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Saturday, June 11, 2011


BELMONT STAKES (G1) RECAP; Saturday, June 11, 2011


ELMONT, N.Y. – Ruler On Ice, dismissed at 24-1, sat a perfect trip under a patient Jose Valdivia, Jr., taking the lead at the top of the stretch and holding off another longshot, Stay Thirsty, to win Saturday’s 143rd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park.

Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, the 5-2 favorite, fell back to last shortly after the start when he clipped heels with Mucho Macho Man, who was bumped by Isn’t He Perfect. Under jockey John Velazquez, who lost his left stirrup and didn’t regain it until the first turn, Animal Kingdom made a gallant run to gain third on the far turn, but couldn’t sustain his bid and finished sixth in the third and final leg of racing’s Triple Crown.


With Preakness winner Shackleford setting moderate fractions of 23.92, 49.08, 1:14.51, 1:39.95 and 2:05.09, Valdivia bided his time and didn’t ask Ruler On Ice for run until the field straightened for home. The gelding, running with blinkers for the first time, eagerly began picking up the pace and struck the lead approaching the eighth pole, going on to a three-quarter length victory over Stay Thirsty and completing the 1 ½ miles in 2:30.88 over the sloppy, sealed main track.

The win, Ruler On Ice’s first in a stakes race, made him only the second gelding ever to win the Belmont, joining 1985 winner Creme Fraiche.

“[Trainer Kelly Breen] 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,” said Valdivia, 36, who was making his first start in the Belmont Stakes. “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.”

Stay Thirsty, the winner of the Grade 3 Gotham who went off at 16-1, was forwardly placed throughout and closed well to finish second, 1 ½ lengths in front of 10-1 shot Brilliant Speed.

The anticipated rematch between the winners of the Derby and Preakness never materialized, as Shackleford faded to finish fifth, 1 ½ lengths ahead of Animal Kingdom.

“The horse almost fell down,” said Graham Motion, trainer of the beaten favorite, who was bidding to become the first Derby winner to take the Belmont since Thunder Gulch in 1995. “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 really disappointing. It’s disappointing not to give the horse a chance to run his race. I thought down the backside we didn’t have any shot at all, and then he started to make that incredible move. But it was asking too much too late.”

Trainer Dale Romans was not disappointed in Shackleford, who was trying to join 10 other Preakness winners who completed the Preakness-Belmont double.

“He did everything he was supposed to do and didn't hang on,” said Romans. “We’re so proud of the way he performed. I was down, but I would never get too down running in this level of race.”

The “immature” Ruler On Ice, who didn’t make his first start until September 19, finishing fifth, broke his maiden in his second and final start of 2010. Finishing second in an optional claimer at Aqueduct Racetrack in his 2011 debut, Ruler On Ice then won an allowance at Parx Racing on February 22, finished third in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby on March 27 and was then second as the favorite in the Federico Tesio at Pimlico on Kentucky Derby day.

“He wouldn’t grow up,” said Breen, who trains Ruler On Ice for George and Lori Hall, all newcomers to the Belmont. “We were trying to see if with time he would mature without having to put blinkers on him. We were disappointed in the Tesio because we were looking at the Preakness, but maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Ever since he ran at Sunland Park, he came back with low red blood count and it showed in the stall and it showed in the feed tub. It took a little time to get back to normal.

“This week, he had the best blood report he’s had in the past few months, so I said, ‘It’s a go’,” he added. “[Blinkers] was part of the maturity. 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.”

Ruler On Ice, who earned $600,000 for the victory, returned $51.50 for a $2 win bet as he improved his record to 3-2-1 from seven starts.

Repole Stable’s Stay Thirsty, who finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness, had the best finish of any of the eight Derby starters in the Belmont.

“The way the race developed, Shackleford took the lead and the winner was second or third and we tried to stay with him,” said jockey Javier Castellano. “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.”

Brilliant Speed, who was seventh in the Derby and also bypassed the Preakness, made a solid run from ninth to finish 1 ½ lengths behind Stay Thirsty.

“He ran very well,” said Tom Albertani, who trains Brilliant Speed for Live Oak Plantation. “It looked like he had it at the eighth pole. I thought he was going to keep coming with that run.”

BELMONT STAKES (G1) QUOTES

Kelly Breen, winning trainer of Ruler On Ice (No. 3): “He wouldn’t grow up. We were trying to see if with time he would mature without having to put blinkers on him. We were disappointed in the Tesio because we were looking at the Preakness, but maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Ever since he ran at Sunland Park, he came back with low red blood count and it showed in the stall and it showed in the feed tub. It took a little time to get back to normal. After the Tesio, I thought he came back from the race somewhat lethargic. All of the sudden the last two weeks his red blood count was starting to come up and this week, he had the best blood report he’s had in the past few months, so I said, ‘It’s a go.’ Going into the race, we felt his blood had to be better for us to run.

“(Blinkers) was part of the maturity. 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.”

