Photo: Sophie Shore/Eclipse Sportswire
Shagaf was last seen on the racetrack in Kentucky Derby 2016, when the Shadwell Stable’s runner was eased in the Churchill Downs stretch with an eighth of a mile remaining in the Run for the Roses. Jockey Joel Rosario sensed that something had gone wrong with the son of Bernardini. Shagaf was able to walk off the track, but required surgery to remove bone chips from his left front knee and ankle.
This Sunday, just two weeks shy of being away from the races for a full year, Shagaf will return to competition in a very strong allowance optional claimer at Aqueduct with an $80,000 purse.
Shagaf was meant to be a good one. His dam, Muhaawara, who was also bred by Shadwell, is a stakes winner and a half-sister to the Breeders’ Cup Marathon champion Eldaafer.
Shagaf burst onto the 2016 Kentucky Derby Trail when he won his debut at Aqueduct in November of his juvenile year. The word was out on the Chad Brown trainee that day. He went off as the 2.60-1 favorite in a field of 10, which he dispatched with ease, drawing off to a six-length victory. He then headed south and made his next start at Gulfstream Park in another one-turn mile. On that January day, the field was smaller and his odds were shorter (.90-1), but the result was similar to his debut, another convincing victory.
In March, Shagaf returned to Aqueduct for the Gotham (G3). Once again he was made the bettors’ top choice, this time at 1.25-1, and once again he was victorious, earning at spot in the Kentucky Derby. In the Gotham he defeated Laoban, who would go on to win the Jim Dandy at Saratoga in July, and Sunny Ridge, who had won the Withers. In the Wood Memorial, Shagaf’s unbeaten record would end when he was uncompetitive in his first start on a muddy track.
Heading to the Derby, the Shagaf bandwagon had emptied. On that First Saturday in May in 2016, he was not the favorite for the first time in his career; far from it, he was a very big 56-1 longshot. His last place finish was easy to explain when the post-race surgery was required. Possibly the bone chips were bothering him in the Wood Memorial.
Interestingly since last year, only two from the Derby field had not found their way back to the track and with Shagaf’s comeback imminent, Outwork will be the only horse that did not race again, because he was retired to stud.
No trainer is better at bringing horses back from long layoffs than Brown and he has Shagaf returning to Aqueduct main track, where he broke his maiden, and to the one-turn mile distance at which he is unbeaten. Shagaf; however, finds tough competition after wintering at Palm Meadows and then completing his training at Brown’s Belmont Park base.
This appears to be a very good spot for Shagaf, but this allowance will not be easy because Brown also brings Economic Model, who won the Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard, back after a five-month layoff. Rachel Alexandra’s half-brother Dolphus is entered after recently changing to the barn of Jimmy Jerkens. Splashtastic has a career record of 7: 4-1-0 for the always dangerous Rudy Rodriguez. Turco Bravo, the winner of two long distance stakes in New York last year, drops out of stakes company for his third start of 2017.
Arrogate is the undisputed leader of the Older Dirt Male division with Gun Runner and Shaman Ghost very solid runner-ups. Below those three there is plenty of room and plenty of money to be won. Brown seems to be bringing Shagaf back right at the right time of the year with Belmont Park opening at the end of the month and Saratoga close behind.