05/05/2012 2:32PM

Churchill Downs: Shackleford outduels Amazombie to win Churchill Downs Stakes

Audrey C. Crosby
Shackleford scores a one-length win over Amazombie in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With approximately three furlongs remaining in the $441,600 Churchill Downs Stakes, reigning sprint champion Amazombie and Preakness champion Shackleford were on even terms.

For Amazombie, the question was how he would handle the seven-furlong distance. For Shackleford, the question was whether he could end a seven-race losing streak dating back 50 weeks.

At the end of a hard-fought stretch drive, it was Shackleford, under Jesus Castanon, edging away from Amazombie and Mike Smith to win the Grade 2 Churchill Downs by one length. It was five lengths back to Gantry in third.

The win was just Shackleford’s fourth from 15 starts and first since he won the Preakness by a half-length over Animal Kingdom.

“He’s as game as they come, he’s still our big horse for a couple more hours anyway,” said trainer Dale Romans, who was to start Dullahan in the Kentucky Derby later on the card. “He deserved a big win like that. He’s a special, special horse.”

Since the Preakness, Shackleford raced seven more times with three seconds – the Haskell, Indiana Derby, and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile – and a third in the Grade 1 Carter last time out.

“It wasn’t as much frustration as I felt bad for him, he deserved to win some of those races,” Romans said. “I threw him in nine Grade 1’s, he showed up for me every time, but today was the old Shack.”

Shackleford broke alertly but was outsprinted for the lead by Will’s Wildcat, who ran an opening quarter in 21.96 seconds with Shackleford chasing inside of Amazombie.

Entering the far turn, Amazombie made a move to the lead, but Shackleford went with him from the inside. In midstretch, it looked as though Amazombie headed Shackleford, but Shackleford fought right back and outfinished the defending Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner.

Shackleford, a son of Forestry owned by Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge, covered the seven furlongs in 1:21.06 and returned $5.60 as the favorite.

“He was game,” Castanon said. “The horse on the outside came on top of me, my horse just fought back; couldn’t ask for better. He’s back.”

Smith said Amazombie was a bit sharper than he would have liked, which forced him to move earlier than he planned.

“I’d like to have gotten him back a little more, keep him away from horses and keep him relaxed because the distance is a question,” Smith said. “You know that last sixteenth got to me. At the Breeders’ Cup Sprint distance I got it, but this ain’t the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.”