Rubber matches: Advantage Preakness

Saturday's showdown between Animal Kingdom and Shackleford in the Belmont will mark the 22nd time the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners have squared off in the final leg of the Triple Crown. The Preakness winner has won nine times, the Derby winner six times, and another horse has won six of the races.

Here are more facts, figures, anecdotes and insights on racing's prior Triple Crown rematches:

  • In Afleet Alex, Point Given, Tabasco Cat, Hansel and Risen Star, there have been five Preakness-Belmont winners since the last time a Derby winner defeated a Preakness winner. That last happened in 1984, when Swale beat Gate Dancer. Considering that the Preakness winner is coming off a winning effort and the Derby winner is not, it makes perfect sense that the Preakness holds the edge.

  • The most anticipated rematch may have been the Codex versus Genuine Risk Belmont in 1980. Genuine Risk became a darling after winning the Derby, becoming the first female to do so in 65 years, and Codex was labeled a villain after beating her in a roughly run Preakness. Codex and jockey Angel Cordero Jr. were accused of "mugging" Genuine Risk by carrying her out on the far turn and, their critics claimed, costing her the race.

    "There are eight other horses in the field, but no matter how you slice it the 112th Belmont remains a battle of the sexes," Red Smith wrote.

    "Tomorrow they break from adjacent stalls in the starting gate, and for the next two and a half minutes recriminations will be stilled while they try to settle the issue, horse for horse."

    But the much-hyped rematch was a dud. As Genuine Risk finished second and Codex seventh, 53-1 shot Temperence Hill won it all.

  • In only five of the 21 rematches have the Derby and Preakness winners finished one-two in the Belmont. That happened in 1994 (Tabasco Cat and Go for Gin), 1991 (Hansel and Strike the Gold), 1963 (Candy Spots and Chateaugay), 1949 (Ponder and Capot) and 1942 (Alsab and Shut Out).

    Among those, only two races were close at the wire. Derby winner Capot led throughout in 1949 and lasted by a half-length over Ponder. Capot was dismissed at 5-1, while Ponder was the 4-5 favorite. The win was the result of a masterful ride aboard Capot by Ted Atkinson, who slowed the pace down to a crawl (25.2 seconds, 51.8, 1:15.4). In 1991, Preakness winner Hansel just held off Derby winner Strike the Gold to win by a head.

  • The worst showing by the Derby and Preakness winners came in 1962. Kentucky Derby winner Decidedly finished fourth and Preakness winner Greek Money was seventh. There were only eight horses in the field. The winner was Jaipur, who was sent off the 5-2 favorite.

    Jaipur didn't run in the Derby and was awful in the Preakness, finishing 10th as the favorite. But back then people actually believed in running horses and not keeping them in the barn 361 days a year. After the Preakness he rebounded and won the Jersey Derby via disqualification.

  • The 1988 rematch turned into a one-horse race as Risen Star, a son of Secretariat, won by 14¾ lengths. Derby winner Winning Colors was last. At the time, his running time of 2:26.4 was the second-fastest Belmont in history, trailing only Secretariat. Had he had a better trip in the Derby, where he finished third, Risen Star may have been a Triple Crown winner.

  • The first rematch came way back in 1875, long before the Triple Crown was the Triple Crown. Aristides, the first Kentucky Derby winner, faced off against Preakness winner Tom Ochiltree. But it was a horse named Calvin, who took the money, all $4,450 of it. That was the winner's share back then.

    The New York Times' report of that Belmont mentioned virtually nothing of the race. The reporter seemed only interested in who was wearing what. "It would require too much space to attempt a description of the numerous exceedingly costly and elegant dresses worn to the races yesterday," the reporter gushed.

  • The 1993 rematch between Derby winner Sea Hero and Preakness winner Prairie Bayou was certainly the ugliest ever. Prairie Bayou broke down and was euthanized and Sea Hero, an unlikely Derby winner who floundered in the Preakness, finished seventh. Afterward, billionaire owner Paul Mellon was given a $1 million bonus check for Sea Hero having had the best overall performance in the Triple Crown series despite finishing fifth in the Preakness and seventh in the Belmont.

    Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.