Sunday, May 22, 2011

Animal Kingdom Comes Up Short

As it does most years, the Preakness ended dreams of a Triple Crown for the Kentucky Derby winner yesterday.

But, unlike most of those years, this year's Derby winner — Animal Kingdom — almost pulled it off.

It didn't look that way at first. Animal Kingdom started the race way back in the pack, actually leading only one other horse as they made the first turn.

But then, as the Preakness progressed, it began to resemble the Kentucky Derby, in which Animal Kingdom made his move on the outside and overtook the rest of the field.

The same thing nearly happened yesterday.

Animal Kingdom shifted into the next gear and began passing horses on the outside — and was making what would have been a comeback of legend if he had been able to pull it off.

Shackleford, though, held off the hard–charging Animal Kingdom in a thrilling — and, for some lucky folks, a profitable — Preakness finish.

Does Animal Kingdom's loss mean there is little reason to watch the Belmont Stakes in three weeks? Hardly, according to Mark Breech of Sports Illustrated.

If Animal Kingdom had pulled off an historic reversal and won the Preakness, he might have been the one horse racing has been waiting for. And Breech thinks he should be the favorite to win the Belmont.

If Animal Kingdom does win the Belmont, he will have achieved something that has been almost as rare as Triple Crown winners. He will have won the first and third jewels of the Triple Crown (with a near–miss in the second).

Thunder Gulch, in 1995, was the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont. There have been seven horses since then who have won the first two jewels but have fallen short in the third, the longest and most grueling of the three races.

And two horses have won the second and third jewels but not the first.

Animal Kingdom, writes Breech, "should love the immensity of the Triple Crown's third track. ... Animal Kingdom has been the fastest horse at the end of both of the first two races in this series. Having more room to run can only be to his benefit."

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