08/03/2012 2:56PM

Saratoga: Shackleford using Vanderbilt as prep for Forego

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Barbara D. Livingston
Shackleford is cutting back to six furlongs in the Vanderbilt.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Shackleford’s presence in Sunday’s $400,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga certainly adds some spice to an already intriguing Grade 1 sprint race. It should also add some value to horses lining up against the multiple Grade 1 winner.

In a career highlighted by victories in the 2011 Preakness at 1 3/16 miles and this year’s Metropolitan Handicap at a mile, Shackleford makes his first start at six furlongs in the Vanderbilt. While trainer Dale Romans would like to win the Vanderbilt, he is using the race as a prep for the Grade 1 Forego here on Sept. 1.

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“It’s important, but it’s not the end-all,” Romans said Friday morning. “It’s a little different coming in with a horse like Shackleford; his r é sum é is what it is. It’s more of a stepping-stone to keep him going to get to another race. It’s not one of those races that’s going to increase his value, but it’d be a nice one to win.”

Shackleford won the Met Mile on May 28, but it took him a little longer than usual to recover from the race. In mid-July, Shackleford began to bounce back and Romans was faced with the decision to train him up to the Forego or run him once beforehand.

“Win, lose, or draw, this moves him forward,” Romans said. “He’s always been a horse that’s run well when he’s running back to back.”

Emcee is the only member of this eight-horse field who has yet to win a stakes. He has certainly run several races that would be good enough to do just that. In March, Emcee finished third, a length behind Calibrachoa in the swiftly run Grade 3 Tom Fool at Aqueduct. He came back in the Grade 1 Carter and broke horribly, which cost him and he finished fourth in a five-horse field.

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On Kentucky Derby Day, Emcee won a second-level allowance race at Belmont Park by 4 1/2 lengths, earning a 107 Beyer Speed Figure, his third figure of 107 or higher in his five-race career.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin wasn’t planning on waiting three months to run Emcee again, but he couldn’t find a suitable spot for the son of Unbridled’s Song, who is owned by Shiekh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing. Emcee has good early speed, and breaking from post 2 Alan Garcia will likely use it.

“We’re going to have to let Alan decide out of the break, because if we break running it’s hard to take back from the inside,” McLaughlin said.

Trainer Steve Asmussen sends out the uncoupled entry of Justin Phillip and Rothko. Justin Phillip was a hard-luck loser in the Grade 2 True North at Belmont on June 9, then got beat by Royal Currier in the Mr. Prospector at Monmouth, a race in which Justin Phillip stumbled at the start.

Ramon Dominguez, who won the Grade 2 Woody Stephens aboard Justin Phillip 14 months ago, rides him for the first time since last August, when Justin Phillip finished third in the King’s Bishop here.

“With the meet he’s having and the success that he had on Justin Phillip, it’s a very good opportunity,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “We say that realizing how good Shackleford is and how fast Emcee has run.”

Rothko came from the off the pace to win the Grade 3 Aristides at Churchill on June 2. He finished second to the locally based Wiredfortwotwenty in the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap.

“Didn’t plan on him losing,” Asmussen said. “The local horse that obviously runs incredible there beat him.”

Rothko did win a maiden race here last summer, making him the only member of this field who owns a win over the track.

Julien Leparoux rides Rothko from post 4.

Jersey Town is seeking his first win since the 2010 Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Chronic foot problems have limited him to five starts since, but they seem to be in check for the moment.

Hamazing Destiny, winner of the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap two back, Sloane Ranger, and Poseidon’s Warrior complete the field.