An exercise rider at an adjacent barn admired Shackleford as he left Dale Romans’ barn for his first gallop at Saratoga Race Course on Thursday morning.
With his broad blaze and flawless chestnut coat, the Met Mile winner was difficult to miss as he trotted out onto the main track for an easy jog as a few dozen media, spectators and Romans’ crowded golf cart gathered near the half-mile pole to watch.
The buzz horse of the backstretch will get even more attention this afternoon, when he takes on seven in the A.G. Vanderbilt.
Romans said he ranks Game On Dude as the top horse in the older division right now, but he has his
4-year-old in the group right behind, and the Vanderbilt offers a chance at another Grade I — with an interesting historical note — as well as an important next step
toward end-of-the-year honors.
Shackleford’s thrilling Met Mile win gave him an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, but Romans said that they’re not ruling out plotting a course to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, despite the fact that Shackleford skipped Saturday’s Whitney for the Vanderbilt.
“Right now, the Dirt Mile would be the most logical spot, but we haven’t ruled out the Classic,”
Romans said. “A lot of it would depend, of course, on how he’s been doing, how the Eclipse Awards are shaping up and where he stands with the other horses and what he needs to do.
“There’s very few races now that can, really, improve his resume. The Classic’s one of them. If he’s going into it the right way, there could be a lot on the line in November.”
That’s way down the road, for now.”
Besides the Met Mile, the 2011 Preakness winner has also won the Grade II Churchill Downs at seven furlongs this year, and the six-furlongs Vanderbilt is a steppingstone to the seven-furlong Forego.
By shortening up significantly from the classic distances to run in the Vanderbilt, Shackleford is in position to join just four horses who have pulled off a rare double since the grading system for stakes was introduced in 1973.
According to the New York Racing Association, only Foolish Pleasure, Dancing Spree, Precisionist and Ruffian are the only ones to win Grade I’s at six furlongs and longer than nine furlongs.
“He hasn’t done it [six furlongs] yet, but he’s a fast horse,” Romans said. “I think he can handle it. The biggest concern is you don’t like having the one hole. But he’s had it a couple times, and he’s run well.”
Shackleford produced one of the most brilliant performances of the year when he held off Caleb’s Posse by a nose in the Met Mile.
He had lost seven straight, including an eighth in last year’s Travers, since winning the Preakness over a year ago, but now has won two in a row, and his Met Mile run was even better than the Preakness,
“Oh, yeah. That’s the best race any horse I’ve had run,” he said. “He ran hard. I’ve watched it a few times.”
Of the eight in the Vanderbilt field, only Shackleford, Emcee
(2-1) and Rothko (8-1), who broke his maiden at Saratoga last year, are listed at odds lower than 10-1.
Emcee will break just outside Shackleford and rebounded from a fourth behind Jackson Bend,
Caleb’s Posse and Shackleford in the Carter with an impressive win at Belmont in May.
“Shackleford’s the class of the race, but there’s some fast horses in here, some good, fast horses,” Romans said. “You don’t want to miss the break or have anything go wrong, because then you won’t catch up. It’s a good group.”