MIAMI GARDENS, November 25, 2012—And so Shackleford and Stay Thirsty, two of the highest profiled three year olds of 2011, brought their worthy careers to a satisfying, happy ending over the holiday weekend by going home winners.

And now the time has come for these newly turned stallions and their connections to look forward to a second career that includes many happy endings in the breeding shed as well. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

Each left the stage in a big, Grade 1 way, each having accounted for the biggest one mile, one turn, dirt races of this any other year, each victory enhancing their chances of attracting the best mares available anywhere.

Unlike in the Metropolitan Mile, where Shackleford, winner of Friday’s Clark Handicap, had to do the dirty work every step of the way, his rivals left him, and the rider that got along with him better than anyone else, Jesus Castanon, on a soft early lead.

“When they finally came at him,” said an emotional Castanon after the race, “he gave me everything he had.” And that fits the racing profile of the three million-dollar earner perfectly.

Early and often, sometimes he gave too much, without even leaving the paddock. It’s a bit ironic that obstreperousness was the harbinger of a top racetrack performance unlike pre-post for the Clark, he was a perfect gentleman.

It is often said that horses make liars of us all. With all that was going on around him in Saratoga this summer, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see Shackleford race again much less go out with a Grade 1 that had to take a modicum of sting out of a Classic placing over the same track in May, 2011.

For Stay Thirsty, there were a lot of stops and starts to his four year old season. The plan was always to work backward from the Breeders’ Cup Classic but then the campaign began later than expected.

He looked all set to compete after a narrow, gritty, just-miss Jockey Club Gold Cup placing. Then came “the boycott,” owner Mike Repole deciding to punish the Breeders’ Cup brain trust for declaring the juvenile races of 2012 Lasix non-grata.

With or without Groupie Doll, the Cigar Mile offered the path of lesser resistance, the best chance for the colt that won last year’s Derby of Midsummer over a surface he loves to go out a Grade 1 winner.

And with birthday boy Ramon Dominguez, having another magical day in yet another magical season, coaxed just enough surged from a veering in Stay Thirsty to cap off a magical day for his owner and Todd Pletcher, who combined to win five stakes on the weekend.

In the aftermath of extraordinary achievement, Joe Hirsch loved to say that “everything’s happened before.” I wonder what he might have said if he were in the Aqueduct press box on Holidayfest Saturday. He probably would have reminded his colleagues that Shug McGaughey saddled five stakes winners on Jockey Club Gold Cup day at Belmont Park 19 years ago.



Wiil Dale Romans Eclipse His Peers?


As the trainer himself said not long after Shackleford’s Clark victory concerning his chances of being named Champion Trainer of 2012, he’s had a tremendous season but he’d have to start studying the stats before he begins campaigning for the honor.

Like most turf writers, I agree that to know Romans is to like him. He’s always been available, respectful of the game, amusing and forthright. And we’ve never seen him big-time the media.

While Romans and this commentator may be on different sides of the great Lasix divide, we’re very likely to be on the same side when Eclipse ballots arrive in next month’s mail. His record speaks volumes.

As of November 24, Romans ranks third in earnings, as he approaches the $8 million mark trailing only Pletcher and Bob Baffert. Only four trainers among the Top 10 earners—the aforementioned pair plus Shug McGaughey and Chad Brown--have a higher win percentage in stakes company.

Romans is winning at a 19% rate while saddling 104 stakes entrants—compared to Brown’s 73 and McGaughey’s 52—and has done so by saddling every manner of race horse.

When Shackleford won the Clark, it gave Romans his 27th stakes win this year, 20th in graded company, his ninth Grade 1.

With Dullahan, he beat older horses in the Pacific Classic over Del Mar’s Polytrack. His work with Breeders’ Cup Turf titlist Little Mike has been nothing short of a revelation.

Romans’ accomplishments, unlike some of the competition, have been far-reaching, all-inclusive, worthy of recognition. Before the Clark, Romans credited Shackleford for raising his career to the top level. That might well turn out to be an understatement. Let the campaigning begin.