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Shackleford Headlines Saratoga’s Forego

Shackleford leads a group of eight sprinters entered in the Grade 1 Forego on Saturday at Saratoga.

The Forego, race 9 on Saturday’s card, will be shown live on NBC during the “Summer at Saratoga” broadcast that will run from 5-6 p.m. and also include the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward.

After winning the 2011 Grade 1 Preakness, Shackleford lost his next seven starts, which included runner-up efforts in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, Grade 2 Indiana Derby, and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and a third in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap in April at Aqueduct Racetrack. He returned to the winner’s circle with a one-length score in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes in May, then set the pace and turned back Caleb’s Posse to win the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap by a nose in May at Belmont Park.

Favored to complete a graded stakes hat trick in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on August 5 at Saratoga, Shackleford appeared to not handle the muddy racetrack and finished last of eight. Trainer Dale Romans said he blames the mud for Shackleford’s disappointing Vanderbilt performance.

“He seems to be doing to be doing well,” said Romans, who trains Shackleford for Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge, and Phillips Racing Partnership. “He looked good to me today. He seems pretty happy.”

Shackleford seeks his first Grade 1 triumph at seven furlongs, the same distance as his Churchill Downs Stakes victory.

“He’s fast enough to do anything,” said Romans. “He’ll do whatever we ask him to do.”

Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride Shackleford, the 2-1 favorite on the morning line, from post position 2.

Jackson Bend, who earned his first Grade 1 win a year ago in the 2011 Forego, was galloping on the Oklahoma training track August 18 in preparation for a title defense when he collided with a wayward horse. His Hall of Fame trainer, Nick Zito, said Jackson Bend lay on the track for five minutes “in shock” before he was taken to the barn in an equine ambulance.

Veterinarian Dr. Joe Migliacci inspected Jackson Bend and found no signs of serious injury, and Zito and his staff have maintained a close eye on the 5-year-old every day since the incident. Jackson Bend resumed galloping last Thursday and breezed four furlongs on the training track in 49.77 seconds on Monday.

Zito was sufficiently pleased with Jackson Bend’s training to enter him in the Forego, but on Wednesday said he and the horse’s owners, Robert LaPenta and Fred Brei, will at a later date make a decision on whether he’ll compete in the Saturday’s race.

“The horse’s welfare is No. 1 and that goes from the LaPenta family to all the people that work around us,” said Zito on Monday. “I know that I have his blessing, and Mr. Brei, who’s like a father to Jackson. He bred him. I mean, do they want to run? Of course. That’s what they’re in the game for. So, day by day, but I’ll be glad to run him. Glad. I think you know me by now, I’ve got no problem running in the big races, no matter what price, or what situation.”

Should he compete Saturday, Jackson Bend will attempt earn his third Grade 1 victory, having won the Carter by a nose in April.

In two starts following the Carter, Jackson Bend was fifth in the Met Mile and fourth in his attempt to repeat in the Grade 3 James Marvin on July 20 at Saratoga.

In the seven-furlong James Marvin, Jackson Bend, a closer, raced wide in fifth behind moderate fractions of 23.19 and 46.67 seconds and finished evenly in third, beaten three lengths by Forego entrant Pacific Ocean. After the race, Zito said he had hoped Jackson Bend would have been placed on the inside part of the track.

Junior Alvarado will ride Jackson Bend, the 7-2 morning-line second choice, in the Forego. The tandem will leave from post six.

Godolphin Racing’s Emcee opened his career with two impressive wins, then was third in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap in March at Aqueduct and fourth behind Jackson Bend, Caleb’s Posse, and Shackleford following a tardy start in the Carter. A 4 ½-length victor of an optional claimer on May 5 at Belmont, the 4-year-old nearly landed his first Grade 1 score in the six-furlong Vanderbilt when he left from post 2, set a contested pace, and yielded reluctantly along the inside to finish third, beaten a half-length.

“We don’t think the extra furlong will be a problem,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who earlier in the meet teamed with Godolphin to win the Grade 1 Travers and Grade 2 Jim Dandy with Alpha and the Grade 1 Alabama and Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks with Questing. “He’s probably best with a target. Last time, we didn’t have much choice because we were so far inside. We had the two hole and Shackleford was in the one hole, and we thought [Shackleford] was going to try to go and we kind of committed to going. We’re hoping to run at something [in the Forego].”

Alan Garcia will ride Emcee, who was installed at 9-2 on the morning line and drew post 6.

Emcee’s target could be Dennis Narlinger’s Pacific Ocean, who dictated a modest tempo to win the James Marvin by 1 ¾ lengths. He entered that race off a sixth in the Grade 2 True North Handicap on June 9 at Belmont, which was his first start for trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. Previously in California, the front runner won the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood in November at Hollywood Park for trainer Mike Mitchell.

Pacific Ocean, 4-1, will leave from post 5 with Joel Rosario aboard.

Isn’t He Perfect, second in a pair of 1 1/8-mile stakes in his two most recent starts, will also represent the Dutrow barn in the Forego. Ramon Dominguez will ride Isn’t He Perfect, 20-1, from post 3.

Caixa Eletronica also will cut back in distance for the Forego off an eighth in Saratoga’s Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Whitney Invitational Handicap on August 4. Prior to the Whitney, he was fifth in the Marvin and won the six-furlong True North.

Javier Castellano will ride Caixa Eletronica, 8-1, from post 7.

–NYRA Press

Shackleford/NYRA photo