Shackleford, the popular multi-millionaire who triumphed in last year’s Preakness Stakes (Grade I), finished his stellar career in style with a front-running one-length victory over Take Charge Indy in Friday’s 138th running of the $447,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) at Churchill Downs.
The 4-year-old chestnut son of Forestry out of the productive Unbridled mare Oatsee (she also was the dam of Thursday’s Grade II Falls City Handicap winner Afleeting Lady) ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.12 over a “fast” track to give jockey Jesus Castanon, trainer Dale Romans and owners Mike Lauffer, Bill Cubbedge and Phillips Racing Partnership their first triumph in the Clark – Churchill Downs’ most lucrative race of its annual Fall Meet.
“That’s the way he’s supposed to leave,” said an emotional Romans, the Louisville native who undoubtedly will be a finalist for North America’s Champion Trainer honors after collecting his ninth Grade I win of the year. “He was very impressive today. That’s ‘Shack’ at his best.”
When starter Scott Jordan sprang open the gates, Shackleford broke on top from post three and took the field of nine through fractions of :24.31, :48.65 and 1:12.69. Take Charge Indy was reserved in second and prompted the winner while racing four wide on the final turn, but Shackleford kicked on and increased his advantage in midstretch. He drifted out in the final yards, but easily held off Take Charge Indy, who out-finished Bourbon Courage by a head for second.
“I know what he likes to do and I put him in a spot where he wanted to be,” said Castanon, who was reunited with Shackleford for the first time since his victory in the Grade II Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard. “He finished up strong. Once they let me open up, I knew he was going to last. I could have gone around again and I don’t think they would have gotten me. He would have just kept going.”
Sent postward as the 120-pound starting high weight and 2.90-1 second choice in the betting, Shackleford returned $7.80, $4.80 and $3.40. Take Charge Indy, who carried 117 pounds under Calvin Borel at odds of 5.80-1, paid $6.80 and $4.40. Bourbon Courage, also at 5.80-1 and carrying 117 pounds, paid $4 with Leandro Goncalves aboard in third. Lunar Victory, the 5-2 favorite with Junior Alvarado in the saddle, finished another 6 ¾ lengths back in fourth.
Mission Impazible, Cease, Stealcase, Fast Falcon and Eye of the Leopard completed the order of finish. Pool Play was scratched because he did not train to the satisfaction of trainer Mark Casse in the days leading up to the race.
The Clark was the third Grade I victory of Shackleford’s 20-race career. A year ago, he gave Romans his first triumph in a classic when victorious by a half-length over Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in the 2011 Preakness Stakes (GI). Earlier this year, Shackleford beat Caleb’s Posse by a nose in a stellar renewal of the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) at Belmont Park.
The $266,054 first prize pushed his career bankroll to $3,090,101. He won six of his 20 starts with five seconds and one third.
Prior to the Clark – his first start at a distance greater than one mile since finishing seventh in the Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park in February – Shackleford finished a troubled seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Santa Anita at odds of 5-2.
“That’s how we expected him to run in the Breeders’ Cup (Dirt Mile) and it wasn’t his fault that he stumbled (at the start),” Romans said. “That’s the way I wanted to see him end his career. I’m very proud of him. This win was for him. It put him back in the winner’s circle before he left and let everyone know he’s still the same Shackleford he used to be."
In the coming days, Shackleford will be retired to Darby Dan Farm in Lexington, Ky. for stud duty.
“He’s been very sound throughout his whole career and we’ve never ducked anyone,” said Lauffer, his co-owner and breeder. “All his races have pretty much been Grade I or Grade II races and he’s as good right now as he’s ever been.”
The Clark Handicap, named for Churchill Downs founder Col. M. Lewis Clark, was run for the first time in 1875 during the first racing meet at Churchill Downs, which was then known as the Louisville Jockey Club. Like the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and Kentucky Oaks (GI), the Clark has been renewed annually without interruption since its first running.
On the undercard, Craig Singer’s homebred Salty Strike defended her title in the $67,100 Dream Supreme, an overnight stakes for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Smart Strike ran six furlongs in 1:09.74 to beat Cheery by a half-length. Salty Strike earned $40,694 and improved her record to 20-9-1-2—$485,266. Seven of her nine wins have come against stakes company. Victor Lebron rode the winner for trainer Ken McPeek.
Racing at Churchill Downs continues Saturday with a 12-race “Stars of Tomorrow II” program exclusively for 2-year-olds with a first post time of 12:40 p.m. (all times Eastern). Highlighting the program are two Grade II stakes: the 69th running of the $150,000-added Golden Rod for fillies, which goes as the ninth race (4:35 p.m. post time), and the 86th running of the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club, which goes as the 11th race (5:35 p.m. post time). Also, there is a $14,459 Pick 6 carryover on Races 7-12.
In just seven years of existence, Stars of Tomorrow has been the launching pad for numerous graded stakes winners. Since 2005, 27 participants became Grade I winners, including Kentucky Derby 137 champ Super Saver, 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, recent Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Fort Larned and this year’s Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can. Fifteen became millionaires: Court Vision, Rachel Alexandra, Fort Larned, Lawyer Ron, Pure Clan, Shackleford, Super Saver, Macho Again, Giant Oak, First Dude, Swift Temper, General Quarters, Fly Down, Believe You Can and Any Given Saturday.
Only two days remain at the 21-day Fall Meet. Closing Day is Sunday.
