METROPOLITAN H. | PURSE: $750,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE: 1 | ONE MILE
Shackleford led from start to finish and the 4-year-old son of Forestry held off a fast-closing Caleb's Posse to win the $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park May 28.
Trained by Dale Romans for owners Mike Lauffer, Bill Cubbedge, and Phillips Racing, the 2011 Preakness Stakes winner scored his second consecutive graded win.
With jockey John Velazquez aboard for the first time, Shackleford set fast fractions of :22.77, :44.73, and 1:08.52. Caleb's Posse and jockey Rajiv Maragh began to move rounding the turn, going from 10 lengths back while racing on the outside to turn in a gallant effort that just came up short.
The final time of 1:33.30 was not far off the track record of 1:32 1/5.
With the victory, Shackleford earned an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita in the fall, a race in which he finished second, four lengths behind Caleb's Posse, in 2011.
Shackleford, who went through a seven-race drought following his Preakness win before taking the Churchill Downs Handicap previous to the Metropolitan, returned $8.80, $4.80, and $3.10. Caleb's Posse paid $3.70 and $2.50, with favored To Honor and Serve paying $2.30 for third. Caixa Eletronica was fourth, followed by Jackson Bend and Saginaw.
"He beat the best today," said Romans. "It's as good a race as we've seen in a long time. He laid it all on the line. This was our goal from the beginning of the year. He's as gutsy as they come. Hopefully, he'll get the credit he deserves. He's a spectacular horse.
"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," Romans said. "These two have had a good rivalry. It's their fourth time against each other, and they're 2-2. Caleb's Posse is a great horse, and it's a good rivalry. Let's see each other again. It was the race of the year, and it's exciting to have been part of it, win, lose, or draw, with all of those good horses. And it lived up to its billing. To be a nose apart at the wire, I think it lived up to the hype."
"He broke so good, 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. 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."
Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Caleb's Posse, said he was pleased with the effort, the colt's third consecutive photo finish.
"We'll get over this (losing three straight by a neck, a nose and a nose)," the trainer said. "For him to overcome the track bias and run like that, we're very proud of him."
"The trip was good," said Maragh. "I just kept on riding, trying to win. It looked like I had him measured. I was hoping I had him. It was just an unfortunate head bob. It's real unfortunate to lose a race like this by such a short margin as good as he ran. The track has been fast all day, and it seemed like there was a speed bias. I was just trying to do my thing with my horse and make my move. He did his run. It was an unfortunate loss but a valiant effort."
Produced from the Unbridled mare Oatsee, Shackleford was bred in Kentucky by Lauffer and Cubbedge.