Opponents Include Ruler On Ice, Flat Out & Trickmeister
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – It was nearly a year ago that Shackleford entered the starting gate at Gulfstream Park as an outsider and 17-1 long shot in the Fountain of Youth (G2).
How things have changed.
When Shackleford makes his 2012 debut Saturday afternoon in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1), he’ll do so as a Preakness Stakes (G1) champion, a winner of nearly $2 million in earnings, and the favorite in the 1 1/8-mile stakes for older horses. His opponents will include Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Ruler On Ice, Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Flat Out and the undefeated Trickmeister.
The Donn will mark the first time since 1992 that the winners of two Triple Crown events have faced each other at Gulfstream. In the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), 1991 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Strike the Gold raced against ’92 Belmont winner A.P. Indy.
The Donn will be one of four graded stakes races run Saturday afternoon at Gulfstream along with the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1), $150,000 Hutcheson (G2) and $150,000 Suwannee River Handicap (G3).
First race post is 12:35 p.m. There will also be a guaranteed pool of $200,000 in the Late Pick-5 and $100,000 in the Pick-5.
For Shackleford, trained by Dale Romans and owned by Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge, the Donn will serve as a starting point for what his connections hope will be a memorable season.
“There are more options for older horses,” Romans said. “The Donn’s a mile-and-an-eighth. We’ll see how far he wants to go. Maybe we’ll be pointing towards the Breeders’ Cup Classic or maybe he wants us to back him up to a mile.”
As a 3-year-old, Shackleford made ten starts and eight different tracks. Seven of those races came in Grade I events and two in Grade II events. The chestnut colt finished in the money in more than half his races and earned his owners over $1.9 million.
Shackleford’s run of stakes races last year began Feb. 26 in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream when he was a well-beaten fifth behind Soldat while racing uncharacteristically off the pace. But the son of Forestry returned to form April 3 when he was beaten only a head by Dialed In in the Florida Derby (G1) after setting the pace.
“He tries hard every time,” Romans said. “There are only a couple of races where he didn’t show up and that (the Fountain of Youth) was one. He banged his head on the gate so that’s a pretty simple explanation for that. The other would be the (1 ½-mile) Belmont and we’ll blame that on the distance.”
Shackleford became one of only three horses to compete in all three Triple Crown events in 2011. After setting the pace in a field of 19 in the Kentucky Derby before finishing fourth behind winner Animal Kingdom, Shackleford returned two weeks later to gamely beat Animal Kingdom in the Preakness by a half length. He tired when finishing fifth in the Belmont.
After a freshening, Romans watched Shackleford finish second in the Haskell (G1) at Monmouth after a stumble at the start and eighth in the 1 ¼-mile Travers (G1) at Saratoga. The colt rebounded in the fall with a second-place finish in the Indiana Derby (G2) and another runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
“He is just a pleasure to be around,” Romans said. “You know, ever since I got him he has never missed a work or a gallop, never been sick or sore, and made every race we were pointing him to. That is unusual.”
And this winter at Gulfstream, Shackleford has once again never missed a beat, training steadily for his start in the Donn with five solid works over Gulfstream’s main track.
“He is fit and ready to go,” Romans said.
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