Horses

Ruler On Ice's win shakes up 3-year-old division

Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. and Ruler On Ice headed to the winner's circle after their victory in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. A decision on Ruler On Ice's next start hasn't been made, but trainer Kelly Breen mentioned the Travers Stakes as a possibility.
Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. and Ruler On Ice headed to the winner's circle after their victory in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. A decision on Ruler On Ice's next start hasn't been made, but trainer Kelly Breen mentioned the Travers Stakes as a possibility. AP

ELMONT, N.Y. — Less than 24 hours after his improbable victory in Saturday's rain-soaked Belmont Stakes, Ruler On Ice was still surprising trainer Kelly Breen with his abilities.

"I'm shocked to say this morning he looks as if he didn't even run," Breen said from his Monmouth Park base Sunday. "I'd have to think that's a pretty good sign."

As is the case with the rest of his 3-year-old brethren, most everyone is still trying to get a handle on just how good Ruler On Ice is.

Though it produced its share of drama, this season's Triple Crown races did little to establish a clear-cut 3-year-old leader as longshots reigned supreme in each leg.

Had either Animal Kingdom — who won the Kentucky Derby at odds of 20-to-1 — or Shackleford — who took the Preakness at 12-to-1 — been able prevail over the 11/2-mile Belmont oval, it would have taken a monumental second half effort from another 3-year-old to wrest the year-end hardware away.

In the wake of Ruler On Ice's three-quarter length score at odds of 24-to-1, prestigious summer races such as the Grade II Jim Dandy, Grade I Haskell Invitational and Grade I Travers appear up for grabs.

Which test Ruler On Ice ends up is to be determined.

"I don't think anybody could put into words or make any calculations for what helped him or what hurt anybody else (in the Belmont)," said Breen, who did mention the Travers as a possibility. "That's racing, and that's why they run the races. If it wasn't, every 4-to-5 shot would just win. You've got to be in it to win it, and I was more than happy to be in it."

Other than breaking his maiden over a sloppy track, there wasn't much in Ruler On Ice's form to suggest he would spring the kind of effort he did Saturday as he was winless in two prior tries against stakes company.

Considering Animal Kingdom hadn't run on dirt prior to his Derby win, conventional wisdom didn't figure much into this year's Triple Crown.

"I think it's early to really have a strong opinion on these horses, especially when some of them are doing things they weren't necessarily cut out to do," said Graham Motion, trainer of Animal Kingdom. "I was surprised (by Ruler On Ice). How couldn't you be?"

Ruler On Ice's win is already causing others to rethink some initial plans.

Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin said earlier during Belmont week that he was not planning to run Animal Kingdom in either the Haskell or Travers and would look instead to races on turf.

Now that the chestnut colt finished sixth in the Belmont, there is a chance he could have a change in itinerary.

"I don't know now. We want to make this horse 3-year-old champion and we really thought we were going to win the Belmont," Irwin said. "He's still probably the leader of the 3-year-old pack right now but he's no cinch to win the championship, so I think we're going to have to put him somewhere to solidify that. We're going to have to take a look at the Travers (on Aug. 27)."

The Dale Romans-trained Shackleford emerged from his fifth-place Belmont effort in good order but it will likely be a few weeks before a decision on his next start is made.

Stay Thirsty and Brilliant Speed, second and third in the Belmont, respectively, are expected to be pointed to the Jim Dandy on July 30 as well as the Travers.

"I think the Belmont validated his (second-place finish) in the Hopeful last year and his win in the Gotham," said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Stay Thirsty. "At the same time anytime you get that close you're a little disappointed if you don't actually win. At the end of the day, we're proud of his effort."

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