New York Even without a Triple Crown on the line, the 143rd Belmont Stakes indeed may be the “Test of the Champion.”
The final leg of the Triple Crown features not only the rubber match between Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness winner Shackleford today, but the top seven finishers from the Derby for the first time as well.
“Why did everyone pick this year to come back?” wondered a smiling Graham Motion, who trains Animal Kingdom.
After watching his Derby winner gallop around the 11⁄2-mile main track at Belmont Park on Friday morning, Motion declared his colt in “great form” and up to the challenge of taking on a slew of rivals for the third time in five weeks.
“To have seven horses come back from the Derby, and to have the winner of the Preakness and Derby, what more can you want?” Motion said. “Everyone wants to see a Triple Crown winner, but ultimately this is the test of champions, and I think this really is going to be that test.”
Animal Kingdom is the 2-1 favorite in a field of 12 3-year-olds as he attempts to become the 12th horse to complete a Derby-Belmont double. The last to succeed was Thunder Gulch in 1995.
Derby runner-up Nehro is the second choice at 4-1, with Shackleford next at 9-2 as he tries to become the 19th horse to take the Preakness and Belmont.
Ahmed Zayat, who owns Nehro, can’t wait to see what happens.
“This race will be something special,” he said. “It’s another Derby at the test of champions.”