Shackleford broke sharply in Monday’s 119th edition of the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park and never looked back.
Under a smart ride from John Velazquez, Shackleford assumed command at the break, kept race favorite To Honor and Serve in tight around the far turn and turned back a stern challenge from Caleb’s Posse late to win the prestigious one-mile fixture in dramatic fashion.
“I knew he was going to finish,” said winning trainer Dale Romans. “It was just a matter of whether they could get by him or not. He’s gutsy as they come. Hopefully, he’ll get the credit he deserves. He’s a spectacular horse.
“I thought coming off the turn he was going to be tough to get by,” Romans added. “When they hit the wire, I thought he won. Ten jumps out, I didn’t know whether [Caleb’s Posse’s] momentum was going to carry him on by us, but when he hit the wire I thought we won. Johnny is one of the best riders of all time. He knows what he’s doing. He rode a perfect race.”
Owned by Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge and the Phillips Racing Partnership, Shackleford returned $8.80 for the win. His final time of 1:33.30 was :49 seconds off the stakes record set by Honour and Glory in 1996.
“The more work [Shackleford] does, the better he is,” said Romans. “I brought him out a little too soft early in the year. I was too easy on him. We started cranking it up, and it’s paid off. The more I do with him, the more he likes it and the better he gets. He flies back [to Kentucky] in the morning. We have no idea what we’re going to do next. This was the goal from the beginning of the year, and we made it here and we’ll regroup and figure out what to do to get to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Velazquez replaced the injured Jesus Castanon in the saddle aboard the winner.
“He broke so good, so I didn’t have to do much, and he was doing it easy,” Velazquez said. “Even as they were chasing him, he was in hand the whole way and that’s what I liked about him. Because he was doing it so easy, I didn’t have to rush him.
“I saw the shadow [of Caleb’s Posse] coming so I had to go real far out to get him,” added Velazquez. “I was wondering if somebody was in between and was thinking if nobody was there I was going to go straight out, and that’s what made me win, because when I came out, he put up a fight. [He dug back in] big time.”
–NYRA Press contributed to this report.