The 38th running of the Grade I $500,000 Secretariat Stakes is shaping up as a fine affair, with players from multiple regions of the United States, as well as Europe. One who may be overlooked is Ninety North Racing Stable’s Sheldon - a talented son of late stallion Purim, who himself won the Grade III Arlington Classic in 2005.
“We are planning on coming if we get into the race,” confirmed trainer Jimmy Toner. “He’s a nice colt. The question has always been waiting for the distance with him. He needs more ground and I knew he would be a nice colt once he stretched out.”
Last out, the game chestnut was an unlucky fifth - beaten a dissipating 4½ lengths - in the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational behind Mr. Speaker at Belmont Park. “He could have won that day. He ran a good race after he got checked twice in the stretch. I think he could have been right there, otherwise.
“I had told Junior (Alvarado, jockey) to stay out of trouble, but if he would have followed Mr. Speaker up the inside, he would have been okay,” Toner continued. “I’m not going to say he would have won, but he would have been right there.”
Though Sheldon has only a maiden win to his credit - and it took him seven tries to do so - he has always been highly regarded. In his second start, after closing stoutly to finish a length third in his maiden debut, he raced in the Grade III Pilgrim Stakes. Unfortunately, he ran into Bobby’s Kitten that day and finished sixth.
“I think you can do that with a 2-year-old,” Toner said. “I knew he was good and wanted to go farther. We were taking a shot. Just like in the Belmont Derby - we took a shot and now we’re regrouping. He will love the distance of the Secretariat and is a ‘next year’ kind of horse. When he gets to those 1 3/8-miles and 1½-miles events, he’ll be tough.”
It will not be the first time Toner and Ninety North came to Chicagoland with a talented turf sophomore. In 2007, they took down the Grade III Hawthorne Derby with Bold Hawk. “Bold Hawk was one of those ones who was exceptional. Actually, he was a mean horse,” Toner laughed. “I went to visit him the other day and he was still tough. You never thought he was going to make it, but he did.
“Sheldon is ‘Sheldon’ - he’s a horse who has a lot of personality; he’s in a world of his own and is kind of funny. You know him when you come into the barn - it’s like ‘that’s Sheldon’. He takes care of himself and is a neat horse.”