Preakness winner Shackleford will cut back to 1 1/16 miles in Saturday's Grade 2 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park in his final prep for the Breeders' Cup. Trainer Dale Romans is considering both the Classic and Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs, with the latter probably a more realistic goal, and hopes to get his charge back on track following a disappointing eighth in the Grade 1 Travers. Shackleford is certainly eligible to rebound with a victory at the shorter distance, but he'll have to withstand a couple of surging rivals in Caleb's Posse and Wilburn.
Shackleford is the only three-year-old to emerge unscathed after competing in all three legs of this year's Triple Crown. A head second in the Florida Derby, the chestnut colt recorded a respectable fourth after setting the pace in the Kentucky Derby. He moved forward off that effort at Pimlico, securing a half-length victory over Derby winner Animal Kingdom, but weakened to fifth when trying 12 furlongs in the Belmont Stakes. Following a six-week freshening, Shackleford turned in a highly respectable effort in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, finishing second by a neck to Coil.
The 1 1/4-mile Travers proved to be a bitter disappointment for the front runner, as Shackleford threw in the towel before reaching the conclusion of the far turn, and Romans is willing to draw a line through the performance. Jesus Castanon will retain the mount and Shackleford figures to be setting the pace from post 7. There isn't much speed in the eight-horse, $500,000 Indiana Derby field, with Decisive Moment probably the only rival capable of applying early pressure to the favorite.
Caleb's Posse will enter the Indiana Derby on the upswing for trainer Donnie Von Hemel, recording back-to-back victories in the Grade 3 Amsterdam and Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga, and he gamely caught two-year-old champion Uncle Mo by a nose in the latter. Both were sprint wins, but Caleb's Posse has plenty of experience around two turns, winning the Grade 3 Ohio Derby and finishing second in the Grade 2 Rebel earlier this season at the 8 1/2-furlong distance. Robby Albarado picks up the assignment on the dynamic closer.
Wilburn was unplaced in his first two stakes attempts this summer, but the Steve Asmussen-trained colt will bring a two-race win streak into the Indiana Derby, posting an allowance tally at Monmouth Park prior to his 1 3/4-length decision in the September 5 Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx Racing. The stalker is three-for-five at the distance and will pick up the services of Julien Leparoux.
Decisive Moment entered the Kentucky Derby off a runner-up effort to Animal Kingdom in the G3 Spiral Stakes, but the Juan Arias trainee was no factor finishing 14th at Churchill Downs and followed it with a sixth-place clunker in the seven-furlong Red Legend Stakes at Charles Town. The dark bay colt exits a pair of respectable efforts at Calder, winning the El Kaiser Stake prior to a runner-up in the off-the-turf Naked Greed Stakes, and the multiple stakes winner should be forwardly placed with a returning Daniel Centeno in the saddle.
Romans is also responsible for Friends Place, who will run coupled with stablemate Shackleford. A maiden scorer two starts back at Ellis Park, the bay colt will make his stakes bow off an allowance win at Hoosier. Grade 2-placed sophomores Little Drama and Populist Politics, and maiden winner Windswept round out the field.
One race earlier on the program, six three-year-old fillies will contest the G2 Indiana Oaks. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will be represented in the $200,000 race by A Z Warrior, who will be looking for her first victory since last fall's Grade 1 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park. The dark bay filly opened her 2011 campaign with a decent third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks in early March, but she wasn't seen again under silks until the August 27 Victory Ride Stakes at Saratoga, recording a fourth in the six-furlong event. That race served as a tightener for A Z Warrior, who is the probable favorite Saturday with new rider Martin Pedroza.
Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks winner Daisy Devine is a threat in the 1 1/16-mile Indiana Oaks. Seventh in the Kentucky Oaks, the Andrew McKeever trainee will be making her first appearance since a disappointing fifth as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks on June 25. Regular rider James Graham will guide the bay lass. Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks third-placer Withgreatpleasure and Calder invader Nasty Rumor are also entered.
Hoosier Park will offer a total 10 stakes races on Saturday.