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Tuesday, May 29, 2012


SHACKLEFORD HOLDS OFF CALEB’S POSSE IN MET MILE THRILLER


ELMONT, N.Y. – Shackleford proved impossible to catch on Monday at Belmont Park, setting the pace and resiliently holding off Caleb’s Posse’s patented stretch run to prevail by a nose in the 119th edition of the Grade 1, $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap.

Attempting to post consecutive wins for the first time in his career, Shackleford shot to the lead from post position 2 and set fractions of 22.77 and 44.73, with Jackson Bend and favored To Honor and Serve providing pressure in second and third, respectively.


Shackleford pinned To Honor and Serve inside as the field turned for home, steadily advanced his lead even after that rival found room in midstretch, and refused to let fast-closing Caleb’s Posse poke his nose in front as the top two finishers raced in tandem in the final sixteenth of a mile.

“He broke so good, so I didn’t have to do much, and he was doing it easy,” said John Velazquez. “Even as they were chasing him, he was in hand the whole way and that’s what I liked about him. Because he was doing it so easy, I didn’t have to rush him.”

“I saw the shadow [of Caleb’s Posse] coming so I had to go real far out to get him,” Velazquez added. “I was wondering if somebody was in between and was thinking if nobody was there I was going to go straight out, and that’s what made me win, because when I came out, he put up a fight. [He dug back in] big time.”

Shackleford, owned by Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge, and the Phillips Racing Partnership, returned $8.80 for a $2 win wager as the third choice in the Met Mile’s field of six. His final time was 1:33.30, 0.49 seconds off the stakes record set by Honour and Glory in 1996.

“I thought coming off the turn he was going to be tough to get by,” said winning trainer Dale Romans. “When they hit the wire, I thought he won. Ten jumps out, I didn’t know whether [Caleb’s Posse’s] momentum was going to carry him on by us, but when he hit the wire I thought we won. Johnny is one of the best riders of all time. He knows what he’s doing. He rode a perfect race.”

After winning last year’s Grade 1 Preakness, Shackleford lost seven straight, including runner-up performances in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, Grade 2 Indiana Derby, and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Earlier this year, he was seventh in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in February at Gulfstream Park and third in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap in April at Aqueduct before he regained the winning thread with a one-length victory over reigning Champion Sprinter Amazombie in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on May 5.

“The more work [Shackleford] does, the better he is,” said Romans. “I brought him out a little too soft early in the year. I was too easy on him. We started cranking it up, and it’s paid off. The more I do with him, the more he likes it and the better he gets.”

The $450,000 winner’s share of the Met Mile purse pushed Shackleford’s earnings $2,741,381. Overall, the 4-year-old son of Forestry is 5-4-1 in 16 starts. The $450,000 winner’s share of the Met Mile purse pushed Shackleford’s earnings $2,741,381. Overall, the 4-year-old son of Forestry is 5-4-1 in 16 starts. His victory in the Met Mile, the first North American Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race in 2012, guarantees him a spot in the starting gate for the Grade 1 Dirt Mile this November at Santa Anita.

Shackleford will fly back to Kentucky tomorrow morning, according to Romans, who added that he hasn’t thought beyond the Met Mile.

The Met Mile was the fourth time Shackleford had faced Caleb’s Posse, who was third in the Indiana Derby, first in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and second in the Carter.

“These two have had a good rivalry,” said Romans. “It’s their fourth time against each other, and they’re 2-2. Caleb’s Posse is a great horse, and it’s a good rivalry. Let’s see each other again. It was the race of the year, and it’s exciting to have been part of it, win, lose, or draw, with all of those good horses. And it lived up to its billing. To be a nose apart at the wire, I think it lived up to the hype.”

The Met Mile marked the third straight runner-up performance for Caleb’s Posse, whose late charge also fell just short in Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap and Carter.

“We’ll get over this [losing three straight by a neck, a nose and a nose],” said Donnie Von Hemel, trainer of Caleb’s Posse. “For him to overcome the track bias and run like that, we’re very proud of him.”

To Honor and Serve, who left from post 1, finished three lengths behind the winner in third.

“I don’t think the inside post helped us, that’s all,” said his Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott.

Caixa Eletronica, Jackson Bend, and Saginaw completed the order of finish.




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