09/27/2012 4:52PM

Belmont Park: Shackleford, To Honor and Serve give Kelso a Grade 1 look

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Tom Keyser
Trainer Dale Romans is pleased with the way Shackleford has trained up to the Kelso.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The $400,000 Kelso Handicap may officially be labeled a Grade 2 race, but it drew a Grade 1 field led by Woodward winner To Honor and Serve and Metropolitan Handicap winner Shackleford.

The Kelso, which last year was moved from the turf to one mile on the dirt, is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 3.

Shackleford earned his way into the BC Dirt Mile by winning the Met Mile here in May by a nose over Caleb’s Posse, the winner of last year’s BC Dirt Mile who is now retired.

However, Shackleford, the 2011 Preakness winner, had a difficult summer. He finished last over a muddy track in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, then had to scratch out of the Grade 1 Forego when he was coughing the morning of the race.

Dale Romans, trainer of Shackleford, said he believes the 4-year-old “is back to his old self.”

“He sure is training like it,” Romans said. “He’s touting himself around the barn.”

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The prospect of a wet track could be a hindrance for Shackleford, who is 0 for 3 on such a surface.

After finishing third in the Met Mile, To Honor and Serve finished fourth in the Grade 2 Suburban. He rebounded from those efforts with a neck victory over Mucho Macho Man in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga.

Trainer Bill Mott was somewhat torn between running in the Kelso or training up to the Breeders’ Cup – presumably the Classic, but possibly the Dirt Mile. However, Mott believes To Honor and Serve is doing too well to leave him in the barn.

“He’s coming off a good hard race in the Woodward,” Mott said. “I was wondering if coming back in four weeks is too much for him. At the end of the day, we’ll find that out. He seems like he’s doing very well, so we’re taking the option to go ahead and enter and plan to run.”

Mott believes that To Honor and Serve was compromised by being boxed in along the inside when he ran in the Met Mile.

“I felt on that particular day we didn’t have the golden trip,” Mott said. “To beat a horse like [Shackleford] you have to have a golden trip.”

To Honor and Serve will break from post 5 under John Velazquez, who was aboard Shackleford when he won the Met Mile. Ramon Dominguez will ride Shackleford from post 6.

Tapizar is an interesting horse in the Kelso. Last year, he came off a lengthy layoff to win a stakes-caliber allowance race going seven furlongs over Belmont’s main track before finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Tapizar comes in off a front-running score in the West Virginia Governor’s Cup at Mountaineer on Aug. 4. Corey Nakatani rides from post 4.

Jersey Town won the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in 2010, but is winless in seven starts since. He was cross-entered as a main-track-only entrant in an overnight stakes here Friday, but that option was lost when NYRA decided to cancel Friday’s card due to anticipated heavy rain.

Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. entered four horses in the Kelso, but is unlikely to run all four. Pacific Ocean and Trickmeister both have strong early speed and would likely compromise each other if they both ran. Isn’t He Perfect is 3 for 6 over a wet track. Gallant Fields is coming off a front-running score in a third-level allowance race here Sept. 20.