Word came down this weekend that Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, was definitely going to go to the Belmont Stakes. As a matter of fact, Barry Irwin, leader of Team Valor, has informed the rest of the investors that the horse will be working at Belmont Park on Monday, covering a half-mile in what should be final tune-up for "The Test Of Champions".
Trainer Steve Asmussen worked the Derby runner-up, Nehro, this weekend, going six furlongs in 1:12.20. Nehro worked in company with another horse and while actually finishing a length behind the other horse, who is also trained by Steve Asmussen. This workout actually took place at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. The drf.com website is reporting that Asmussen plans to ship Nehro to New York on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Preakness winner, Shackleford, arrived in New York on Monday morning for trainer Neil Howard and will likely have a workout of his own on Saturday morning to determine whether or not he will participate in the Belmont.
It is the hope here that Shackleford's workout goes well and he does indeed enter the Belmont Stakes. It would be extraordinary to have a two-horse rivalry with the Derby and Preakness winner, of course, develop. But, if you throw in the Derby runner-up and consider that all three are trained by some of the top conditioners in the game (Graham Motion, Steve Asmussen, and Neil Howard), we could be looking at a very promising summer as far as the racing scene goes. How tremendous would it be for these three to all be there at the end of the Belmont and then go on to run in some of the bigger three-year-old races on the calendar this summer? A three-way battle at the Haskell Invitational or the Travers Stakes would be a monumental step forward into the spotlight for racing. If this trio were to continue on through this year and (dare I say it) into 2012, it could be something to start generating national interest again outside of the Triple Crown or the Breeders' Cup.
Just watch the NBA Finals starting tonight, there will be plenty of interest in this series. Why? The Miami Heat were everybody's villains at the start of the season with the way Lebron James left Cleveland for South Beach, taking his talents with him to play with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Now, the media is all agog over how the Heat have magically put it together and "The Heatles" are on the cusp on a championship. On the other side of the ledger you have the Dallas Mavericks with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd longing for an elusive championship to validate their greatness.
What do all these men I have mentioned have in common? They are all "stars" in their respective sport. "Stars" sell in the "here today, gone tomorrow" world of media coverage we live in today. Horse racing, like any other sport, needs "stars" to become more and more prominent beyond the usual $2 bettor that visits the track anyway or the occasional pretty face that comes out only for the Derby. It is possible we are looking at some equine stars right now that could pick up the baton from Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra and carry it into the immediate future.
It is, of course, impossible now to have a Triple Crown winner this year, but racing might get something out of this that is just as important: relevance for more than five weeks in the spring or two days in the fall.
Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!