CLARK HANDICAP QUOTES
Dale Romans, trainer of Shackleford, winner: “That’s the way he’s supposed to leave. He was very impressive today. That’s ‘Shack’ at his best. That’s how we expected him to run in the Breeders’ Cup (Dirt Mile) and it wasn’t his fault that he stumbled. That’s the way I wanted to see him end his career. I’m very proud of him. This win was for him. It put him back in the winner’s circle before he left and let everyone know he’s still the same Shackleford he used to be.
Q. You had to be happy when you saw he went :48 and change for the opening half mile, right? “Yes, when they went :48 I thought it was going to be tough to get by him. When he came off the turn, you could tell he was in cruise control. I don’t think it mattered how far they went today. It was just Shack at his best. This is a class horse. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse to train. You never know when you’ll have another one like that, or if ever.”
Q. Being your first Classic winner, can you talk about the emotions of today? “It’s the end of an era for my stable. He took my career to a new level. He made my resume totally different than it was before he came into the barn. I owe him a lot.”
Jesus Castanon, jockey on Shackleford, winner: “I know what he likes to do and I put him in a spot where he wanted to be. He finished up strong. Once they let me open up, I knew he was going to last. I could have gone around again and I don’t think they would have gotten me. He would have just kept going.”
Q. How big was it for you to be back aboard Shackleford for his final win? “It was very emotional. When I spoke to Dale and he told me I would be back on him, I was so happy. To be able to ride him in his last race was amazing.”
Mike Lauffer, co-owner and breeder of Shackleford, winner: “He’s been very sound throughout his whole career and we’ve never ducked anyone. All his races have pretty much been Grade I or Grade II races and he’s as good right now as he’s ever been.”
Q. How important was it to get him back in the winner’s circle before he retired? “It was huge for us. We love this horse so much because we bred him and everything. What better way to go out than a win? We were just sick at this Breeders’ Cup when he stumbled out of the gate and didn’t get a chance. I told everyone that if he came out of the race good and was training well, we’re going to give him one more shot. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Q. What do you think about all of Shackleford’s fans? “I don’t really know what’s caused all of it. I know he’s a classy horse and he’s a very pretty horse. I think people gravitate toward really good looking, big horses. He’s raced so much, too. A lot of the owners and trainers try to dodge other horses and we haven’t done that. We’ve always had the utmost confidence in him and when he’s 100-percent like he is today, we’ll take on anyone.”
Q. Now that he’s leaving the barn, do you have another horse in the barn you’re excited about? “You never know because you’re always looking for that good horse. We’ve got a horse running (Sunday at Churchill Downs) that we think is going to be a top horse: Gulfport. We’re bringing him along a little slower too. We’re running him (Sunday) and then we’ll maybe look at something at Gulfstream. He looks like a real classy horse, too.”
Pat Byrne, trainer of Take Charge Indy, runner-up: “He ran a super race. No excuses. Shackleford is the Met Mile winner and the Preakness winner, and obviously a Grade I-quality animal. Shackleford brought his ‘A’ game and we were second best.”
Q: When you saw Shackleford on the lead in :24 and :48, it had to be a concern … “I think it was a good pace, but Calvin rode our horse brilliant. We’re ecstatic running second – we ran second to a Grade I horse. I thought when we got the weights (assignment for the Clark), I thought 120 (for Shackleford) was a little cheeky, personally. I thought he should have gotten a little more weight. He only gave us three pounds, but that’s the way it is. We have no complaints, we’re happy. It looked like our horse pulled up good and we’ll go on from there. We’re not sure if he’s gonna be retired to WinStar. They have the ultimate decision whether to race him next year or not, so we’ll see.”
Q: And your vote would be? “We’d love to have him in training next year. He’s a fresh horse. He missed all of the summer due to the injury he suffered in the Kentucky Derby. But he showed that he’s back and he’s put two solid races back-to-back. So, we’re happy and he’s going to be a fresh horse next year should he stay in training.”
Calvin Borel, jockey on Take Charge Indy, runner-up: “That other horse got the jump on us at the start and he just settled in behind him. We had to move a little bit early on him because there was no one else to run with him, but he fought hard. We couldn’t get past the winner, but he hung in down the stretch to be second. He ran great.”
Kellyn Gorder, trainer of Bourbon Courage, third: “We’re proud of him and thought he ran a big race today. We’re looking forward to next year.”
Q: Did you have the same thought that most fans on the track had when you looked up and saw Shackleford galloping along in :24 and :48? “I really expected somebody else to go with him, and I knew he’d be tough to beat when I saw him get out there.”
Q: You’re horse had a bit of an eventful trip. He seemed to get pinched a bit at the start and then it was pretty tight late in the stretch … “He got brushed a little bit coming out of the gate. Down the lane I thought the horse on the outside of him (Take Charge Indy) was kind of holding him in. He was trying to get out, but ended up running up on Shackleford’s rear-end.”
Q: You’ve got to be thinking big things for next year … “We’ll give him a little bit of time, and then look at some of those handicap races next year.”
Leandro Goncalves, jockey on Bourbon Courage, third: “He broke good and we got good position. On the backside he was where we wanted to be. When we came to the quarter pole and I asked him to run, he gave us a good kick. But in the last sixteenth, I kind of ran in behind Shackleford and had Calvin (Borel, aboard Take Charge Indy) outside of me. I was trying to get out, but we were fighting for second place and he couldn’t really run that last part. But it was going to be tough to catch that leader. He ran a big race.”