Trainer Dale Romans thought classic winner Shackleford , starting at his home base of Churchill Downs, could give his fans something to remember in the 138th edition of the $447,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (gr. I) (VIDEO).
Romans' idea proved well-founded. Shackleford's fans will remember him surging from the gate, seizing the lead entering the first turn, and offering a late burst when challenged in deep stretch to post a one-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile race at the Louisville oval Nov. 23.
"That's the way he's supposed to leave," Romans said after Shackleford snapped a three-race skid in his final start. "He was impressive today. That's Shack at his best... That's the way I wanted to see him end his career. I'm very proud of him. This win was for him."
The victory marks the third grade I victory in the 4-year-old Forestry colt's career. Shackleford previously won the 2011 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico Race Course and this year's Metropolitan Mile Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
Romans won the Clark for the first time. With nine grade I wins out of 20 graded stake scores this season, he likely will receive consideration for this year's Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer. The Louisville-based conditioner said he will miss his first classic winner.
"It's the end of an era for my stable," Romans said. "He took my career to a new level. He made my resume totally different than it was before he came into the barn. I owe him a lot."
Jesus Castanon, who also guided Shackleford in the Preakness, was reunited with Shackleford for the first time since the pair won the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) May 5. Castanon's aggressive early move proved fruitful as the pair edged Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Take Charge Indy , who chased throughout and launched a bid midstretch. But Shackleford found one more gear to put away that threat while drifting out in the late stages.
"I know what he likes to do and I put him in a spot where he wanted to be," Castanon said after Shackleford, the field's highweight at 120 pounds, cruised through a half-mile in :48.65 and blazed through the next quarter-mile in :23.84.
This year's edition of the Clark saw the class prove out; Shackleford and Take Charge Indy were the only two grade I winners in the field of nine after Pool Play was scratched early in the day. Another 3-year-old, Super Derby (gr. II) winner Bourbon Courage, rallied late to finish third, a head behind Take Charge Indy.
Pat Byrne, trainer of Take Charge Indy, said he was ecstatic about the effort and hopes the A.P. Indy colt returns for his 4-year-old season in 2013.
A homebred for Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge, Shackleford completed the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:49.12 on a fast track and paid $7.80 to win, $4.80 to place, and $3.40 to show. Take Charge Indy paid $6.80 to place and $4.40 to show; and Bourbon Courage returned $4 to show. Lunar Victory, the 5-2 favorite, placed fourth.
The victory pushed Shackleford past $3 million in earnings. He finishes his career with six wins and eight placings in 20 career starts, having brought in purse totals of $3,090,101.
Shackleford entered the Clark off a three-race losing streak, including an off-the-board finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park. He will stand the 2013 season for $20,000 at John Phillips' Darby Dan Farm.