CHURCHILL DOWNS STAKES | PURSE: $441,600 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 2 | 7 FURLONGS
After a thrilling stretch duel with champion Amazombie, Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge's Shackleford inched clear in deep stretch to win the $441,600 Churchill Downs Stakes May 5.
With Jesus Castanon aboard for trainer Dale Romans, 9-5 favorite Shackleford hooked up with second choie Amazombie early on the turn and those two separated themselves from the rest of the field in the seven-furlong event on Kentucky Derby day. Shackleford, last year's Preakness Stakes winner, was on the inside when they began their long stretch duel at the top of the lane, with reigning Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Amazombie on the outside under Mike Smith.
It wasn't until inside the sixteenth pole that 9-5 favorite Shackleford wore his rival down, crossing the wire one length in front. Gantry was another five lengths back in the third. Alma d'Oro was fourth in a field of eight, followed by Smiling Tiger, Apriority, Hamazing Destiny, and Will's Wildcat
The final time on the fast dirt track was 1:21.06, about a half-second off the track record.
Shackleford won for the first time since the Preakness, snapping a seven-race losing streak that included four in-the-money finishes. The son of Forestry -- Oatsee, by Unbridled, improved to 4-4-1 from 15 starts and earnings of $2,291,381. The winning purse was $265,578.
The chestnut colt avenged a runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last November at Churchill when he was run down by Caleb's Posse. In his 2012 debut, he was a close third in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct.
The early pace in the Churchill Downs was set by Will's Wildcat, who took the field through an opening-quarter in :21.96. It was shortly after that when Amazombie and Shackleford took over, running a half-mile in :44.17. It was a two-horse race from then on.
"He gave me a heck of a move right from the gate," Castanon said. "I sat right off them, and when I asked him to pick it up, he was game. The horse on the outside [Amazombie] came on top of me and my horse fought back. You couldn't ask for better. He's back!"
Shackleford was bred in Kentucky by his owners.
"This is special, I tell you," Romans said. "He's the big horse in our barn. He's the grade I winner. He deserves to be back in the winner's circle. It feels great. Every race he tries so hard. He had been in nine grade ones. He's still the star of the barn.
"We're going to keep him short for a little while now. Maybe we'll try the Met Mile next. He can do just about anything."
The winner returned $5.60, $3.20, and $2.40, The exacta (4-6) returned $16.20 and the trifecta (4-6-7) was worth $174.20.