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HRN Original Blog:
From Coast to Coast

Met Mile Reality and Triple Crown Dreamin'

On paper, the G1 Metropolitan Handicap looked like it was all To Honor And Serve or Saginaw’s to lose. The former had been previously unbeaten at a mile, and the latter had just reeled off 5 straight victories on the New York circuit. Alas, paper can be misleading. After watching the three other stakes races on the Memorial Day card at Belmont Park, it became clear that, at least for that day, paper lied, for Belmont was favoring speed. Instantly, the star studded field of six narrowed to two in my eyes: To Honor And Serve and Shackleford.
 
 
I will admit that by the half mile pole I was terrified. Shackleford was on the lead, but he was carving out blistering 22 and change quarters. With the powerful closer Caleb’s Posse and the tactical runner To Honor and Serve hot on his heels, I just could not see how Shackleford could continue forward and hit the wire first after such a fast first half. But as the field turned for home, I saw Shackleford dig in, and I knew that he was not going down without a fight. With my heart in my throat, I watched as Caixa Eletronica and Saginaw made sweeping moves only to flatten out. I watched the diminutive Jackson Bend give way after pressuring Shackleford early. I saw To Honor And Serve move off the rail only to have no answer to Shackleford’s powerful speed, and I stared, horrified, as I watched Caleb’s Posse streak up the center of the track like he had been shot from a rocket. Apparently Shackleford was not as worried as I was. He just kept powering forward, holding off Caleb’s Posse’s late rally to win the Met Mile by a nose. It had seemed impossible, but everyone's favorite horse had won!
 
 
Talk about sublime performances! This field was no pushover, as any handicapper will tell you. Though short on quantity, the quality of the field was superb; the field consisted of four Grade 1 winners and two previous claimers that had turned into multiple stakes winners. Whoever ended up winning the race was not going to have any easy time of it. So watching Shackleford blitz through a 44 and 3 half and then continue on to win was simply amazing. He was all heart, courage, and sheer will to win in the stretch drive, three qualities that set apart the winners from the losers. That is not to knock the rest of the Met Mile field because they all gave everything they had. No, that statement actually highlights what I’ll Have Another will need to show in the Belmont Stakes if he is to become the 12th Triple Crown winner.
 
 
So far, the Flower Alley colt has beaten the best this year’s very talented group of sophomores has to offer. But in order to achieve one of the sport’s greatest honors, he will have to do it again, only this time, he biggest challengers are coming off a 5 week rest, whereas I’ll Have Another will only have had 3 weeks off. After skipping the Preakness Stakes, Union Rags and Dullahan are back for another shot at the Derby winner. Union Rags will need a clean trip in order to win, but all Dullahan needs is more room to run. In the Kentucky Derby, he was a fast closing 3rd, missing all the money by less than 2 lengths. So far the Even the Score colt has not won on dirt, but I believe he answered any lingering questions about his main track form with his powerful Derby run.

 

There is a reason why the Belmont is called “The Test of the Champion.” Eleven times since Affirmed did it in 1978, eleven colts have won the Derby and the Preakness only to have their Triple Crown dreams denied in the mile and a half test of stamina and endurance. I remember well the last two attempts. Smarty Jones, I believe, was our best bet, but he lost by a nose at the very end. I will never forget that I was sitting in the cafeteria of the University of Kentucky watching what I hoped was history being made only to have my heart broken. Four years later, and it was Big Brown’s turn to attempt to end the drought, but we all know how that turned out. Now it is I’ll Have Another’s turn, and boy do I hope he has another and makes it a triple. A Triple Crown victory would lift the shadow that has hovered over our grand sport, and it would perhaps make fans for life out of those who have just tuned in to watch one colt’s brave run at history. As much as our fans want this, our sport desperately needs it. And if I’ll Have Another is to end our Triple Crown drought, then he will need extra large doses of heart, courage, and sheer will to win. He has been mentored by the great Lava Man, but I think that perhaps spending a little time around the hard-knocking Shackleford couldn’t hurt either.

