BALTIMORE — Looking to pull off another remarkable race, Animal Kingdom's trip from the back of the pack at the Preakness Stakes came up half a length short.
Gone was another chance for a Triple Crown winner as Shackleford held on to win the second jewel Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.
"I would love to win a Triple Crown, as much for me as for everybody else. There is so much pressure to do that because it would be so good for the game," Animal Kingdom's trainer, Graham Motion said. "But it wasn't meant to be. The horse ran a great race. ... If it wasn't for the fact that it was the Triple Crown, you'd be thrilled that he ran so well."
This time of year that's the focus, especially given that no horse has captured the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes since Affirmed in 1978. Thirty-three opportunities have since come and gone with no chance for horse racing to enjoy a moment in the spotlight after the Belmont.
But despite Animal Kingdom not being able to win the Triple Crown, the June 11 Belmont Stakes still holds a lot of value for horse racing - most importantly because it could be a rematch for the Derby and Preakness winners.
Dale Romans, who trains Shackleford, called it a "better than 50-50" chance for his horse to go to Elmont, N.Y., for the final Triple Crown race.
"I thought last night of going onto Belmont right away," Romans said Sunday before Shackleford went back to Kentucky. "Ultimately it will be [co-owner Mike Lauffer's] call, but he'll let me have a lot of input, I'm sure. If he trains like he did going into the Derby, I don't know why we would pass."
The Preakness drew 107,398 to Pimlico on Saturday, the sixth-largest crowd to see the race. The Belmont might have trouble drawing as much national interest without the Triple Crown on the line, but those who attend or watch on television might see an early preview of a competition for 3-year-old horse of the year.
Animal Kingdom seems a sensible candidate to come back.
"He seems fine this morning, but [I] would like to give him a week to see how he is doing before we commit," Motion told The Washington Times in a text message. "[We] would love to run in the Belmont if he is doing well."
Combine that with the possible return of Mucho Macho Man off the Preakness and contenders Nehro and Santiva who skipped the race in Baltimore, and the Belmont could be a showcase for the sport. Animal Kingdom's participation would add another element.
"It will be good for horse racing to have another good rivalry," Romans said. "I believe the future's going to show that this is a pretty good crop of 3-year-olds ... and hopefully we'll have a good rivalry with Animal Kingdom when it comes down to the wire."
But for most casual horse racing fans, it might be tough to summon interest in the Belmont in a little less than three weeks. Eleven times since 1978, the Triple Crown has been a possibility going into the final leg, though only once (Big Brown, 2008) in the past five years.
Romans insisted Saturday night that horse racing will get another Triple Crown winner - but it will require something special.
"It's a difficult task. You're running three different distances in five weeks in [three] different racetracks. It takes a super horse to accomplish it," he said. "It's just been a long time since we had one. I don't think it should be messed with at all. I think it's a great thing in sports, and when a super horse comes along, they'll accomplish it."
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