Shackleford looking for second straight Grade 1 in
|Shackleford settled in well at Saratoga on Thursday ahead of his run in Sunday's Vanderbilt
(Photo courtesy of NYRA)
Of the 11 horses that have won Triple Crown races since 2009, only three
remain in training, and just one -- the powerhouse called Shackleford -- ranks
among the elite performers in the sport. Winner of the 1 3/16-mile Preakness
Stakes last year over Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, the gleaming
chestnut has transformed his game this year, from speedball that runs his heart
out in route races to fearsome sprint and middle-distance star.
The four-year-old son of Forestry arrived at Saratoga Race Course on Thursday
morning ahead of his next engagement -- Sunday's Grade 1, $400,000
Vanderbilt Handicap -- the picture of vitality, strapping and happy and the
center of attention at the barn of trainer Dale Romans.
Almost immediately after entering his stall following a four-hour trip from
Kentucky, Shackleford had a short roll on his back and then set to rearranging
his stall bed and angling for treats.
In his most recent assignment, Shackleford turned back Caleb's Posse and To
Honor and Serve to win the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on May 28 at Belmont
Park in one of the signature races of the year. He returned to his home base at
Churchill Downs for rest following that scintillating, front-running score and
will be cutting back in distance while seeking his second straight Grade 1
victory in the six-furlong Vanderbilt.
"He left Churchill at 6:05 a.m. (EDT) and got in at 11 am. It wasn't much of
a trip," Romans said while grazing his pupil outside the barn. "He went into
Lexington and was last on the plane and first off. He gets the rock star
treatment from everybody."
Shackleford's copper coat glistened in the sunshine after a sponge bath, and
he rambunctiously leaped into the air several times afterward.
|The powerful chestnut was
feeling good after his trip from Kentucky
(Photo courtesy of NYRA)
Romans initially had pointed Shackleford for a run in the Grade 1 Whitney
Handicap on Saturday but ultimately opted for the Vanderbilt as a springboard to
the Grade 1 Forego at seven furlongs September 1 at the Spa.
"I was pointing toward the Whitney originally, but when he was tired after
the Met Mile we backed up a little bit," the conditioner explained. "This was in
the back of our mind, with the Forego as the main objective. I don't think this
will take as much out of him as the Whitney."
Shackleford drew the rail under jockey John Velazquez as the 6-5 favorite on
the Vanderbilt morning-line, and has been signaling it's time to hammer on the
running shoes and get back to business.
"He's ready to go," Romans said. "I think this is the time of year the older
horses' division shakes itself out and the three-year-olds merge. I think Game
on Dude is on top and Shack ranks among the best of them."
Shackleford's ultimate goal is the Breeders' Cup but, right now at least,
Romans isn't looking past Sunday. The trainer said his charge would gallop on
the main track in the two days leading up to the Vanderbilt as well as school in
the paddock and starting gate.
Shackleford will face seven rivals in the Vanderbilt, including the promising
speedster Emcee and 2010 Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap winner Jersey Town.
Godolphin Racing continues its quest to land a Grade 1 victory with Emcee, a
four-year-old son of Unbridled's Song, who has won three of five starts and drew
just outside Shackleford in post 2.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and listed at 2-1 on the morning line, Emcee
flaunted his abundant talent in sharp efforts in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap
on Aqueduct's inner dirt in March and the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on the outer
dirt there a month later. In the Tom Fool, he engaged in a torrid speed duel
before finishing third; in the Carter, he lost his footing at the start and then
loomed boldly before finishing behind Jackson Bend, Caleb's Posse and
He returned on May 5 at Belmont Park and sailed to an effortless allowance
victory, earning a 106 BRIS Speed figure at seven furlongs.
"He is doing great and peaking for the Vanderbilt," McLaughlin said. "He was
unlucky in the Carter and left the gate awkwardly that day. We gave him a little
time because he ran so fast last time (in the allowance race). He's a fast horse
and a good sprinter. I hope I never stretch him out."
When healthy, the six-year-old Jersey Town can run with the best of them, as
he showed when taking the Cigar Mile in 2010 with a 111 BRIS Speed rating. Last
year at Saratoga, he turned in another giant performance when second to Jackson
Bend in the Forego. The six-year-old son of Speightstown went to the shelf after
a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, and has only raced once
since, suffering a half-length defeat in a minor stakes race in March at
When asked what's been bothering Jersey Town, trainer Barclay Tagg replied,
"Right now, nothing. (The Vanderbilt is) what I've been pointing to. He's just
had a lot of issues, ligaments, tendons. Things here and things there. He keeps
getting things and they heal up quick."
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will send out the rugged six-year-old
Hamazing Destiny, who picked up the first graded win of his career in the Grade
3 Maryland Sprint Handicap on Preakness Day at Pimlico.
"A Grade 1 is always tough," Lukas admitted. "He travels well, he runs well
everywhere. Once in a while, he'll get a surface he doesn't care for, but most
times he's pretty good. I expect him to run well here."
The bay son of Salt Lake was most recently seen closing for fourth in the
Grade 2 True North Handicap, a race that fellow Vanderbilt contender Justin
Phillip ran second in by just three parts of a length. That First Samurai
four-year-old returned last out to be third in the Mr. Prospector Stakes at
Monmouth Park, a nose and a length up on fifth-place finisher Poseidon's
Warrior, who will be re-opposing in the Vanderbilt.
Completing the Vanderbilt field are Sloane Ranger, winner of the Donald
Levine Memorial and third in the Monmouth Cup in his last two; and Rothko,
triumphant in the Grade 3 Aristides Stakes and second in the Iowa Sprint
Handicap in his past couple of races.
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