|Derby champion Animal Kingdom will take on Preakness winner Shackleford in the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel in the Triple Crown. (Al Bello/ Getty Images)|
Animal Kingdom Belmont favorite
Derby runner-up Nehro is 2d choice
NEW YORK — The 1-2 finishers in the Kentucky Derby are 1-2 on the morning line for the Belmont Stakes.
Derby winner Animal Kingdom was made the 2-1 favorite for Saturday’s final leg of the Triple Crown, with Derby runner-up Nehro the second choice at 4-1.
Preakness winner Shackleford was next at 9-2 when a field of 12 was entered yesterday for the first rubber match between a Derby winner and Preakness winner since 2005.
Animal Kingdom, with John Velazquez riding, leaves from the No. 9 post, which has produced only four Belmont winners since 1905. The colt trained by Graham Motion is attempting to become the 12th to complete a Derby-Belmont sweep. The last to succeed was Thunder Gulch in 1995.
“It doesn’t change anything for us,’’ Motion said of the post position. “I don’t think it’s going to take him out of his game.’’
Shackleford, with jockey Jesus Castanon aboard, will try to become the first Belmont winner out of the No. 12 post. The colt trained by Dale Romans also is attempting to become the 22d Preakness-Belmont winner.
Although Motion says Shackleford may have to work harder early in the race to get an inside position, Romans isn’t buying it.
“In a mile-and-a-half race, the post position isn’t that important,’’ Romans said. “With No. 12, he’ll be the last one in and the first one out. Hopefully, he’ll be able to clear the field.’’
Nehro, with Corey Nakatani riding, has finished second in his last three starts. The colt drew the No. 6 post.
“Nehro is very versatile, so he can be anywhere,’’ said Brad Weisbord, racing manager for Nehro’s owner Ahmed Zayat.
The Belmont is the longest and most grueling of the Triple Crown races, and post position usually isn’t considered as vital as in the Derby and Preakness. Motion, though, believes it can be significant.
“It’s not a very long run to the first turn, so I do think it’s important,’’ he said. “I’m glad I’m not hung out there [like Shackleford].’’
For the first time, the first seven finishers from the Derby will be running in the Belmont.
The field, from the rail out, is Master of Hounds (10-1), Stay Thirsty (20-1), Ruler On Ice (20-1), Santiva (15-10), Brilliant Speed (15-1), Nehro (4-1), Monzon (30-1), Prime Cut (15-1), Animal Kingdom (2-1), Mucho Macho Man (10-1), Isn’t He Perfect (30-1), and Shackleford (9-2).
Motion has won big races in 18 years as a trainer, including a couple at the Breeders’ Cup with Better Talk Now and Shared Account and a Whitney Handicap with Bullsbay.
Despite his unforgettable journey through Kentucky, Maryland and New York, Motion refuses to let the hectic pace get to him. Even family and friends say so.
“His mother and I are extraordinarily proud of him, and through it all he’s been determined to spend as much time as possible with his family,’’ his father, Michael Motion, said. “What he’s accomplished is absolutely amazing.’’
Just the other day, for example, the trainer left Belmont Park and returned home to Fair Hill, Md., where he attended Tuesday’s middle school graduation of his daughter, Jane.
It was a family affair, and Michael Motion said the keynote speaker’s family centered remarks reminded him of his son, who is based at the Fair Hill Training Center instead of at a racetrack just so he can spend as much time as possible with his wife, Anita, Jane, and son Marcus.
“Graham has really got this way of life about him,’’ said his father, who was an international bloodstock agent for 40 years.
Fellow trainer David Donk, who has known Motion for 13 years, couldn’t agree more. Their families are close, they spend time together at Fair Hill and Saratoga, and Motion not only stables his horses at Donk’s barn when they run in New York, he also bunks at his house less than a mile from Belmont.
Donk recalled Motion’s post-Derby comments following his return to Fair Hill.
“He kept telling everyone he didn’t want to talk about the Preakness,’’ Donk said. “ ‘I want to enjoy this for a few days’ he said. He didn’t want to get tense and bothered about the next race.’’
After watching Animal Kingdom’s workout Monday, Motion reflected on the past two months.
“Every week has been different,’’ he said. “First, it was going from winning the Wood Memorial with Toby’s Corner to having him get hurt and not be able to run in the Derby. Then there was the thrill of winning the Derby with Animal Kingdom and the pressure of wanting to win the Preakness. Then we had the disappointment of not winning and having the pressure suddenly off.
“Plenty of sleepless nights.’’ he added with a smile, “and I’ve always been a good sleeper.’’