Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shackleford: A Charismatic Superstar

Photo by Terri Cage

With his energetic parade before the gathered crowd, his big white blaze, his shining copper coat, and his charismatic personality and presence, it is easy to fall in love with Shackleford. A colt I have followed since his maiden victory, the 2011 Preakness Stakes (GI) victor has certainly made a name for himself, and not just for his racing talent, but for his appeal and the energy he displays on the track. Due to his compelling characteristics and racing brilliance, Shackleford has garnered a large fan base, which affectionately refers to him as “Shack.”

After Shackleford captured the Preakness in a stirring victory over Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Animal Kingdom, however, it began to seem impossible for the lovable chestnut colt to find the winner’s circle again. Between his Preakness triumph and the Breeders’ Cup six months later, Shackleford raced four times, finishing off the board twice and crossing the wire second in two graded stakes races, including the Haskell Invitational Stakes (GI).

In the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI), Shackleford helped set the pace with The Factor and as the horses turned for home, Shackleford held a 2 ½-length advantage on the others. He ran very well down the stretch, but was outrun by Caleb’s Posse, a colt he had finished in front of in the Indiana Derby (GII) when the two ran behind Wilburn.

Shackleford began 2012 on a sour note, finishing seventh in the Donn Handicap (GI) prior to a third-place result behind Jackson Bend and Caleb’s Posse in the Carter Handicap (GI). “Shack” finally returned to his winning ways a year after he contested in the Kentucky Derby, gamely battling champion sprinter Amazombie down the stretch in the Churchill Downs Stakes (GII) before prevailing by a length.

Following Shackleford’s gutsy return to the winner’s circle, trainer Dale Romans prepared the classic-winning colt for a start in the legendary Metropolitan Handicap (GI) – better known as the Met Mile – at Belmont Park on Memorial Day. The colt was slated to run against three other grade one winners, including his rival Caleb’s Posse. The field was sure to make the race one of the best of the year, but no one could predict just how thrilling it would be.

Shackleford broke very sharply, going straight to the lead down Belmont’s backstretch to set a brisk first quarter of 22.77. Extending his advantage on the others to 1 ½ lengths as the field began their journey into the wide, sweeping turn at Belmont, Shackleford completed the initial half-mile in a blistering 44.73, meaning he had completed the second quarter-mile .81 seconds faster than the first one. With John Velazquez aboard for the first time due to an injury suffered by regular rider Jesus Castanon ten days earlier, Shackleford proceeded to hold the lead as the field turned for home. His white blaze leading the charge of six talented Thoroughbreds into the long Belmont homestretch, Shackleford began to open up on the others, but Caleb’s Posse was charging on the outside, growing closer to Shackleford with each and every stride. However, Shackleford dug in to hold off Caleb’s Posse, who appeared to have hung just slightly, to win by a nose before galloping out well ahead of the others. The final time for eight furlongs was a spectacular 1:33.30, just over a second off the track record.

In his past two victories, Shackleford has conquered two Breeders’ Cup winners, Sprint victor Amazombie and Dirt Mile champ Caleb’s Posse. In addition, he has defeated two Eclipse Award champions – Amazombie and Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.

The Met Mile has long since been considered a “stallion-making” race, producing several victors that went on to be very successful sires, including Langfuhr, In Excess, Gulch, Conquistador Cielo, Fappiano, In Reality, Buckpasser, and Native Dancer. Not only does a victory in the Met Mile bode well for Shackleford’s chances at becoming a lucrative sire when he stands stud at Darby Dan Farm, but so does his pedigree.

Both of his parents have been very successful producers themselves. His sire, Forestry, has sired such grade one winners as Diplomat Lady, Discreet Cat, and Forest Danger. His dam, Oatsee, was voted 2011 Broodmare of the Year and has produced the graded stakes winners Baghdaria and Lady Joanne.  

Notably, Forestry’s sire – Shackleford’s grandsire – is Storm Cat, one of the greatest sires to ever live. The very successful stallion was also very productive as a sire of sires, producing such studs as Bluegrass Cat, Giant’s Causeway, and Hennessy. This certainly augurs well for Shackleford, as Storm Cat is the grandsire of such productive stallions as Johannesburg and Shamardal.

Shackleford’s damsire, Unbridled, sired the dam of Tapit, who was the third-leading North American sire of 2011. Unbridled himself was a very effective sire of sires, producing the successful sires Broken Vow, Empire Maker, and Unbridled’s Song. Shackleford’s fifth dam, Tamerett, could also serve as a catalyst in Shackleford’s stud career, as another direct descendant of the dam of the great racehorse and sire Known Fact is the legendary sire Gone West.

Shackleford, a fan favorite at the racetrack, is a horse that will not soon be forgotten, as we have not yet heard the last from him – on the track or in the breeding shed. With a win in the Met Mile, Shackleford earned a position in the starting gate in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park this fall – a race in which he will be seeking revenge. Racing fans will eagerly follow the stunning colt throughout the rest of 2012, reflecting on his outstanding victories in not only the Preakness, but the Met Mile as well. And when the popular chestnut retires to the breeding shed, fans will await his foals, which will grace racetracks as spectators flock to see them, ready to see them carry on Shack’s charisma and brilliance.

Photo by Terri Cage

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1 comment:

  1. Nice piece on, again, one of my favorite stars.
    The Shack in the Mile! ;)