In this day in age, we see athletic super stars across the World that perform just for the money, have negative attitudes, and might not play 100% of each and every minute of a game, match or race. Modern sports has become a business and it rears its ugly head from time to time. Local, National and International media mostly focus on those negative issues instead of focusing on the good of a sport or an athlete. Over the past 20 months, the sport of horse racing grew accustom to watching and following a big strapping chestnut colt who always gave it his best. It might not have always resulted in wins, but you just knew he was going to perform whenever he hit the track.
Shackleford, a son of Forestry and trained by Dale Romans made his racing debut as a two year old back on October 16, 2010 at Keeneland and finished 9th after a slow start and a wide trip. His follow up performance was a sign of things to come as he went to the lead in the seven furlongs maiden special weight race, battled on the front end for a few furlongs and dug in late to win by 3/4 length at odds of 25/1. Interesting to note that recent Breeders Classic winner Fort Larned finished 4th at odds of 69/1.
His three year old debut came in an allowance race going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park in February 2011. He sat off the early lead, took over at the far turn and cruised to win by 2 1/4 lengths. He now showed he could win going middle distance and long distance. The path to the Kentucky Derby and triple crown had begun.
He would finish a distant 5th in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) after faltering early and going wide the entire race. The betting public wasn’t sure of him yet as he was the longest shot on the board at 68/1 in the Florida Derby (G1). He went straight to the lead and was challenged by To Honor and Serve. As they turned for home, Shackleford had separated himself from his To Honor and Serve and held a two lengths advantage. It looked as if he would draw away but race favorite Dialed In made a strong move from the back of the field. Shackleford was digging in, Dialed In was catching up with each stride. In the end, the Nick Zito trained colt would defeat Shackleford by a head. Yes, he lost, but he served notice that he is a force in the three year old division.
Fans across the United Stated began to follow this colt and his following was only beginning. His performances in the triple crown accelerated the process. He finished 4th in the Kentucky Derby after holding the lead for the majority of the race. His claim to fame came in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 21, 2011. He bobbled the start but still got close to the lead. He sat in 2nd behind Flashpoint. He took over the lead at the top of the stretch and fought off the late challenge from Derby winner Animal Kingdom to win by 1/2 length. Shackleford had officially arrived on the scene.
Many felt there was no way with his running style that he could compete at the Belmont Stakes distance of 1 1/2 miles. He gave it his best shot over the sloppy surface, once again going to the lead, holding the lead late only to fade late and finishing 5th.
After the grueling triple crown with three races in just five weeks, Romans gave his colt seven weeks before running him in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. As usual, he held a lead late in a race, but this time western invader Coil nipped him at the end to win by a neck. His 8th place effort in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga could have been a combination of fatigue and not wanting to go that long anymore.
His final two races as a three year old were both runner-up results. He finished 2nd in the Indiana Derby (G2) at Hoosier Park and the Breeders Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. The latter was a sign of what was to come in 2012.
He runs like a miler. He has speed like a sprinter or miler, yet the decision to continue the path of long distance boggled many racing pundits. His first race of 2012 (after three months off) was the 1 1/8 miles Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream Park. He finished 7th after sitting off pacesetter Trickmeister for most of the race. His first race less than a mile came next in the seven furlongs Carter Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct. He had the lead but relinquished it to both Jackson Bend and Caleb’s Posse. So what now? Romans ran him at longer distance for much of the 2011 season, cut back to a mile and now went seven furlongs. He hadn’t won a race in seven starts (Preakness).
Next up, was the seven furlongs Churchill Downs Stakes (G2). I guess the preparation in the Carter must have helped as he was caught in a speed duel on the front end, but dug in to defeat Sprint Champion Amazombie and a field of six others. He finally returned to the winner’s circle. The Shack was back! His nickname by racing fans all over. He followed up his win at Churchill with a strong showing in the Metropolitan Mile Handicap (Met Mile) at Belmont Park. Giving Shack his second career Grade 1 win. He was given 2 1/2 months off before a surprising entry in the six furlongs Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) at Saratoga. He didn’t get the lead, looked tired and was never a factor in an 8th and last place finish. It was the first time in his career that he didn’t give it 110%. It was strange to see this colt, who always gives his best, to not be involved at any point during a race.
He would return to action almost two months later in the Kelso Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park to finish 2nd.
Romans brought Shackleford to Santa Anita a few days early and allowed fans of Shack to get up close and personal with him. After workouts, bath and walk, he brought him out to greet his fans. It’s not something you see much of these days and I commend Romans for bringing new things to horse racing.
His 7th place result in the Breeders Cup Mile came as a result of a brutal gate that saw him behind early. Jockey Ramon Dominguez didn’t want to spend his energy by rushing up to the lead, but it might have been for the better as that’s where he perform at his highest level. He finished 7th and was never a factor.
The connections of the four year old had decided to give it one more try before officially retiring their three-time graded stakes winner to stud. He was entered in the 1 1/8 miles Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs. As expected, The Shack Attack was in full effect on this day and he would go gate to wire and win by a length. What would you expect with such a competitive horse.
He never held anything back. His gutsy performances as a three year old put him on the map and created fans across the country. As a four year old, he continued to wow people with his grit. Whether win or lose, he always gave it his best and fought to the bitter end. He may not get the press coverage like Frankel, Wise Dan, Royal Delta and other super star horses, but Shackleford will go down as the ultimate competitor and a super star in his own right.
In the end, Shackleford won 6 of 20 races (three Grade 1 and 1 Grade 2), finished 2nd five times and 3rd once. He accumulated career earnings of $3,090,101. I’d say that was quite the solid career.
We hope for the best as he enters stud next year and thank him, Dale Romans and owners Michael Lauffer and W.D Cubbedge for allowing us to follow his every move and the memories he served up over his 20 race career.