Haskin's Belmont Report: It's Macho That Worries Irwin, Not Shackleford

If you’re going to play catch with Team Valor’s Barry Irwin, don’t assume if you lob the ball to him he’s going to lob it back to you.

New York Racing Association’s Andy Serling lobbed one to Irwin while emceeing Tuesday’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I) media luncheon, asking him if he’s concerned about the pace scenario, with Shackleford appearing to be the controlling speed in the mile and a half race.

But Irwin, who always speaks his mind, is never dull, and isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, came back with a big sweeping curve.

“My horse has high cruising speed,” he replied innocently enough before firing his strike-out pitch. “I’m not worried about Shackleford. I’m worried about Mucho Macho Man. I think he’s the horse to beat.”

Shackleford’s trainer, Dale Romans, wasn’t about to let that snub go unanswered. When it was his turn to come up to the microphone, he fired back at Irwin.

“I’ll meet (Animal Kingdom) anywhere, any track, any distance,” Romans said. “That wasn’t the dumbest thing I’ve heard Barry say, but it’s one of them.”

As Irwin was being interviewed by the media after the proceedings, Romans stopped briefly, pointed to Irwin, and in his best Muhammed Ali impersonation, yelled “I want you!”

Irwin explained, “I think (Mucho Macho Man) is going to love a mile and a half. I thought he ran great in the Derby. He’s a big, growthy horse and he needs a big track. He’s the one that scares me the most. He’s obviously had his little unfortunate things along the way, but I’m impressed with that horse.

When the word controversy was brought up in regard to his Shackleford comment, Irwin said, “What’s so controversial about it? I just gave my opinion.”

Irwin went on to say that he doesn’t “see Shackleford going a mile and a half, being by Forestry.” He added, “It would stretch the limits of credulity.”

Romans has heard from several other rivals in the past few days how Shackleford can’t go a mile and a half.

“Every time I turn around, someone is knocking my horse,” he said, “I had to defend him today. I know I wouldn’t trade horses with any one of them.”

A short while later, Irwin and Romans posed for photos, with St. Patrick’s Cathedral as a backdrop. They then engaged in a friendly conversation, knowing they had added a little spice to the day’s lunch.

Anyone who doesn’t think Barry Irwin is great for racing must have is or her head in the sand. This sport needs people to say what they feel, and back it up, and not follow the same boring scripts that most follow. Irwin is the king of improvisation, and if there is something the sport needs, especially during the high-profiled Triple Crown, it is spontaneity.

In other Belmont news:

Brilliant Speed had the exact kind of work trainer Tom Albertrani was looking for. What was most impressive about the half-mile breeze in :50 3/5 was how the son of Dynaformer closed while on a very loose rein from exercise rider and assistant Dan Blacker, and the way he galloped out, getting another eighth in :13 flat.

Shortly after 3:30 this afternoon, the vans carrying Santiva and Prime Cut pulled into the Belmont Park backstretch.

Santiva looked as if he had just traveled around the block. He didn’t turn a hair, his coat was radiant, and he settled right in, taking a roll in his new bedding and then attacking his hay rack.

He is just as we remember him from his days before the Derby standing at the gap after the renovation break without moving a muscle. He is such a cool little horse. Nothing bothers him and he has a personality you can’t help but love.

His race in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) was deceptively good, and that will be discussed in greater detail as the week progresses.

The weather forecast now calls for temperatures in the mid to high 90s over the next couple of days, followed by a chance of thunderstorms Friday night and 60% chance of showers on Saturday. That will bring back the old handicapping in the slop section in our Friday column.

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