With 'Animal' second, Belmont loses luster

Shackleford, right, ridden by Jesus Castanon, works down Shackleford, right, ridden by Jesus Castanon, works down the stretch in front of Animal Kingdom, left, ridden by Mike Smith, in front of the rest of the pack during 136th Preakness Stakes. (May 21, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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BALTIMORE -- When the Triple Crown is on the line, the Belmont Stakes becomes a mainstream obsession. People with little or no interest in horse racing jump on the bandwagon, turning horses like Smarty Jones and Funny Cide into cult figures and marketing goldmines. But when different horses win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, the final 3-year-old classic is just a very long lap around North America's biggest racetrack. Only the horses' connections and horseplayers care about it.

Animal Kingdom gave it his best shot yesterday at Pimlico but fell short by a half-length to Shackleford. The colt was trying to become the eighth horse in 15 years to hit the Derby-Preakness double.

There has been no sweep since Affirmed became the 11th to earn immortality in 1978. Four horses since the turn of the millennium have tried, and although they came up short in the 1½-mile marathon, business boomed at Belmont. Smarty Jones attracted a record crowd of 120,139 in 2004, and War Emblem (103,222 in 2002) and Funny Cide (101,864 in 2003) also cleared six figures. If not for oppressive heat, Big Brown in 2008 would have brought in more than 94,476.

So, unfortunately for racing, the third jewel in the crown won't be a precious stone. It might not even lure the Preakness winner. After running hard for every step of the way at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, Shackleford may need a rest.

"We'll see how he comes out of this," trainer Dale Romans said. "Woody Stephens always said the Belmont is a speed race, and that everybody is tired at the eighth pole."

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