In the Met Mile on Memorial Day, Shackleford set the pace along the rail, helping trap To Honor and Serve on the inside in third. Shackleford dug in to prevail by a nose over Caleb’s Posse, while To Honor and Serve raced evenly once clear, checking in three lengths behind the winner.
Shackleford, victorious in the Grade 1 Preakness and second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in 2011, has made one start since the Met Mile, finishing last of eight over a muddy track in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on August 5 at Saratoga Race Course. Originally slated to run in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Forego, the son of Forestry missed the race with a cough but has continued to train steadily, posting three fast breezes at Churchill Downs.
“[The September 23 breeze] was as good of a work as he’s ever had, and we did the right thing by skipping the Forego,” said Romans, who trains the chestnut for Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge, and the Phillips Racing Partnership. “We’re looking for a big effort from him.”
Ramon Dominguez will ride Shackleford, the 2-1 second choice on the morning line, for the first time in the Kelso.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez rode Shackleford and To Honor and Serve in their most recent starts and has opted to ride the latter in the Kelso.
To Honor and Serve was fourth as the 7-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap on July 7 at Belmont, and his Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, said the colt may have been adversely affected by hot weather that day. After bypassing the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap in early August, the Live Oak Plantation representative returned to defeat Suburban winner Mucho Macho Man by a head in the Grade 1 Woodward on September 1 at Saratoga.
“He was fourth, beaten [7 ½ lengths] or so in the Suburban,” said Mott. “But that’s the reason we skipped the Whitney and gave him a little rest until earlier September in the hopes that the weather was cooling off a bit. And he seems to be doing well. I mean, he’s bounced back since then, since the Woodward, and I think part of it is because he does better in the cool weather. He feels good and eats better, and he actually seems as though he’s put on a little weight to me. In the last 10 days he looks like he’s filled back out a little bit.”
To Honor and Serve will be cutting back from 1 1/8 miles in the Woodward to a one-turn mile in the Kelso. He is 3-0-1 in four starts in one-mile races, with wins coming in the 2010 Grade 2 Nashua, 2011 Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap, and 2012 Grade 3 Westchester. The one loss came in this year’s Met Mile.
“I’ve always felt my horse is very effective at a one-turn mile,” said Mott. “Shackleford beat him in the Met Mile, but I felt like on that particular day we didn’t have the golden trip, and to beat a horse like that you’ve got to have the golden trip.”
To Honor and Serve, the 8-5 morning-line favorite, drew post 5.
Tapizar, owned by Ron Winchell, returns to Belmont for the first time since winning a seven-furlong optional claimer last October.
After finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile to close out 2011, Tapizar won the Grade 2 San Fernando by 3 ½ lengths in January and was fourth in the Grade 2 Strub in February at Santa Anita; he reported home second in the Grade 3 Razborback Handicap in March at Oaklawn and returned from a nearly five-month layoff to take the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes on August 4 at Mountaineer.
Tapizar, trained by Steve Asmussen, will depart from post 4 with regular rider Corey Nakatani aboard and is 6-1 on the morning line.
The Kelso field includes the Rick Dutrow, Jr. quartet of Isn’t He Perfect, Gallant Fields, Pacific Ocean, and Trickmeister. Rounding out the entries are Golddigger’s Boy, second to Pacific Ocean in the Grade 3 James Marvin on July 20, and Jersey Town, third in the Grade 1 Forego on September 1.