There is no Triple Crown glory at stake Saturday at the 143rd Belmont Stakes. As Derby winner Animal Kingdom squares off against Preakness champ Shackelford, the only thing on the line will be bragging rights and Horse of the Year implications.
For racing's faithful, and the two horses' handlers, that sems to be more than enough.
"I'm excited," said Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom's trainer. "It's fun to come this far and have the horse doing so well."
It's the first time two Classic winners have met in the Belmont since 2005. Preakness winners hold a 10-5 edge, all-time. There have been six other years when a horse other than the Derby or Preakness winners won the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes.
"I think it has year-end implications for sure," Motion said of the Belmont, known as the Test of Champions. "If either one of us could win it, it would be tough for him not to be 3-year-old of the year. Without a doubt, it's got serious implications."
Since the Eclipse Awards began in 1972, 21 of the 23 3-year-olds who won two or more Triple Crown races went on to be named champion 3-year-old - since 1995, they are a perfect 10-for-10.