Take three Aleve, a Glacier Freeze Gatorade, and some Sonic tator tots, we’ve got some work to do.
It’s less than two months to the greatest betting weekend in horse racing. We’ve already won, and we’re in. Except, of course, we’ll lose. Let’s not fool ourselves. You’re not as good of a handicapper as you think you are. In fact you’re worse. Trust me on this one, as the champion of bad handicapping. I feel your pain, just come on out and admit that you’re in denial. (How about that all-grade 1 Pick 4 for Jockey Club Gold Cup Day? Did I say we sucked? We’re AWESOME! Let’s roll!)
One of the more interesting horses that will undoubtedly run in the wrong race come Breeders’ Cup is the Dale Romans-trained Shackleford. He’ll run in the Classic, but he should take on Twirling Candy and Uncle Mo in the Dirt Mile.
Shackleford has just one win in his last five starts. Granted they were all Grade 1s (Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational, and Travers Stakes), but let’s look at the facts.
The Florida Derby he came in fresh and unknown and nearly stole it from Dialed In. He then set a friendly pace in the Kentucky Derby, dug in with guts but faded to fourth. The Forestry colt then does the same in the Preakness Stakes, only this time he hangs on, head low, to beat a tired Animal Kingdom. The Belmont Stakes watched him finish fifth.
Into the summer he ran, rated kindly in the Haskell, but was collared by then-golden boy Coil at the wire. Could it be that nine furlongs felt long to Shackleford? Maybe at this time of year with all those races, nine furlongs feels more like the Dirt Marathon. Let’s run 200 yards farther ...
He gets swallowed up bad in the Travers, practically backed up and had Romans scratching his noodle. Shackleford looked worse than Matthew Fox.
There are three three-year-olds who will finish ahead of him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic right now. Why take that chance? As it stands, now there is doubt about his ability to get the distance. If you retire him from races over a mile, you have the benefit of the doubt that he could always get it. After all, he won the Preakness and beat the Derby winner. The problem is that he followed up those efforts with a fifth, second, and eighth place effort in races of 12, nine, and 10 furlongs. His resume is looking worse than A.J. Burnett’s.
If his connections dialed him back to a mile they could use that high cruising speed to outlast his competition. He’d be running against Uncle Mo, who ran hard in the King’s Bishop, but will likely be making his third start of a long layoff, assuming he comes out of the Kelso in good order.
Options for Shackleford to prep for the Breeders’ Cup are not in his favor unless his connections choose to turn him back. His options going long are the Goodwood out in California (why ship?). Or to Belmont for the Jockey Club Gold Cup where he will only dig himself into a deeper hole against Stay Thirsty and company at ten furlongs, which, we can all agree, is at least a furlong too long, maybe longer.
The Kelso against Uncle Mo would be a smashing return for this classy animal and maybe a stepping stone to things longer, or, as is the case here, possibly right on the nose.
There is time to make corrections and follow in the line of the great Preakness winners of the past eight years (Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Bernardini, Curlin, Big Brown, Rachel Alexandra, and Lookin At Lucky). That’s good company. His correction will put him right in line.
Brendan O'Meara is the author of "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year". It is available wherever books are sold or by its gracious publisher, SUNY Press.