ELMONT, N.Y. — — Monzon, the Maryland-bred horse owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and the first Sagamore Farm horse to run in a Triple Crown race since Native Dancer in 1953, didn't have a particularly great Belmont Stakes, finishing a disappointing ninth. But it was, in many respects, a memorable run.
Seconds out of the gate, Monzon clipped heels withAnimal Kingdom, the 5-2 pre-race favorite, and it nearly resulted in a calamitous pile-up. Monzon seemed fine, but Animal Kingdom nearly went down, essentially ending his chances at becoming the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont since Thunder Gulch did it in 1995.
"It was unbelievable," said Animal Kingdom's jockey, John Velazquez. "They came over and clipped heels and I almost came off. I had a horrible trip."
Monzon, who was ridden by jockey Jose Lezcano and entered the race a 27-1 longshot, was actually in decent position despite the rough start, and he made a small move on the far turn, passing a fewhorses. But he just didn't have stamina to hang on, and faded down the stretch.
"He made a little move, but the other hoses kept going," Lezcano said. "He didn't have it."
Velazquez, meanwhile, had to step on the throttle just to get Animal Kingdom back in the race. But the Derby winner didn't have enough stamina to come home strong the way he did at Churchill Downs.
"I was asking him to run way too much to be where I was from the half-mile pole to the quarter pole," Velazquez said. "At that point, I was just hoping to get a piece of it and that's why I rode that way after the start. No way he was going to make up that much ground. He's still a great horse."
Depending on your perspective,Nehro is either one of the most consistent 3-year-olds this year, or one of the most maddening. During the Derby prep season, he finished second at the Louisiana Derby, second at the Arkansas Derby, and then he began the Triple Crown season by running second at the Kentucky Derby.
After deciding to skip the Preakness, he was a trendy pick to break his streak of bridesmaid finishes, but he struggled a bit with dirt in his face and couldn't quite come home fast enough, finishing fourth.
"He ran a gutty race," said trainer Steve Asmussen. "He was kind of green with the kickback of the mud. He looked like he was swimming there a little and ended up fourth. He ran another solid race without winning."
Jockey Corey Nakatani was a little frustrated he colt didn't run harder, because despite the horse's inexperience, it seems like he has the potential to be a winner.
"He never really settled in like I wanted him to. He was climbing from being hit in the face with the mud. He's a young horse who has done a lot to this point. I know it's a little disappointing. I'm looking forward to when we can put it all together one day."
Betting was way up this year at Belmont, as was attendance. A crowd of 55,779 came out despite the bad weather, a 23 percent increase over the 45,243 in 2010. And just under $10.1 million was wagered, a 32 percent increase over the $7.6 million bet last year. An additional $1.465 million was wagered on simulcasts.