NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Nothing like a little Triple Crown trash talk a few days before the 143rd Belmont Stakes.

The owner of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom fired the first salvo at a news conference in Manhattan on Tuesday, dissing Preakness winner Shackleford’s chances of winning Saturday’s final leg of the Triple Crown.

I’m not worried about Shackleford, by the way,” said Barry Irwin of Team Valor International, which owns Animal Kingdom. “I’m worried about Mucho Macho Man. I think he’s the horse to beat.”

His comments drew oohs and aahs from those in attendance, including Shackleford’s trainer Dale Romans. When it was his turn to step up to the podium, Romans retaliated.

“That’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard Barry say, but it’s one of them,” Romans said to much laughter.

The friendly feud continued after the formal interviews, with Irwin wondering what all the fuss was about.

“What’s so controversial?” he asked. “I gave my opinion, for God’s sake.”

As Romans was leaving, he pointed a finger at Irwin, smiled, and said: “I want you!”

Sounds like a little more spice has been added to the rubber match between the Derby winner and the Preakness winner.

After winning the Derby, Irwin raised eyebrows when he answered the question of why he had recently moved all of his horses to trainer Graham Motion with: “I got tired of other trainers lying to me. I wanted a guy to tell me the truth.”

ANIMAL CLASSIC: Irwin says his long-term goal for his Kentucky Derby winner is the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.

“But I have my own schedule for him that doesn’t include the Haskell or the Travers,” he said, somewhat mysteriously.

Asked if he looked forward to continuing the rivalry with Animal Kingdom, Shackleford’s trainer Dale Romans said: “I’ll meet him anywhere, any time, at any distance.”

MUCHO MACHO FUN: Relatively new owners Dean and Patti Reeves (Reeves Thoroughbred Racing) are having so much fun on the Triple Crown trail with Mucho Macho Man, they went out and bought three 2-year-olds recently at the Ocala sales: two fillies (Miss Suwanee and Dixie Darling) and a colt (Arthur — named for a family friend, not the movie).

They also own three other 2-year-olds: Uncle Joe, Whistlin’ Dixie and Cause I Can.

Dean Reeves says he went to his first Kentucky Derby in 1976, when Bold Forbes won, and spent the day in the infield.

“Never saw a horse go by, but I had a great time,” he said.

The Reeves are planning to bring Mucho Macho Man and their 2-year-olds to Saratoga this summer.

“If you can compete at Saratoga with 2-year-olds, then you’re pretty good the rest of the year,” he said.

Mucho Macho Man comes into the Belmont after running third in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness.

The colt will be wearing new Polyflex glue-on shoes after losing a shoe in two of his last three races, including the Preakness.

The product’s website says the shoe “is molded from hybrid polyurethane, resulting in a degree of hardness closely resembling the natural composition of the horse’s hoof.”

Adds trainer Kathy Ritvo: “He started with nail shoes, then we went to a glue-on regular shoe, now he has a glue-on Polyflex. I think that he’s probably snatching it coming out of the gate, and he’s not supposed to be able to get this one off.”

FINISH LINES: The 143rd Belmont marks the 22nd time the Derby winner and Preakness winner are meeting in the final leg of the Triple Crown. Preakness winners have 10 wins, Derby winners have five. … The last Derby winner to win the Belmont was Thunder Gulch in 1995. … Blue Grass winner Brilliant Speed (seventh in the Derby) worked four furlongs in 50.55 at Belmont Park on Tuesday under exercise rider and assistant trainer Dan Blacker. … Europe-based Master of Hounds (fifth in the Derby) arrived in New York on Tuesday and was put in quarantine at Aqueduct for two days.

Who’s your pick for the Belmont? Let us know in the comments below…

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