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Derby Winner Animal Kingdom Looks Sharp In Final Belmont Workout

Animal Kingdom jockey John Velazquez speaks to a reporter after the 136th Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 21, 2011, in Baltimore. Shackleford, ridden by Jesus Castanon, won the race and Animal Kingdom took second. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

Animal Kingdom jockey John Velazquez speaks to a reporter after the 136th Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 21, 2011, in Baltimore. Shackleford, ridden by Jesus Castanon, won the race and Animal Kingdom took second. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

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NEW YORK (AP) — The owner, trainer and jockey of Animal Kingdom have every reason to feel confident about their chances in the Belmont Stakes after the Kentucky Derby winner’s last workout for Saturday’s final leg of the Triple Crown.

“I think he was moving great,” Barry Irwin, president of owner Team Valor International, said after Animal Kingdom posted the fastest four-furlong workout at Belmont Park on Monday morning. “I think he’s got a lot of energy still. I think that’s the key with him. He doesn’t look like a tired horse, or anything.”

Animal Kingdom, with Velazquez aboard, ran in company with another horse from trainer Graham Motion’s barn and covered four furlongs in 47.76 seconds — the fastest of 32 times at the distance. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.60.

“He did it all on his own,” Motion said. “He galloped out nicely. I don’t think it could have gone any smoother, really. I thought he might go a tick slower but I’m not surprised he did what he did.”

Earlier Monday, Derby runner-up Nehro ran four furlongs in 50.88 seconds in his final Belmont tuneup under exercise raider Cesar Garcia, among the slowest times at the distance.

Animal Kingdom finished second to Shackleford in the Preakness, and will attempt to become the 12th horse to win the Derby and the Belmont. Shackleford, fourth in the Derby, will attempt to become the 19th Preakness-Belmont winner.

Velazquez said Animal Kingdom called most of the shots during the breeze.

“He was halfway running off with me,” Velazquez said. “I took him as slowly as I could. He got very competitive with the other horse. After he passed him after the wire, he kept galloping very strong. He knew he had the jockey on top of him because he just played with me. He had me at ‘Hello.'”

A probable field of 12 is shaping up for the 1½-mile Belmont, which features the first Derby winner vs. Preakness winner matchup since 2005. It also could have the first seven finishers from the Derby — Animal Kingdom, Nehro, Mucho Macho Man, Shackleford, Master of Hounds, Santiva and Brilliant Speed.

The post position draw is Wednesday.

Who’s your pick for the Belmont Stakes? Sound off in the comments below…

(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)