Shackleford 'Better Than 50-50' for Belmont

Shackleford 'Better Than 50-50' for Belmont
Photo: Dave Harmon
Shackleford after winning the Preakness Stakes.

Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Shackleford   returned to Churchill Downs in Kentucky May 22, and trainer Dale Romans said there’s a “better than 50-50 chance” the colt will race in the June 11 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

Shackleford, owned by Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge, finished fourth in the May 7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) but turned the tables on Derby winner Animal Kingdom   by winning the May 21 Preakness. Romans opted to ship Shackleford to Churchill rather than Belmont Park, but he said that doesn’t mean the Forestry   colt won’t compete in the 1 1/2-mile classic.

“I thought last night of going onto Belmont right away,” Romans said May 22 at Pimlico Race Course. “But I wanted to send him back to Kentucky so we’ll get him with his regular team, go over him, watch him train a couple days and then make the decision. Ultimately it will be Mike’s (Lauffer) call, but he’ll let me have a lot of input, I’m sure. If he trains like he did going into the Derby, I don’t know why we would pass. I think it’s better than 50-50. He ate up well this morning.”

The Preakness was the seventh career start for Shackleford, but his first victory since an allowance score at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 5, the first time Jesus Castanon rode the colt. His Preakness payoff of $27.20 was the ninth-highest in 136 runnings.

Team Valor International’s Animal Kingdom, 20-1 in the Kentucky Derby but the 5-2 choice in the Preakness, again ran a big race. He rallied from next-to-last in a field of 14 to fall a half-length short of Shackleford, who never was worse than second through quick early fractions. His connections indicated the Belmont Stakes is on the radar screen for Animal Kingdom.

“I think the horse ran huge,” trainer Graham Motion said. “If it wasn’t for the fact that it was the Triple Crown, you’d be thrilled that he ran so well. (The Belmont) definitely will be a possibility as long as he’s OK. I heard (Team Valor International president Barry Irwin) mention it, and I think (jockey John Velazquez) feels strongly it would suit him.”

Romans said he’d like to see a rivalry build among some of the top 3-year-olds this year.

“I think this year’s crop of 3-year-olds is better than people give it credit for,” Romans said. “We’ve got to start thinking about the races (for Shackleford) that would make a 3-year-old champion.”

Among them are the Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes (both gr. I), he said.

Nick Zito, trainer of fourth-place Preakness finisher Dialed In  , expressed some frustration the morning after the race. Second choice Dialed In rallied from last, just behind Animal Kingdom, but encountered some trouble with a quarter mile to go and flattened out a bit.

“Another Preakness is in the books, and it was another tough assignment,” Zito said. “I don’t know why he has to stay that far back. One of the things that frustrates me is he’s squeezed all the time.

“He breaks cleanly and then eases himself back, but when you’re squeezed, you’re already taken back. I really wanted him in the clear when he made his move. It’s just racing. There’s not much you can do.”

Zito said Dialed In, owned by Robert LaPenta, probably won’t make the Belmont Stakes.

“Right now I’m not in a hurry to do anything,” Zito said. “It’s a little hard for him to do right now. I’ve got to be nuts to jump at it; you have to think of your horse.”

Trainer Steve Asmussen said third-place Preakness finisher Astrology   was very unlikely for the Belmont Stakes.

“We have been playing catch-up with the horse all year and yesterday was a great opportunity for him,” Asmussen said. “We felt that he had a very good chance going in and that he validated that by competing well. I think it’s within him to get something like that done.”

Of the other Preakness starters, only sixth-place finisher Mucho Macho Man   appeared probable for the Belmont.

“We’re on. I think it’s his kind of track and his kind of race,” trainer Kathy Ritvo said. “We just have to see how he comes out of this race.”

Ritvo said that Mucho Macho Man lost his left front shoe during the race. The colt lost his right front shoe when finishing third in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds March 26.

“He’s got to be doing something. I haven’t had a horse pull a shoe for three or four years and now I’ve got two in three races,” she said. “I think he’s snatching himself coming out of the gate. I think he’s so excited to get out of the gate that he’s springing before his front feet are gone. He’s not a nervous horse. It’s got to be something. I’ve got to figure out what happened and when he lost it.”

 Mucho Macho Man vanned to Belmont Park Sunday morning.

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