Jose Valdivia Jr., winning jockey of Ruler On Ice (No. 3): “The owners, Mr. George and Mrs. Lori Hall, believed in me and believed in this horse. We hit the far turn, and we had a half-mile to go. I was sitting and I had a lot of horse underneath me. I looked up at the wire and was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to win the Belmont Stakes.’

“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. 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. I have to thank the connections, George and Lori Hall and Kelly. I started working this horse this winter. I told Kelly that I liked him so much, I was going to freeze my butt off to come and work him every morning. He acts like he’s something special, and I don’t think we’ve gotten to the bottom of him yet.”

George Hall, winning owner of Ruler On Ice (No. 3): “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. 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.”

Lori Hall, winning owner of Ruler On Ice (No. 3): “I’m still shaking. It was amazing because we really were the underdog.”

Todd Pletcher, trainer of runner-up Stay Thirsty (No. 2): “The horse ran a super race. We were pleased. Of course, we would have loved to win this race. We are very proud of him. It was a great effort.”

Javier Castellano, jockey aboard runner-up Stay Thirsty (No. 2): “I have to give credit to the winner. 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.”

Tom Albertrani, trainer of 3rd-place finisher Brilliant Speed (No. 5): “He ran very well. It looked like he had it at the eighth pole. I thought he was going to keep coming with that run. Joel thought he was kind of looking around once he got to the lead, and that maybe he was kind of idling a little bit, but he ran well.”

Joel Rosario, jockey aboard 3rd-place finisher Brilliant Speed (No. 5): “I had a good trip. He ran well. Turning for home he made the lead and he looked around a little bit. I think he ran a good race today. The distance is perfect for him and he did much better than in the Derby.”

Steve Asmussen, trainer of 4th-place finisher Nehro (No. 6): “He ran a gutty race. He was kind of green with the kickback of the mud. He looked like he was swimming there a little and ended up fourth. He ran another solid race without winning.”

Corey Nakatani, jockey aboard 4th-place finisher of Nehro (No. 6): “Everything was new to us. Considering with the way the track was playing, I was able to get over to the inside and tuck in. He never really settled like I wanted him to do. He was climbing from being hit in the face with the mud. He's a young horse who has done a lot to this point. I know it is a little disappointing. I'm looking forward where he can put it all together one day.”

Dale Romans, trainer of 5th-place finisher Shackleford (No. 12): “He had it his way. We had it the way we wanted. He just didn't hang on. It's still wide open for champion 3-year-old. He did everything he was supposed to do and didn't hang on. We're so proud of the way he performed. I was down, but I would never get too down running in this level of race.”

Jesus Castanon, jockey aboard 5th-place finisher Shackleford (No. 12): “I have no excuse. He was doing it easy. He broke out of the gate the way he usually does and he was doing it easy; he gave me a good effort. My horse is a fighter. He tried not to let anyone pass him but he got a little tired. He handled the off track fine, no problem. He is a good horse.”

Graham Motion, trainer of 6th-place finisher and beaten favorite Animal Kingdom (No. 9): “It looks like he was pinched by the horses on either side. 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 really disappointing. It’s disappointing not to give the horse a chance to run his race. I thought down the backside we didn’t have any shot at all, and then he started to make that incredible move. But it was asking too much too late.”

John Velazquez, jockey aboard 6th-place finisher and beaten favorite Animal Kingdom (No. 9): “It was unbelievable. They came over on me and clipped heels and I almost came off.

I had a horrible trip. I was asking him for run way too much to be where I was from the half-mile pole to 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. No way he was going to make up that much ground. He’s still a great horse.”

Kathy Ritvo, trainer of 7th-place finisher Mucho Macho Man (No. 10): “It didn’t go as we hoped. Ramon said he just wasn’t handling the track.”

Ramon Dominguez, rider aboard 7th-place finisher Mucho Macho Man (No. 10): “He got a good trip. He just didn’t have it today.

Eddie Kenneally, trainer of 8th-place finisher Santiva (No. 4): “Shaun said he disliked the track, the wet surface. He said he never really traveled on it. We’ll just chalk it up to the sloppy track.”

Jose Lezcano, rider aboard 9th-place finisher Monzon (No. 7): “I followed the other horses. He made a little move, but the other horses kept going. He didn't have it.”

T.J. Comerford, assistant for Aidan O’Brien, trainer of 10th-place finisher Master of Hounds (No. 1): “Garrett said he just wasn’t getting over the track. That’s all.”

Garrett Gomez, 10th-place finisher Master of Hounds (No. 1): “I saved a lot of ground, but he didn't stay. He didn't stay at all.”

Edgar Prado, rider of 11th-place finisher Prime Cut (No. 8): “I don’t think he liked the track. As soon as he broke out of the gate, he was never on the bit. He was never happy. I tried to save as much ground as possible and just take my time. He got used to it a little bit and finished running.”

Rajiv Maragh, rider aboard 12th-place finisher Isn’t He Perfect (No. 11): “My horse was running well early in the race, but he just didn’t have it when the real running started.”



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