarchos third, and Giacomo seventh. The Point Given/A P Valentine/Monarchos triple paid $76.
So let’s hope that Animal Kingdom and Shackleford both show up, and let’s hope that a live longshot joins the crowd to fill out a juicy trifecta…mutuel clerk, make mine a $1 triple box…