NEW YORK — Talk about a tough crowd.
Dissed by the owner of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom one day, dismissed as the third betting choice for the Belmont Stakes another, Preakness winner Shackleford is still considered an underdog for Saturday's final leg of the Triple Crown.
What's trainer Dale Romans to think about his long, lanky 3-year-old colt?
"He's not getting the respect he deserves," Romans said Thursday at Belmont Park, where racing was canceled for the day because of temperatures approaching 100 degrees. "Let's see what happens after the race."
Shackleford has been getting the cold shoulder for months, having been sent off at odds of 68-1, 23-1 and 12-1 in his past three races.
"Every race he's run in he's been a long shot, and he's run well in every one of them," Romans said of Shackleford's starts since a fifth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 26. "And he's improved with every race. There are very few horses that have moved forward the more work they did. A lot stay the same, but he keeps getting better."
At 1½ miles, the Belmont is the longest and most grueling test a 3-year-old will face. It's a distance horses have yet to run and are unlikely to do so again. Pedigree reveals which horses are bred for distance, and that's likely why Animal Kingdom's owner Barry Irwin is ignoring Shackleford — the son of a sire known for producing sprinters.
"I can't see a horse by Forestry going a mile and a half," Irwin said after volunteering that he wasn't worried about Shackleford.
That's okay with Romans. Pedigree notwithstanding, he's figuring Shackleford will set a moderate pace then try to hold off his 11 rivals. The plan nearly worked in the Derby, and worked to perfection in the Preakness.
Conspicuous absence: For the first time since 1993, the Hall of Fame trio of trainers D. Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert and Nick Zito will not have a horse in the Belmont.
They have combined to win seven Belmonts since then — Lukas leading the way with four. Zito has won twice and Baffert once.
Of the 12 trainers in this year's race, only Todd Pletcher owns a Belmont win: the 2007 edition when the filly Rags to Riches beat Curlin, the eventual horse of the year, by a head.
Stay Thirsty is the 11th Belmont runner for Pletcher, the five-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation's leading trainer.