Photo by Linda Doane
With one eye looking ahead to Derby 138, we are taking a glance back at the horses who made headlines during the Triple Crown races of 2011. Last year we saw a different horse win each of the Triple Crown races. Which is not unthinkable, but to have all three continue their racing careers into their four year old year is very unusual. And to have the trio all scheduled to make their 2012 debut within two weeks of each other, is really unique. So, where are the 2011 Triple Crown champions now?
The Kentucky Derby was won by Team Valor International’s Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom was the lesser regarded of a duo of horses being prepared for the Derby by trainer Graham Motion. Training at Churchill Downs, Animal Kingdom was just beginning to come into his own and starting to catch the attention of the rail birds with his morning workouts. Toby’s Corner, Motion’s other Derby contender, was taken out of training just a week prior to the race due to injury and Animal Kingdom went on to win the roses under jockey John Velazquez. His last race of the 2011 season was his race in the Belmont Stakes, where he finished 6th. After that race it was found that he had a small hairline fracture in his left hock which required surgery. After rehabilitation, he resumed training at Motion’s Herringswell Stable at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. He was shipped to Palm Meadows Training Center in Boyton Beach, Florida to prepare for his 2012 debut in January. Animal Kingdom is slated to make his first start in 2012 on February 25th at Tampa Bay Downs in the Tampa Bay Stakes GIII. The Tampa Bay is 1 1/16th turf race and is being used as a prep for his next race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup five weeks later on the synthetic course at Meydan. Team Valor recently posted comments from Motion via twitter, “I think a turf race will be easier on him coming back,” Motion said. “It’s a little kinder than the dirt. If the race in Dubai was on dirt, it would probably be a different story.”
In the same release, owner Barry Irwin says, “This horse is just on ‘go,’. He is relishing his work, he is happy to be out there, and he just loves to run. And he doesn’t seem to be getting that tired.”
Animal Kingdom raced in all three of the Triple Crown races, starting with his Derby win, finishing 2nd in the Preakness and 5th in the Belmont.
Shackleford is the striking chestnut colt that caught a lot of attention on the Derby trail with what some would consider an “over the top” attitude. In each of the Triple Crown post parades you could find him under jockey J.L. Castanon hopping and skipping, bucking and playing all the way to the starting gate during the pre-race warm up. But when the gates opened up, he became a force to be reckoned with his charge to the front of the pack racing style. After finishing 4th in the Kentucky Derby, some insiders were dubious if Shackleford had what it took to win one of the classic races. The distance of the races were in question for his racing style of being one of the leaders in the early part of his races. On Saturday, May 21st he silenced all doubters. Stalking long shot Flashpoint to the top of the Pimilco stretch, Shackleford took command and won the Preakness convincingly by 1 ½ lengths over Animal Kingdom. Owned by Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge and trained by Churchill Downs regular, Dale Romans, Shackleford was given some time off after his 2nd place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He has joined Romans at his Florida winter base. He is being prepared for his return to the races in the Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park, where he will meet the 2011 Belmont winner, Ruler on Ice.
Ruler on Ice didn’t compete in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. George and Lori Hall’s son of Roman Ruler pulled the biggest shocker of the 2011 Triple Crown series by winning the 1 ½ Belmont Stakes at odds of 24-1. Although Ruler on Ice was nominated and being pointed for the Kentucky Derby, he was excluded from the 20 horse field due to lack of graded stakes earnings. The Halls and trainer Kelly Breen did run another of their stable in the first classic, Pants On Fire who finished 9th that day. Ruler On Ice raced on Derby Day, but in a small stakes race at Pimlico Race Course and finished 2nd. He then waited the five weeks for the Belmont Stakes. Ruler On Ice was always considered to be talented, but sometimes lacked focus, so trainer Breen added blinkers to his horse’s equipment for the Belmont Stakes. According to his jockey, Jose Valdivia, Jr., Ruler On Ice loved the muddy Belmont strip that day and the blinkers. He sat second to pace setter Shackleford during much of the race. And then took command in mid-stretch holding off Stay Thirsty and Brilliant Speed for the win. Animal Kingdom, who encountered problems out of the starting gate, stumbling and almost losing jockey John Velazquez, finished 6th. Shackelford tiring after leading the race finished 5th.
Ruler On Ice raced in Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Churchill Downs finishing 3rd. His connections decided to try him again on the Churchill Downs oval during the Fall Meet and entered him in the Clark Handicap on closing weekend where he finished 5th. He came out of that race with a lung infection and was given time to recover. Ruler On Ice has been training at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boyton Beach, Florida. He is slated to begin his 2012 racing season in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park where he will meet Shackelford again.
The meeting of Animal Kingdom and Shackleford marked the first time since 2005 that the winners of the Derby and Preakness met in the Belmont. This year’s Belmont also marked the first to feature the first seven finishers of the Derby. In fact, eight of the 12 Belmont runners ran in the Derby.
For racing fans to have the chance to watch these 2011 Triple Crown champs continue on with their racing careers is quite the coup. It has been the trend in recent years to sell the breeding rights to these valuable Thoroughbreds at the close of their three-year-old season and retire them from racing. We applaud the owner’s sportsmanship and wish them all the best of luck in their 2012 campaigns.
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Carla Grego Membership Coordinator / Horsemen Relations