Friday, December 7, 2012

Stallion Feature: Shackleford

Photo by Terri Cage
Taking a chance on a new stallion is, in the words of Forrest Gump, “…like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Like a beautiful piece of chocolate that makes your mouth water just by the sight of it but then causes you to gag due to its horrid taste, a horse can enter his new life as a stallion with high hopes pinned upon him, but become a failure in the breeding shed. On the other hand, a young stallion can waltz into a stud career and take the Thoroughbred breeding industry by storm like that phenomenal piece of chocolate that leaves you wishing there were duplicates in the box.

So will
Shackleford become a piece of chocolate that you regret tasting, or will he be one of the delicious treats that makes you realize why you bought the box in the first place? If his racing endeavors and stunning pedigree are any indication, Shackleford’s upcoming stud career looks to be a delectable one worth taking a chance on.

Following a ninth-place debut at Keeneland, Shackleford never raced over a synthetic surface again, redeeming himself in his second race by gamely capturing a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill Downs, in which he defeated eventual 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) victor
Fort Larned to culminate his brief juvenile campaign.

Shackleford commenced his sophomore season with a 2 ¼-length victory in an allowance event at Gulfstream Park, defeating Fort Larned yet again, as well as the stakes-placed and eventual graded stakes-placed Casper’s Touch and the stakes-winning Strike Oil. After finishing fifth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII), Shackleford yet again made amends, battling Dialed In down the stretch of the Florida Derby (GI) to miss by a scant head at odds of nearly 69-1.

It was on to the Kentucky Derby (GI) for the blazed-faced Dale Romans trainee, in which Shackleford set the pace of the prestigious ten-furlong race, holding the advantage on the field as the horses turned for home. For a moment, Shackleford appeared to be the next victor of the Run for the Roses, but was run down in the stretch by eventual Champion Three-Year-Old Male,
Animal Kingdom, finishing a game fourth.

But it was Shackleford’s next race that served as one of the defining moments of the horse’s career. Rather than setting the pace, Shackleford raced just off the quick, front-running Flashpoint, striking to the lead at the beginning of the far turn. He continued to hold the lead as the Thoroughbreds entered the homestretch, jockey Jesus Castanon urging him to maintain his advantage on his rivals. The Derby winner closed on the outside as Shackleford changed leads in late stretch, gaining ground on Shackleford as the wire grew closer. But Shackleford dug deep, exhibiting tremendous grit and determination as he held off Animal Kingdom to win the classic mile and three-sixteenths race by a half-length.

Shackleford at the 2011 Breeders' Cup
Photo by Terri Cage
Following a fifth-place performance over a sloppy track in the grueling Belmont Stakes (GI), Shackleford again showed his willingness to fight for victory in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (GI), finishing just a neck behind Coil. Less than a month later, Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge’s homebred crossed the wire a lackluster eighth in the ten-furlong Travers Stakes (GI).

Shackleford then shortened up in distance, contesting in the Indiana Derby (GII), which would be his first time to race under nine furlongs since his maiden. The horse finished second behind Wilburn in that contest prior to starting in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Churchill Downs, in which he again ran second, this time to the brilliant Caleb’s Posse. Despite not visiting the winner’s circle afterwards, Shackleford ran a terrific race in the 2011 Dirt Mile, pressing the pace and holding the lead until being overtaken by Caleb’s Posse.

After a very tough sophomore campaign spent in the company of the best of his crop, Shackleford returned in February 2012 as a four-year-old, finishing a dull seventh in the nine-furlong Donn Handicap (GI). Following two months away from the races, Shackleford again shortened up in distance, competing in the Carter Handicap (GI) at Aqueduct, in which the classic winner finished behind the grade one winners Jackson Bend and Caleb’s Posse.

In his following start, Shackleford returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since his triumph in the Preakness after battling 2011 Champion Sprinter Amazombie down the stretch of the Churchill Downs Stakes (GII), prevailing by a determined length in a final time that was just .22 seconds off the track record set by the brilliant
Groupie Doll two races later. The blaze-faced fan favorite made it back-to-back victories by taking the renowned Metropolitan Handicap (GI), also known as the Met Mile, in his subsequent start.
Photo by Terri Cage

In the Met Mile, Shackleford contested against three other grade one winners, including his rival Caleb’s Posse. He 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; 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 led the charge of six talented Thoroughbreds into the long Belmont homestretch as Shackleford began to open up on the others. Though Caleb’s Posse was charging on the outside, growing closer to Shackleford with each and every stride, 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.

Contesting over a muddy track in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (GI) next out at Saratoga, Shackleford finished last, adding to his lack of victories over a wet track, a surface he never won upon. Despite his uninspiring performance, Shackleford was entered in the seven-furlong Forego Handicap (GI) a month later, but was scratched due to a cough. The chestnut returned at the end of September, going to post in the one-mile Kelso Handicap (GII) at Belmont, in which Shackleford set a brisk pace prior to being overtaken by Jersey Town, crossing the wire as the runner-up.

