01/08/2013 7:45PM

2012 Eclipse Awards: Shackleford

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photo by: Barbara D. Livingston

As winner of the 2011 Preakness, there was little that a blaze-faced colt named Shackleford had to do afterward to please his connections.

“When you win a Triple Crown race, you’re automatically a special horse,” said Dale Romans, who trained Shackleford throughout his career for Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge. “Everything he did after that was gravy.”

And there was a lot of sopping up to do. As a 4-year-old of 2012, Shackleford won three graded races, all of them noteworthy events before sizable crowds: the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard, the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile, and the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill in his career finale.

Shackleford showed himself to be very versatile in terms of distance, competing in high-class races that ranged from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. He began his year in February as the lukewarm favorite in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, fading to seventh after pressing the pace. He then improved on that when third as a race-long presence in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct.

Romans then brought him home to Churchill, where the colt flaunted his wares before the Derby Day throng in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs, turning back the 2011 sprint champion, Amazombie, in a thrilling stretch duel.

“He really showed his class today,” an elated Romans said afterward.

He showed uncommon gallantry in his next race, too. Seemingly beaten in the final yards of the Met Mile on Memorial Day at Belmont Park, Shackleford summoned enough to prevail by a nose over Caleb’s Posse in a sensational finish.

“The Met Mile showed what this horse is all about,” Romans said months later. “He’s fast and he’s game. When you try to get by him, he’s going to give you all he’s got.”

Shackleford hit a lull after the Met Mile, suffering from an illness that interrupted his training and threw off his form. He finished last of eight as the favorite in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt at Saratoga, then ran second in the Kelso Mile at Belmont in late September. He then ran seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita, losing virtually all chance with an awkward start.

Duly regrouped back home, Shackleford was prepared for his final career start in the Clark, the Churchill fall showcase, with Romans grimly determined to have him go out in style. The colt broke very sharply this time, making all the pace and holding sway late to prevail.

“I really wanted Shackleford to go out a winner and redeem himself for the Breeders’ Cup,” Romans said. “It really was a great win for us the way that all came together.”

Three jockeys rode Shackleford during his final year of racing: Jesus Castanon, John Velazquez, and Ramon Dominguez.

Bred in Kentucky by Lauffer and Cubbedge, Shackleford was sired by Forestry and produced by the blue hen mare Oatsee. For the year, he had a 3-1-1 record from 8 starts while earning $1,104,298. For his entire career, his record stands at 6-5-1 from 20 starts for earnings of $3,090,101.
Now 5, Shackleford soon will begin his first year at stud at Darby Dan Farm in Lexington, Ky.