Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom nearly fell at the start. Preakness winner Shackleford faded in the stretch. The Belmont Stakes was up for grabs. And it was 24-1 long shot Ruler on Ice who delivered a huge upset today in the final leg of the Triple Crown, splashing his way to a three-quarter length victory over Stay Thirsty. As expected, Shackleford led from the start but when the field of 12 turned for home in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, he tired in the muck as long shots Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty passed him by.
The much-hyped rubber match between Shackleford and Animal Kingdom never developed on a rainy day at Belmont Park. Shackleford finished fifth, while Animal Kingdom had a frightful start, never moved into contention and finished sixth. An elated Jose Valdivia Jr., riding in his first Belmont, described the final seconds of the race while on the gallop back to the winner's circle. "I'm a couple of yards from the wire and I'm thinking, `Oh my god, oh my god, I'm going to win the Belmont,'" he said. The Belmont has a history of surprise finishes, from spoiled Triple Crown attempts to stunning shockers. Only two favorites have won since Thunder Gulch in 1995, and long shots have been the norm. Last year, it was 13-1 Drosselmeyer, two years ago Summer Bird at 11-1, and three years ago Da' Tara at 38-1.