(WHAS11) - Animal Kingdom is the 2-1 favorite in the Belmont Stakes in a race that, at least on paper, is his to lose. He dominates this field when you break down the numbers. The emergence of Animal Kingdom as the royalty of the 3-year-old class is all the more remarkable because the colt is bred to run on grass. He has a grass pedigree from his British top to his German bottom!
As our handicapping session at Bistro 42 broke up this we remarked that the Belmont field looks more like a group of classic turf horses than Triple Crown contenders. Yes, 2011 is truly the year of the grass horse on the Triple Crown trail. Even before the Kentucky Derby, it was clear that many trainers were taking their big grass horses and giving them a shot at the Triple Crown classics.
For instance, Soldat ran in the Breeders' Cup as a two year old on grass. By the time he arrived in Florida, he was entered in a dirt race which he won in the mud. Grass was in the past … at least for the spring.
By Derby time, with a boost from polytrack (ground up tires…plays like grass), Soldat was joined by a chorus line of grass dancers.
Archarcharch carried his European grass pedigree to the winner's circle in the Arkansas Derby.
Brilliant Speed surfaced at Keeneland as the latest son of Dynaformer to make the Derby field. Dynaformer, who also sired Barbaro, is the son of stellar grass sire Roberto.
Master of Hounds shipped in from Europe for the Derby and returns for the Belmont with his Kingmambo pedigree, that features a dam by grass sire Sadler's Wells. He was fifth in the Derby, and well, closing like a grass horse.
Santiva, who was sixth in the Derby gets lots of grass influence from his sire Giant's Causeway.
And Twinspired, the horse with so many Louisville connections, loved the polytrack despite his Harlan's Holiday pedigree. If you look closer, the dam's sire is El Prado, which puts the possibility of grass in play.
And so, the Belmont Stakes becomes a convention of grass horses….almost.
There are a couple of serious dirt horses headed to the Big Apple. Both Shackleford and Nehro rate and run like conventional dirt horses. We can envision Shackleford going out and setting the pace with Nehro sitting comfortably right off of him. Castenon and "Shak" have already proven they can rate a little bit on the front end and turn back the challenges of contenders such as the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner. And Nehro is the "fresh" horse who is bred to run all day on dirt. He won't have any trouble keeping up with the modest pace and may just have plenty left at the end when the typical grass "cavalry charge" ensues.
So will we see two races? Will the dirt horses give the grass horses the pace they need to close? Or will the dirt devils simply grind it out on the front end? It could be two races that end at the same place and same time.
When you watch the Belmont and the critical pace, get ready for a convergence of these two racing styles in the stretch run. We think your superfecta should include Nehro, Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, and perhaps Brilliant Speed or Santiva.
Good luck and enjoy the Belmont. It's been a great spring of horse racing.