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So much for conventional wisdom! Shackleford couldn’t have had it any easier in the Kentucky Derby, controlling the slowest pace the race had seen in decades, but just couldn’t find it when it counted most, fading to finish fourth as Animal Kingdom charged to victory. Two weeks later in Baltimore he wouldn’t have it nearly as easy. The addition of Flashpoint to the field promised a much hotter pace, and they didn’t disappoint. Shackleford would end up just to the outside of Flashpoint, getting the first half in :46.87 – nearly two seconds faster than the Derby. Flashpoint couldn’t handle it, and faded to last. Most thought that Shackleford would begin to moonwalk, just as he did in the Derby. Once again, Animal Kingdom made a furious rally, this time from much farther back. Unlike last time though, Shackleford wasn’t through yet. Despite not having the lead and the much faster pace, he had enough left to keep the Derby winner at bay. Why was he able to do in Baltimore what he wasn’t able to do in Louisville? Going a little bit shorter may have helped his cause, but I’m not convinced that Animal Kingdom would have gone by, even if he had the extra 1/16th of a mile to do it. Speed favoring track at Pimlico? I don’t buy that either. I think he’s just a tenacious colt who runs better with a target. Sometimes he’ll hold on, sometimes he won’t, but you can always count on him to run his best. And now it’s onto the Belmont Stakes in two week’s time. Even though there isn’t going to be a Triple Crown on the line, early indications are that both Animal Kingdom and Shackleford will be running. There hasn’t been a rubber match between a Derby and Preakness winner in the Belmont since 2005, when Afleet Alex cruised home by seven lengths, while Giacomo could manage no better than seventh. There are questions about Shackleford’s ability to get the mile and a half distance, but front runners have historically done well in the Belmont Stakes. A win by either of them would go a long way towards earning championship honors at the end of the year. Derby runner-up Nehro also will be returning to the Triple Crown trail after bypassing the Preakness, and has the advantage of going in being a fresh horse. He’s strung together a series of very strong second place finishes in recent months, and he’s certainly capable of upsetting the party and staking his claim for leadership in the 3-year-old division. The first two acts have been exciting, but I think the best is yet to come in the finale!