HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- If the stars align just right and everybody sticks to their current plans, all three reigning Triple Crown race winners could wind up making their 4-year-old debuts on the same day, Feb. 11, at Gulfstream Park.
Both Belmont winner Ruler On Ice and Preakness champion Shackleford are being pointed to the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, while trainer Graham Motion has mentioned the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap that same afternoon among his top options for Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom's much anticipated return.
Ruler On Ice dazzled the clockers and trainer Kelly Breen when working five furlongs in 58.23 seconds at Palm Meadows on Sunday. Jackson Bend was the only other horse to shade 1:00 for the distance on that morning's tab.
"He worked fast and he worked well," Breen said when asked about the sharp drill. "He was due for a nice workout, and while it was a little faster than I wanted, he did it easily and I'd rather it come now than a week before his race."
Ruler On Ice finished three parts of a length in front of Stay Thirsty to win the Belmont. He was winless in five subsequent tries to end his 3-year-old campaign, but did finish third in the Haskell, fourth in the Travers, second in the Pennsylvania Derby, and third behind Drosselmeyer and Game On Dude in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"It was nice to see him show that kind of speed, because he needs to be a little closer to the pace, especially over this track at Gulfstream Park," Breen said. "We're gearing him up for a victory the first time out and thinking about taking him to Dubai, if he performs well. The Donn is a big race for us, and that's why we're tightening the screws now."
Shackleford, in contrast to Ruler On Ice, worked an easy half-mile in 50.80 at Gulfstream on Saturday. It was his first official workout since re-joining trainer Dale Romans's barn about a week earlier.
"He went well, it was all that I wanted for his first breeze," Romans said of the work. "Right now, we're trying to get him to the Donn."
Shackleford first gained national attention and earned himself a trip to the Kentucky Derby when beaten a head in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Aside from his victory in the Preakness, Shackleford's 3-year-old resume also includes a fourth in the Derby and second-place finishes in the Haskell and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
Motion said the Gulfstream Park Turf could be a good spot for Animal Kingdom's return, considering he'd also launched his 3-year-old campaign going the same distance, 1 1/8 miles, on the turf here last February.