It is pretty early to start talking pace strategy for the May 21 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), but with the speedy Shackleford and Flashpoint heading for the second leg of the Triple Crown, you can bet the discussion is going to become more intense as the race gets closer.
Ironically, this is pretty much the same scenario both colts faced in the Florida Derby (gr. I), when Flashpoint was stretching out to two turns after blowing away his opponents in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) and Shackleford was trying to bounce back from an inexplicably poor effort in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) in which he failed to even come close to the lead after scoring back-to-back impressive victories on the pace.
As it turned out, Shackleford established a short lead in the Florida Derby and nearly went wire-to-wire, losing by a head to Dialed In , while Flashpoint broke outward from the outside post, went wide into the first turn, and was never able to get closer than third, as Shackleford set a strong pace and kept going. Flashpoint, however, ran an excellent race to finish fourth in only his third career start and first going two turns.
Whereas Shackleford came back in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and employed the same tactics, spurting clear at the head of the stretch only to finish a good fourth, Flashpoint passed up the Derby and is coming into the Preakness off a seven-week layoff.
Flashpoint’s owner, John Fort, head of Peachtree Stable, said they are not determined to be on the lead, and just want to save ground and “sit in the catbird seat.”
Trainer Wesley Ward, who has had the colt for only a few weeks, would not commit to any strategy at this point.
“We’ll discuss whether we go to front or come from behind after seeing the post positions and how the race shapes up,” Ward said.
Shackleford’s trainer, Dale Romans, said he is not committed to the lead either. “We don’t have to be on the lead, we just want him to relax,” Romans said. “If Flashpoint wants the lead he can go, but he’s gonna have to go pretty fast to outrun him.”
And let’s not forget the likely looming presence of
As for Shackleford, the son of Forestry had Romans smelling the scent of roses after opening a clear lead in the stretch, only to give way late.
“Outside the eighth-pole I thought we were the winner,” he said. “He just couldn’t hang on the last sixteenth. Only three horses beat him, so he ran a good mile and a quarter. He gave it is all. With this race under him he might be able to hang on next time.
“He’s feeling good and is dead fit, so we’ll take it easy with him until the Preakness. This morning he jumped right into his feed tub, and was bucking and jumping in his gallop, so unlike a lot of horses who regress coming out of the
There was nothing about the Derby Romans would change other than the result.
“I was thrilled to see those fractions,” Romans said. “He had a perfect trip, they just came home ultra fast. But he tried to hang in there and fight. If I had seen three-quarters in 1:12 and change instead of 1:13 and change I would have been fine with that. I didn’t think he’d get away with those kind of fractions.”
Because of his second-place finish, Shackleford is eligible to win a $550,000 consolation bonus with a victory. Dialed In is in line for a $5.5 million bonus because of his victories in the Florida Derby and Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III).
Ward is looking forward to running Flashpoint in the Preakness to see just what he has.
“I think I’m getting a line on him,” he said. “He has a great personality. I just love him. We’ll get to the race, look at the form, and talk it over with Mr. Fort and (Cornelio Velasquez) and go over our tactics. We’ve been working him in company with a very talented horse in Pleasant Prince, because I wanted to put him with a horse with some quality.”