Shackleford set all the fractions under jockey John Velazquez, then had just enough left to beat a fast-finishing Caleb's Posse and capture the 119th running of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap going one mile at Belmont Park Monday, the highlight of a stakes-laden program on the Memorial Day holiday at the Elmont, N.Y., racetrack. To Honor and Serve was third, followed by Caixa Eletronica in the field of six older horses. Shackleford covered the one-mile on a fast main track in 1:33.30 and paid $8.80 for the win.
Shackleford, winner of the 2011 Preakness Stakes for his only previous Grade 1 victory, is a 4-year-old son of Forestry out of Oatsee, by Unbridled. Bred in Kentucky by her owners, Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge. He is trained by Dale Romans. The Met Mile was Shackleford's fifth career win, with four seconds, from 16 starts. He was coming off a victory over 2011 sprint champion Amazombie in the seven-furlong G2 Churchill Downs Handicap on Kentucky Derby day.
Shackleford carried 119 pounds, and was ridden for the first time by Velazquez, subbing for an injured Jesus Castanon. Caleb's Posse spotted the winner two pounds as the 121-pound co-high weight (with recent G1 Carter Handicap winner Jackson Bend), and lost his third consecutive photo finish. Caleb's Posse was beaten a nose by Jackson Bend in the Carter, and before that was second, a neck ehind Calibrachoa. The son of Posse was a four-length winner of the 2011 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, beating Shackleford with a powerful stretch run.
Shackleford set the pace from the outset, going the opening quarter-mile in :22.77 the half in :44.73 and six furlongs in 1:08.52. Jackson Bend chased the winner early in second, with To Honor and Serve third along the inside and Caleb's Posse trailing the field. When the field turned for home, To Honor and Serve was still looking for room, but when he swung outside to challenge Shackleford raced on the wrong lead foot and couldn't mount a challenge. But Caleb's Posse, under Rajiv Maragh, was flying down the middle of the track and closed in on the winner, falling just a stride or two short at the wire.
Quotes, courtesy NYRA media office
Dale Romans, winning trainer of Shackleford (No. 2): “I knew he was going to finish. 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. 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.”
“The more work [Shackleford] does, the better he is. 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.”
“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.”
John Velazquez, winning jockey aboard Shackleford (No. 2): “He broke so good, so I didn't have to do much, and he was doing it easy. 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, trainer of runner-up Caleb's Posse (No. 3): “We'll get over this [losing three straight by a neck, a nose and a nose]. For him to overcome the track bias and run like that, we're very proud of him.”
Rajiv Maragh, jockey aboard runner-up Caleb's Posse (No. 3): “The trip was good. 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. The race before [Acorn], they went fast and they didn't come back. 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.”
Bill Mott, trainer of third-place finisher and beaten favorite To Honor and Serve (No. 1): “I don't think the inside post helped us, that's all.”
Jose Lezcano, jockey aboard third-place finisher and beaten favorite To Honor and Serve (No. 1): “He ran very good. [Shackleford] went to the lead, and Jackson Bend was right there so I had to wait, but he gave me a good race.”
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