08/30/2012 1:43PM

Saratoga: Shackleford looks to bounce back in Forego


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – After finishing eighth and last as the 6-5 favorite in the Vanderbilt earlier in the meet with Shackleford, one would think trainer Dale Romans’s confidence might be shaken just a bit when he wheels his versatile multiple Grade 1 winner back in the $500,000 Forego. But the way things have been going recently for Romans in important stakes, it’s easy to see why he still firmly believes he’s got the horse to beat in the Grade 1 dash that shares top billing Saturday at Saratoga with the Grade 1 Woodward.

The Forego drew a field of eight that along with Shackleford includes defending champ Jackson Bend, an easy 3 1/4-length winner of the race a year ago. But Jackson Bend was involved in a horrific training hours collision that took place on the Oklahoma track two weeks earlier that still leaves his starting status questionable for Saturday.

Romans will try to complete a personal coast-to-coast Grade 1 trifecta with Shackleford in the seven-furlong Forego, having already conquered the Midwest with Little Mike in the Arlington Million on Aug. 18 and last week’s Pacific Classic at Del Mar with Dullahan. Shackleford has been pretty good himself this season, having defeated the reigning Sprint champion, Amazombie, going seven furlongs in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs as a prelude to his game decision over Caleb’s Posse going a mile in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park just three weeks later.

But Shackleford was unable to repeat those efforts over a wet track in the six-furlong Vanderbilt on Aug. 5, showing only brief speed after breaking from the rail before retreating to the back of the pack and finishing nine lengths behind upset winner Poseidon’s Warrior.

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“Just draw a line through that race,” Romans said. “He’s doing all right, he’s ready. As long as the track is fast on Saturday, we’ll be fine.”

Shackleford is at his best when on or near the pace, and there is plenty of speed to entertain him during the early stages of the Forego with Pacific Ocean and Emcee also likely to be fighting for or near the lead.

“He’ll be close, he’s run with fast horses before and he’s always been able to keep up,” said Romans who believes Shackleford might be a little better at a mile than seven furlongs.

“The race he ran in the Met Mile was awfully strong, although the one at Churchill Downs going seven furlongs was very good too,” Romans said. “There were some pretty good horses in there that day.”

Emcee contested a lively pace before succumbing grudgingly in late stretch to finish third while beaten only a half-length in the Vanderbilt. And trainer Kiaran McLaughlin believes his horse will not only improve off that effort but benefit from the post position draw that finds him breaking outside both Shackleford and Pacific Ocean.

“He’s doing well, and we’re happy with a better post position,” McLaughlin said. “Last time, we were kind of down inside and committed to going, and it totally changes this time breaking from the outside. There’s a lot of speed in the field and if one or two of them go, we can lay third, but we’re a lot of speed, too. The draw changes the whole complexion of the race this time, and we can stalk if we have to.”

Pacific Ocean showed his best speed to control the Grade 3 James Marvin from start to finish six weeks ago, leading throughout to post a 1 3/4-length decision over Golddiggers Boy for the first graded stakes victory of his career. Pacific Ocean also is perfect in three starts at the seven-furlong distance of the Forego.

Trainer Nick Zito said he’ll wait until Saturday before deciding Jackson Bend’s starting status for the Forego, although at entry time it appeared chances were good his diminutive star would be able to have an opportunity to defend his title. An honest pace would certainly enhance the chances of the two-time Grade 1 winner who came from near the rear of the pack to win the 2011 Forego and also rallied to defeat Caleb’s Posse and Shackleford earlier this season in the Grade 1 Carter.

Caixa Eletronica also would benefit from a fast pace as he did when rallying from more than a dozen lengths off the lead to capture Belmont’s six-furlong, Grade 2 True North Handicap on June 9.

Jersey Town, Hamazing Destiny, and Isn’t He Perfect complete the lineup.