- Sherry Ross, ESPNNewYork.com
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ELMONT, N.Y. -- In a fitting finale to a wacky spring of racing, the final jewel of the Triple Crown was won by a bona fide nutjob.
Long shot Ruler On Ice put all of his past bizarre behavior in cold storage long enough to post a shocker in the 143rd running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes, leaving Preakness winner Shackleford and Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom -- who finished fifth and sixth, respectively -- in his muddy wake. As the third-longest shot in the field of 12 3-year-olds, Ruler On Ice paid $51.50 to win in front of a crowd of 55,779. He didn't display his quirky reputation until he balked at the victor's blanket of white carnations and reluctantly entered the winner's circle for only the third time in his career.
"There's no better place for us to win a big race," said owner George Hall, who grew up on Long Island and now calls Rumson, N.J., home. "My brother and I started going to Belmont and Aqueduct when we were kids."
For his Monmouth Park-based connections -- George and Lori Hall, trainer Kelly Breen and jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. -- Ruler On Ice proved worth all the work it took to get him into the starting gate. The son of Roman Ruler proved so unruly as a youngster that he was gelded. He continued his bad-boy ways, so Breen decided to try adding blinkers for the Belmont because "you can't castrate him again."
Ruler On Ice ran just off the lead set by Shackleford, who broke alertly from the far outside post of the dozen runners. The Preakness winner faded inside the eighth pole, yielding to Ruler On Ice, who then held off the dual late runs by Stay Thirsty on his inside and Brilliant Speed on his outside to win by three-quarters of a length. The final time for the mile and a half was 2:30.88 on a sloppy, sealed surface.
Derby winner Animal Kingdom, the 5-2 betting choice, lost all chance a few jumps out of the gate. Breaking from the No. 9 post, Animal Kingdom was cut off by Prime Cut to his left and was bumped by Mucho Macho Man on his right. It was all jockey John Velazquez could do to stay aboard. Velazquez lost his stirrups, and by the time he regained them, Animal Kingdom was a distant last. He ran a gutty race to close into sixth place.
"Sick, just sick," trainer Graham Motion said of watching his colt's chances wiped out at the start. "How could you not be sick? You knew you had no shot after that and the race was over for him."
Velazquez didn't regain his irons until the horses were going into the first turn.
"It was unbelievable," said Velazquez, who won his first Derby this year as the replacement rider for injured Robby Albarado. "I almost came off. I had a horrible trip."
"The horse almost fell down," Motion said. "It's really disappointing, when you put so much time into it. That's what the Triple Crown is all about. Everyone said it's never going to be done [again]. These three races are extraordinarily hard to win. There's a lot of ways to get beat in them. It's going to happen again, but everything has got to go right, and it didn't go right for us today."
Motion said Animal Kingdom appeared to suffer no injury as a result of the rodeo start. Animal Kingdom, Shackleford and Ruler On Ice -- it's the third straight year the Triple Crown has produced three different winners -- can be expected to meet again somewhere down the road to settle who's the king of this scrambled 3-year-old division.
For now, Ruler On Ice and his peccadilloes are headed back to the Jersey shore.
"He likes his stall at Monmouth Park," Breen said. "I have a main barn there that holds 20 horses. He doesn't like to be in our main barn. The Belmont winner is in our 'B' barn right now because we found out what he liked. He likes to be off the beaten path. It made him happy, so you try to have a happy horse."
The Belmont story is all the more remarkable for the Halls and Breen, given that their top Triple Crown prospect, Sweet Ducky, was sold earlier this year and their second-stringer, Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire, finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby. Ruler On Ice might have been Plan C, but he brought his A-game on a gloomy but glorious afternoon on one of racing's biggest stages.
17hPat McManamon and Jeremy Fowler