 

You see, whether or not we have crowned him, Shackleford is King of His World. Even when he was in his 7 race win drought, he was still the most imposing horse around. Visitors to Dale Romans' barn do not walk through without stopping to pay their dues to Shack, he makes sure of that. And like a good King should, Shackleford acknowledges his fans (erm, subjects) and gladly eats any mints offered (or not) to him. Yes, I think the King would make a great mentor to our young hero, I'll Have Another. After all, Shackleford has all the qualities of a winner even when he is not the one standing in the winner's circle. He never quits, and I'll Have Another will have to keep trying even when all hope appears lost if he wants to be the one standing in the winner's circle at Belmont Park come June 9.

 

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Older Comments about Met Mile Reality and Triple Crown Dreamin'...

I adore Shackleford, but I think he will no longer get a break in the weights.
I do have a lot of love for Shackleford, Mary Z., but it's hard not to fall in love with him once you meet him. He is a horse that demands both your attention and your admiration. I think you make a very good point about how those of us that have never witnessed a TC are the ones clamoring for one the most. It would be almost another 10 years after Affirmed's TC before I was born, so all I have seen have been the near misses. Icy, you do not have to agree with me all the time. You are not the only one that thinks I may be reaching a bit when I say Shack could be a good mentor for IHA. It's simply my opinion. Bode will be dangerous at a mile, and IHA stands a really good chance of winning the TC, with or without spending some time with Shack.
I was kind of thinking maybe Shackleford watched I'll Have Another run down Bodemeister in the Preakness and thought "I'll try that." Comparing the two performances Shackleford ran a fast mile on the fastest track in the world holding off Possibly the best dirt miler of today. However IHA ran down a horse who still had a lot left in the tank in Bodemeister and towards the end of the year I believe Caleb's Posse and Shackleford will have to contend with the blazing speed of Bodemeister who even as a 3yo may be the fastest dirt miler racing now.IHA with just a decent trip will triple up, he farther he goes the stronger he seems to get. With that 3 length lead and having it all his own way on the lead what other horse running today could have run him down.Watch the Preakness again, "That was a moment sublime." I usually agree with you but not on this one, good day.
Flrida Filly, I enjoyed your feel good story. I think you may be just a little in love with Shackleford, but good choice in an equine bf that is really improved. I think these 7f and mile stakes are perfect for him. You made an excellent point about the impact of having a TC winner, which I know is something very rare and special, but I hadn't realized how much it would mean to revitalize the sport from the fans' perspective, until I have been reading, since the Preakness, the comments supporting IHA's TC bid, even though not many picked him to win the Derby. The fans are starving for a TC winner. Maybe the ones who have never witnessed one more so than others who have. I think the horses just communicate you're in my way, or let's eat now, etc. but nice to see champion Lava Man with IHA. Besides his other attributes, IHA does have the best stable pony.
Good point, Brian, but I think it's about more than just winning. Shack never quits, and that's one trait that all of his fans admire about him. Even when he raced at distances that probably weren't suited to him, he just kept trying. It's those qualities that Shack could share the secrets to with IHA.
I don't know ... I'll Have Another already has as many lifetime wins as Shackleford. Shack is tough though, I'll give you that.
Nice write up, like how you mentioned Lava Man as a mentor I believe that as well.

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Meet Ashley Tamulonis
  
 

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, and it was her love of reading and horses that led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few short years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and get to personally meet and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

 

Before joining Horse Racing Nation, Ashley created her own blog Wired with Ashley Paige. The idea to venture into the world of blogging came to her when she realized that she had much to say about horse racing and no one to say it to at the time. Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation blogging as The Florida Filly. Using that moniker, she mainly covered racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues, and from time to time offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry as a whole. A move north to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the new From Coast to Coast blog for HRN, which is simply a revamped version of The Florida Filly. Don't let the new look and name change fool you, though. Ashley still brings to the table the same great coverage as From Coast to Coast as she did for The Florida Filly. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

 

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband Chris and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.