Shackleford sought revenge against arch rival Caleb's Posse on Memorial Day and succeeded when keeping his nose in front of that one on the wire of Monday's Grade 1, $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. The chestnut son of Forestry led all the way around Big Sandy and had just enough left to withstand the furious late rush of Caleb's Posse, stopping the clock in 1:33 1/5 over the fast track.
"I knew he was going to finish. It was just a matter of whether they could get by him or not," trainer Dale Romans stated. "I thought coming off the turn he was going to be tough to get by. 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.
"He's gutsy as they come. Hopefully, he'll get the credit he deserves. He's a spectacular horse."
The Met Mile top two were meeting for the fourth time after first making each other's acquaintance in last October's Grade 2 Indiana Derby. Shackleford was second that day, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Caleb's Posse in third. Caleb's Posse evened the score next out when they squared off in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, capturing that race by by four lengths over Shackleford, then went one up on his foe when they last met in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct. In that April 7 affair, Caleb's Posse ran second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Shackleford's third-place finish.
"These two have had a good rivalry," Romans remarked. "It's their fourth time against each other, and they're two-two. 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."
To Honor and Serve, the 8-5 favorite, tracked Shackleford just in behind and on the inside through swift splits of :22 3/5, :44 3/5 and 1:08 2/5 in Monday's contest. Carter winner Jackson Bend kept pace with that one until the turn, when he was swamped on the outside by Saginaw and Caixa Eletronica. Caleb's Posse suddenly appeared as well and swung widest of all before flying after Shackleford, who had shook loose from all other rivals.
Caleb's Posse gave it his all, but just could not reach Shackleford before the wire. It was another three lengths behind those two to To Honor and Serve, who in turn was five lengths clear of Caixa Eletronica in fourth. Jackson Bend and Saginaw followed to complete the order under the line.
Caleb's Posse suffered his third straight close loss in the Met Mile. The bay son of Posse missed by a neck in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap to start his four-year-old season before losing the Carter, and now this one, by a nose.
"We'll get over this," trainer Donnie Von Hemel said of Caleb's Posse tough beats. "For him to overcome the track bias and run like that, we're very proud of him."
"The track has been fast all day, and it seemed like there was a speed bias," said Caleb's Posse's jockey, Rajiv Maragh. "The trip was good. I just kept on riding, trying to win. It looked like I had (Shackleford) measured. I was hoping I had (Shackleford). It was just an unfortunate head bob. It's real unfortunate to lose a race like this by such a short margin as good as he ran."
Shackleford was ridden in the Met Mile for the first time by John Velazquez and returned $8.80, $4.80 and $3.10 as the near 7-2 third choice. His regular rider, Jesus Castanon, is recuperating after suffering a broken left hand in a fall at Churchill Downs on May 18.
"He broke so good, so I didn't have to do much, and he was doing it easy. 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," Velazquez said.
"I saw the shadow (of Caleb's Posse) coming so I had to go real far out to get him. 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."
"Johnny is one of the best riders of all time. He knows what he's doing. He rode a perfect race," Romans praised.
Shackleford entered the Met Mile off a one-length victory in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes on Kentucky Derby Day. That was actually his first win since capturing the Preakness Stakes in 2011. The chestnut, who was fourth in last year's Kentucky Derby, followed up his classic score with a fifth in the Belmont Stakes three weeks later, then just missed by a neck in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational. He never challenged when a well-beaten eighth in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes and closed out his sophomore season with the runner-up efforts in the Indiana Derby and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
Shackleford faltered as the favorite when making his four-year-old bow in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in February, but showed much more with his third-place Carter run next out. Adding the Met Mile to his resume, which also includes a second in the Grade 1 Florida Derby last year, improved his mark to 16-5-4-1. The Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge Kentucky homebred has accumulated $2,741,381 in career earnings.
"He flies back (to Kentucky) in the morning," Romans said. "We have no idea what we're going to do next. This was the goal from the beginning of the year, and we made it here and we'll regroup and figure out what to do to get to the Breeders' Cup.
"The more work (Shackleford) does, the better he is," the trainer added. "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."
Out of the stakes-placed Unbridled mare Oatsee, Shackleford was a $275,000 RNA at the 2009 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He is a half-brother to Lady Joanne, the winner of the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes in 2007, as well as multiple Grade 3 heroine Baghdaria and Grade 2-placed Afleeting Lady, who ran fifth while making her seasonal bow in the May 4 Grade 2 La Troienne Stakes before taking an optional claimer just 15 days later. The quartet have a younger half-brother named Stephanoatsee, who finished second in the Count Fleet Stakes when last seen in January.
Shackleford's fourth dam is the In Reality mare Taminette, who is a full sister to Group 1 Two Thousand Guineas winner and successful sire Known Fact, and a three-quarter sister to multiple Grade 1 star Tentam. Taminette produced multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Tappiano, and other notables in the family include Grade 1 victor and influential stallion Gone West.