CLARK HANDICAP | PURSE: $400,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8-MILES
Trainer Dale Romans thought classic winner Shackleford, starting at his Churchill Downs base, could give his fans something to remember in the 138th edition of the $400,000 Clark Handicap.
Romans' idea proved well-founded. Shackleford's fans will remember him surging from the gate, seizing the lead entering the first turn, and offering a late burst when challenged in deep stretch to post a one-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile race on Nov. 23 at Churchill.
"That's the way he's supposed to leave," Romans said after Shackleford snapped a three-race skid. "He was impressive today. That's Shack at his best That's the way I wanted to see him end his career. I'm very proud of him. This win was for him."
The victory marks the third Grade 1 victory in the 4-year-old Forestry colt's career. Shackleford won last year's Preakness Stakes and this year's Metropolitan Mile Handicap at Belmont Park.
Romans won the Clark for the first time and with nine grade I wins this season likely will receive consideration for this year's Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer. Romans will miss his first classic winner.
"It's the end of an era for my stable," Romans said. "He took my career to a new level. He made my resume totally different than it was before he came into the barn. I owe him a lot."
Jesus Castanon, who also guided Shackleford the Preakness, was reunited with Shackleford for the first time since the pair won the Churchill Downs Stakes on May 5. Castanon's aggressive early move proved fruitful as the pair edged Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, who chased throughout and launched a bid midstretch. But Shackleford found one more geat to put away that threat.
"I know what he likes to do and I put him in a spot where he wanted to be," Castanon said after Shackleford, the field's highweight at 120 pounds, cruised through a half-mile in :48.65 and blazed through the next quarter-mile in :23.84.
This year's edition of the Clark saw the class prove out as Shackleford and Take Charge Indy were the only two grade I winners in the field of nine after Pool Play was scratched early in the day. Another 3-year-old, Indiana Derby runner-up Bourbon Courage rallied late to finish third.
Pat Byrne, trainer of Take Charge Indy, said he was ecstatic about the effort and hopes the A.P. Indy colt returns for his 4-year-old season in 2013.
A homebred for Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge, Shackleford completed the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:49.12 on a fast track and paid $7.80 to win, $4.80 to place, and $3.40 to show. Take Charge Indy, paid $6.80 to place and $4.40 to show; and Bourbon Courage returned $4.00 to show. Lunar Victory, the 5-2 favorite, placed fourth.
The victory put Shackleford past $3-million in earnings as he finishes his career with six wins and eight placings in 20 career starts with earnings of $3,090,101.
Shackleford entered the Clark off a three-race losing streak, including an off-the-board finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park. He will stand the 2013 season for $20,000 at John Phillips' Darby Dan Farm.
Rounding out the nine-horse field were Mission Impazible, Cease, Stealcase, Fast Falcon, and Eye of the Leopard.