11/21/2012 3:28PM

Churchill Downs: Shackleford aims to go out strong in Clark Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Shackleford will be making the final start of his career in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap on Friday at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The two-year saga that took Shackleford from unknown white-blazed chestnut into the racing stratosphere is nearly at an end. The colt won a seven-furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs at 25-1 on Nov. 27, 2010, and some $2.8 million later, he will make the final start of an illustrious career Friday as the highweight and likely favorite in the Churchill fall showcase, the Grade 1 Clark Handicap.

No one will blame trainer Dale Romans if he feels a bit nostalgic when he saddles Shackleford for the $400,000 Clark. Not only does an unmistakable full-circle aspect apply to Shackleford, but also to Romans, who was a mere kid hanging on the shirttail of his late father, trainer Jerry Romans, when he witnessed his first Clark sometime in the 1970s.

“It’s one of the great races at my home track and one I’ve always wanted to win,” Romans said. “I couldn’t think of a better way to send this horse off.”

Shackleford, with Jesus Castanon to ride, will spot his nine opponents 2 to 7 pounds when he breaks from post 3 in this 138th running of the Clark, which goes as the 11th of 12 Friday races. A winner of three major stakes, most notably the 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile, Shackleford will be making his 19th start when he stretches out one furlong from a seventh-place effort following a poor start in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile nearly three weeks ago. Win, lose, or dead heat, he will head off to Darby Dan Farm shortly afterward for 2013 stud duty.

“Obviously, he lost pretty much all chance with that bad break,” said Romans, whose sensational 2012 has him under serious consideration for an Eclipse Award for top trainer. “But he’s come back in good shape and worked great [Saturday]. I think the extra distance will enhance his speed. I’d love for him to get out there and show them how he can fight one last time.”

The opposition for Shackleford seems deep and formidable – and typical as to why this year-end fixture was first listed as a Grade 1 in 2006 (although it was a Grade 2 from 2007-09 until reinstated as a Grade 1 in 2010).

That ensemble includes Pool Play (post 1, Corey Lanerie), winner of the 2011 Stephen Foster at Churchill and the 2012 Hawthorne Gold Cup; Bourbon Courage (post 4, Leandro Goncalves), a late-season stalwart of the 3-year-old division with four sharp recent works over the Churchill surface; Cease (post 5, Miguel Mena), in peak form for the red-hot Al Stall stable; Take Charge Indy (post 6, Calvin Borel), the Florida Derby winner who stands to benefit greatly from his recent comeback race in the Fayette Stakes; Mission Impazible (post 9, Javier Castellano), a Todd Pletcher-trained millionaire who has been second in a number of major races, including the 2011 Foster and Clark; and Lunar Victory (post 10, Junior Alvarado), a New York-bred standout with the Beyer Speed Figures to match the other top contenders.

Rounding out the Clark cast are longshots Eye of the Leopard, Fast Falcon, and Stealcase.

Three-year-olds stand to have a say in the outcome Friday as four of them will represent a class that has taken more than its share of hits this year with the defections of such stars as I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister, Union Rags, Paynter, Creative Cause, and Hansen. Yet another 3-year-old, Neck ’n Neck, was declared Tuesday from the Clark after suffering an ankle injury.

“Our horse is coming into this about as well as I could possibly imagine,” said Kellyn Gorder, trainer of Bourbon Courage, a five-length winner of the Super Derby and a game runner-up to Neck ’n Neck last month in the Indiana Derby. “If he runs his race, I’m thinking he should be right there with these.”

The last 3-year-old to win the Clark just happened to be one of the most notable winners in its long history. That was Blame in 2009, the year before he returned to capture the BC Classic here over Zenyatta.

The Clark, named for track founder M. Lewis Clark, was one of four stakes run at the inaugural Churchill meet in 1875, along with the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, and Falls City.

First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern for Friday, when some 20,000 are expected ontrack. Post time for the Clark is 5:35, meaning the race will be run under the lights. A high temperature of about 53 degrees is in the forecast.

Perl More than 1 year ago
Yes please everyone bet shack to win. 2-1 is GREAT VALUEfor this hard knocking win machine. Load up early and often please
Perl More than 1 year ago
Well looks like the joke was on Perl!
Albert More than 1 year ago
Shackelford isn't the fastest horse in this race, doing a 2-turn route. He may not hit the board. In order, Mission Impazible, Fast Falcon, Lunar Victory and Cease. With the right trip and pace, you have to take Cease seriously in here, but Mission may be in the catbird seat turning for home, sitting just off frontrunners with slower numbers than his.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Cease is playable and improving. MI may be the speed but Shack the class
Advance Plumbing More than 1 year ago
Race is going to fall apart, dont leave out Lunar victory, impressed last out against good ny breeds. I cant single Shack but wish him best, just think its to long too late.
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Great weekend of racing. This Grade 1 Clark will light up the tote board. Thats what I on friday is hoping for. Good field with a case for just about every horse in line to win it. 3 Grade 1 winners in this with a few with close calls. Bourbon Courage will win his 1st Grade 1. Since he stretched around 2 turns he is obviously a better horse. At 15/1 and no way he will go to post at 15/1 will win or be a runnerup. Shackleford, as a fan of yours, i hope your final start is a winning one.
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Agreed BOURBON COURAGE will run 'em down !
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
I agree..Bourbon Courage w Shack(don't like two turns) w Indy n Pool play
denali1 More than 1 year ago
I hope Shack goes out a winner! i had the pleasure to watch him in race many times and have alot of respect for this wonderful horse who gives it all every time. Enjoy retirement Shack you deserve it.
Old timer More than 1 year ago
Good luck and best wishes to Dale Romans and the hard knocking Shackleford. He may not have won a ton of races but he sure gave it his all every time. This sport could use more like him.
Richard More than 1 year ago
Since The Kentucky Derby of 2011 all the way to the 2012 BC Dirt Mile Shackleford has raced in nothing but Grade 1 and Grade 2 races. I play trifectas and superfectas and of course the win horse is important to me but so is the place and show positions. Out of 19 lifetime starts up to date Shackleford has been in the money about 60% of the time which has made him a good bet for me. This next race at Churchill Downs in the Clark is going to be a nice race to exist from. It seems Dale Roman has kept his horses in good form which is a lot more than I can say for some of the trainers especially this year. He has been my favorite horse from last year’s Triple Crown. It is nice to see that Animal Kingdom is back and Mucho Macho Man ran a great race in The Jockey Club Gold Cup. I hope Shackleford ends well and wish him and his connections nothing but good luck. A devoted fan!
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Well said.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
You can extend his streak back to The Fountain of Youth (G2) followed by the Florida Derby a Grade1. He danced every dance and I too wish we could see him in '13, but...
John Howland More than 1 year ago
Well said,except Mucho Macho Man didn't run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.