The European horse was a mystery entering the Kentucky Derby. But after his fifth-place finish at Churchill Downs, he should be a contender at the Belmont. The main question is how he will respond to the mile-and-a-half distance at the third leg of Triple Crown. The Derby was the longest race of his career (at a mile and a quarter), as there aren't many opportunities for 2-year-olds in Europe to race longer than a mile. The only benefit: The longer distance should provide him more time to recover if he gets caught in traffic along the rail.
2 of 11Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Stay Thirsty and Ruler on Ice
The Todd Pletcher-trained horse ( pictured ) is rested after skipping the Preakness, and he's had success in the state of New York, winning the Gotham Stakes in March. Otherwise, the odds are stacked against him. Stay Thirsty struggled and finished 12th at the Kentucky Derby and has lost by more than 10 lengths in three of his four top-grade stakes races. Staying close to the front pack and finding enough speed for a strong finish is Stay Thirsty's only hope of winning. Post Position: 3 Odds: 20-1 One of three horses in the race without any Triple Crown experience, Ruler On Ice has consistently finished near the front of the pack. But he hasn't raced the top-tier competition he'll see Saturday. His best showing might be a third-place finish at the Sunland Derby, where only Twice the Appeal (10th at the Kentucky Derby) and Astrology (third at the Preakness) beat him. He was a 3-2 favorite at the Federico Tesio Stakes, a Preakness prep, but he finished second. If he responds well to the increased level of competition, he could stay close. Otherwise, he'll be at the back of the pack.
3 of 11Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
After a solid sixth-place finish at the Kentucky Derby, Santiva could be a threat at the Belmont. His sire, Giant's Causeway, is known for producing horses with stamina, and that will be useful at the mile-and-a-half distance. If he can stay close to the leaders and still have enough left to finish strongly over the last quarter-mile, Santiva could surprise the field.
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Despite running into traffic early in the Kentucky Derby and being forced outside down the final stretch, Brilliant Speed managed a seventh-place finish. It wasn't the first time he finished well after a slow start. In the Blue Grass Stakes in April, he went from last to first over the race's final half. A better start would still help, but Brilliant Speed's strength late in races bodes well for the distance at the Belmont. Even though all six horses who beat him at the Derby will be here, he has a chance to steal the longest Triple Crown race.
5 of 11Simon Bruty/SI
Nehro has three consecutive runner-up finishes against strong competition, and he could have won each of those races. At the Louisiana and Arkansas Derby, he ran out of room, falling 1/4-length short each time. At the Kentucky Derby, he posted 19th and got stuck on the outside for most of the race. He launched into his kick too soon and struggled in the last few strides. At the Belmont, he has a good starting position and plenty of time to close on the front pack. The only question is if he'll finally make good on his potential.
6 of 11John McDonnell/The Washington
Monzon will have to take a huge leap forward to contend at the Belmont. Since a season-opening win at the Count Fleet Stakes on New Year's Day, Monzon has failed to make the necessary improvements as he has moved up in class. He struggled to fifth at the Sam F. Davis Stakes in February and sixth at the Peter Pan Stakes last month. Those races were all 1 1/8 miles, much shorter than Saturday's distance. He does have a good bloodline, so his best hope is that he'll race like his sire, Thunder Gulch, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont in 1995. But he hasn't shown that type of talent yet.
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Another horse getting his introduction to the Triple Crown, Prime Cut finished third at the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont last month. The biggest concern is he faded some late in the 1 1/8-mile race, which doesn't project well for the longer distance Saturday. Prime Cut wants a slow pace, which would let him stay close to the field and create a free-for-all at the end of the race. If it turns into a game of kicker's roulette, he probably doesn't have enough speed to win, but he might be able to sneak into the top three.
8 of 11Heinz Kluetmeier/SI
The Kentucky Derby winner nearly entered the Belmont looking to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, but his attempt to run down Shackleford at the Preakness came up just short. Animal Kingdom used the same plan in both races: lurking near the back of the pack, moving up along the outside and closing hard in the final stretch. The Belmont sets up well for the strategy to work again. The only risk is that the mile-and-a-half distance will weaken Animal Kingdom's kick. If not, he should end the Triple Crown the same way he started it -- with a win.
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Mucho Macho Man
A strong third-place finish at the Kentucky Derby marked Mucho Macho Man as a contender for the rest of the Triple Crown, but he lost some luster with a sixth-place showing at the Preakness. He responded poorly when he ran into traffic at Pimlico, but a smaller field at the Belmont should help with that problem. As the youngest horse in the field, Mucho Macho Man is still a work in progress, and his talent should translate well to the mile-and-a-half distance. If he is as good as some experts believed after the Derby, he could win the race, despite double-digit odds.
10 of 11John Iacono/SI
Isn't He Perfect
After a ninth-place finish at the Preakness, there isn't much for Isn't He Perfect to get excited about. He entered that race after a pair of fifth-place finishes at the Wood Memorial and the Jerome Handicap, so although he has talent, he has yet to contend against a top-flight field. The horse has run well in the middle of races, and his best chance to be a contender Saturday is to push this portion of the race. Still, Isn't He Perfect will need plenty of breaks to be in contention down the stretch Saturday.
11 of 11Simon Bruty/SI
The Preakness winner is in a tricky position. He has gone out at the front of the field in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but faded near the end of each race. He fell to fourth in the Kentucky Derby but hung on at Pimlico. That strategy doesn't seem well suited for the mile-and-a-half Belmont, so Shackleford's team must decide whether to stick with their plan or adjust their strategy and see how the horse responds to racing in a different way. He'll also have to beat history: No horse has ever won the Belmont from the 12th post position.
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