Shackleford then shipped to Southern California for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI), which had been his goal for several months in the making. But to the fan favorite’s misfortune, Shackleford stumbled at the start and never gathered enough momentum throughout the race to gallop along better than third, finishing seventh. But the Dale Romans trainee was not to end his career on a sour note.

“Shack” – as his connections and an abundance of fans have lovingly nicknamed him – made his final start at a track over which he enjoyed running, Churchill Downs, in the Clark Handicap (GI). Going nine furlongs for the first time since the Donn and being ridden by Jesus Castanon, who had been his regular jockey prior to being injured just before the Met Mile, for the first occurrence since the Churchill Downs Stakes, Shackleford emerged from the gate cleanly, quickly advancing to the lead. The classic victor held an approximate one-length lead over 2012 Florida Derby (GI) winner Take Charge Indy as the field raced past the stands for the initial time, galloping along easily as the Thoroughbreds rounded the clubhouse turn. Through a steady first quarter of 24.31, Shackleford led his rivals by 1 ½ lengths down the backstretch under Castanon’s firm hold. Appearing very comfortable along the far straightaway, Shackleford posted an initial half-mile split of 48.65, maintaining his easy lead. His opponents loomed large around the final curve, but it was clear that Castanon still had “plenty of horse” beneath him as the field turned for home. Displaying the tremendous heart and perseverance that has become a Shackleford trademark, the four-year-old held off the charges of his challengers down the stretch, easily repelling them as he coasted to a one-length victory to culminate his career.

Shackleford preparing for the 2012 Breeders' Cup
Photo by Terri Cage
Shackleford’s career was one marked by durability and versatility. A horse that remained sound throughout his racing years, Shackleford competed ten times as a three-year-old – more than any male sophomore champion in their three-year-old campaigns since War Emblem in 2002 – and eight times as a four-year-old. His total of twenty career starts exceeds the number of lifetime starts made by four of the last five different horses to be crowned Horse of the Year. In addition, in 2011, Shackleford was one of just three horses to compete in each race of the taxing Triple Crown. Notably, Shackleford won at four different distances, from a range of seven furlongs to a mile and three-sixteenths.

Not only does a victory in the “stallion-making” Met Mile bode well for Shackleford’s chances at becoming a lucrative sire when he enters stud in 2013 at Darby Dan Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, but his parentage does as well. 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, aside from Shackleford, has produced the graded stakes winners Afleeting Lady, 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 effective as a sire of sires, producing such sires 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 at Santa Anita
Photo by Terri Cage

The Northern Dancer sire line from which Shackleford descends is certainly among the most influential ones of the breed. In the 1970s, the Canadian-bred champion was the leading sire once in North America and four times in the United Kingdom, as well as the twentieth century’s most successful sire. Northern Dancer’s stud record was astounding, as the son of Canadian Hall of Famer Nearctic was an incredible producer of successful racehorses, sires, sires of sires, and broodmares. Among his best sons were the champions Nijinsky and Sadler’s Wells, both of which became leading sires, the latter of which was the leading sire in the United Kingdom for an astonishing thirteen consecutive years and for a total of fourteen years.

Shackleford’s dam, Oatsee, raced twenty-one times, retiring with earnings of $106,945. Her first foal was Grand Portege, an earner of over $100,000 who contested in two black-type races. Her first “big horse” was Baghdaria, who won a trifecta of grade threes. Then came Lady Joanne, who was a graded stakes winner as a juvenile that went on to win a pair of graded stakes as a sophomore, including the ten-furlong Alabama Stakes (GI). Oatsee continued her success with Afleeting Lady, a graded stakes-winning daughter of
Afleet Alex. Shackleford is, of course, Oatsee’s best offspring yet, having earned $3,090,101 during a career that saw him capture three grade ones. Oatsee is also the dam of the stakes-placed Stephanoatsee.

The sire of Oatsee, Unbridled, was not only a terrific sire and sire of sires, but he is also proven as a broodmare sire, being the damsire of the grade one winners Dream Rush and Tapit, as well as the graded stakes-winning runners Apart, Denis of Cork, and No Inflation. Oatsee is inbred 4 X 4 to In Reality, who yielded a spectacular one hundred fifty stakes winners as a broodmare sire. She also has two crosses of the great mare Aspidistra in her pedigree. Aspidistra, a Reine De Course dam, was the dam of the Hall of Famers Dr. Fager and Ta Wee, the graded stakes-winning Chinatowner, the stakes-winning A. Deck, and the graded stakes-placed Highbinder. From her fourth through eighth dams, Oatsee traces back to five Reine De Course mares. Most notable is Tamerett, who produced the champion Known Fact, the multiple grade one-winning Tentam, the grade two-winning Terete, the stakes-winning Tamtent, and the dams of the grade one winners Gone West and Tappiano.

As aforementioned, 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, 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. Racing fans have eagerly followed him throughout his career, moved by his tenacious victories and entertaining antics. And now that the popular chestnut has retired 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 Shackleford’s charisma and brilliance. Shackleford’s career wasn’t perfect, but his journey, which exuded class, personality, and durability, ended on a textbook note, serving as the perfect ending to set him up for his next career.

Farewell, Shackleford!
Photo by Terri Cage

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