Horse Racing: Heartbeats and Hoofbeats: Shackleford upsets Animal Kingdom in Preakness

By Susan Johnson
Copy Editor

Some actors think a case of nerves just before going on stage presages a good performance. Does the same axiom hold true for horse races? That seemed to be the case Saturday, May 21, at the 136th Preakness Stakes.

Going into the starting gate, Shackleford got a dose of the “Nervous Nellies,” sweating, kicking and in general protesting. The only one who looked worse was Dance City. In both cases, crewmen had to shove them into the starting gate. In contrast, Derby winner Animal Kingdom was calm, cool and collected. So what went wrong?

The way it appeared to viewers, Animal Kingdom was running second to last and may have waited a bit too long to make his big move—impressive though it was. Jockey John Velazquez offered a possible explanation—the horse got hit in the face by flying dirt, which may have caused him to back off a bit. Still, he was making up for lost time and gaining ground fast at the finish—but it wasn’t enough. At 1-3/16 miles, the Preakness is the shortest of the Triple Crown races. And for all his pre-race jitters, Shackleford got his act together when it counted most.

Trainer Dale Romans was very happy to finally win a classic race on U.S. soil. Though he had previously won the $6 million Dubai World Cup, he said: “This is much better. This puts you in the history books.”

Undoubtedly, these two contenders will be back for a rematch in three weeks at the Belmont. Or will a third winner take that crown from both of them? Until then, let’s look at a few statistics: Twenty-two of the last 25 Preakness winners had competed in the Derby; now add one more to the list. Size doesn’t always give an advantage; Mucho Macho Man, at 17 hands the tallest competitor, fared even worse than in the Derby, where he came in third. Robby Albarado, who was originally scheduled to ride Animal Kingdom in the Derby, finally got his chance aboard King Congie in the Preakness. It didn’t matter.

Strangely enough, Nehro, who finished second in the Derby and was deliberately held out of the Preakness in preparation for the Belmont, will have to get a new jockey. Michael Baze, 24, who rode Nehro at Churchill Downs, was found dead in his car under mysterious circumstances. A suicide? An autopsy was scheduled to determine the cause.

Meanwhile, barring an injury or other mishap, Jesus Castanon is guaranteed a ride on Shackleford in the Belmont. The horse was a good buy at Pimlico—going off at 12-1, he paid $27.20 for the win. A $2 trifecta paid $1,401. Not only did he get the $800,000 first-place purse, but he earned a $550,000 bonus as part of a promotion to encourage horses who ran in Derby prep races to run in the Preakness. A very good deal!

From the May 25-31, 2011 issue

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