Spa Day 15, August 5
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Trainer Dale Romans vowed to forego any future races for Shackleford that come up on a sloppy track.
He's still on target for the Grade I Forego, though, despite getting mired in the mud and finishing last of eight in today's Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga Race Course, while 36-1 Poseidon's Warrior caught Emcee in the last two strides for the big upset.
All eyes were on Shackleford, the 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile winner, before the race, and any eyes on him at the end of the race were pointed up the track. Jockey John Velazquez said "the first two jumps, I knew right away," that Shackleford didn't feel like running in the slop. It didn't help matters that Shackleford, who is used to getting out front and playing catch-me-if-you-can, broke from the No. 1 post and immediately had to take mud in his face from outside horses who cut to the rail.
Poseidon's Warrior stalked outside in third, and although he had a crooked trip through the stretch, 19-year-old jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was able to straighten him out at the sixteenth pole just in time to catch up to Emcee and pass him just before the wire, also holding off the hard-charging Justin Phillip on the outside. Emcee finished a neck behind Poseidon's Warrior, and it was another neck back to Justin Phillip.
"That was a race we've been looking at for a long time," trainer Butch Reid said. "He was a notch below the top horses last year. If we had known Shackleford was coming, we probably would've made other plans."
The A.G. Vanderbilt was the first Grade I win in Reid's career and by far the biggest achievement by the fledgling ownership of Tom McGrath's Swilcan Stable.
Ortiz has won two career Grade I's, both at this meet. He was on Questing for her win in the CCA Oaks.
Romans was disappointed, but willing to throw this one out, since Velazquez was so convinced that Shackleford simply hated the wet track. In two previous races on an off track, Shackleford was fifth in the 2011 Belmont and seventh in the 2012 Donn.
"As soon as I gave him his head again to try to put him into the race again, he let go right away," Velazquez said. "He was not comfortable."
"Getting beat a nose or getting beat a neck, you [still] think you have the best horse," Romans said. "When you get beat that far, something's wrong, and this time we're going to blame the race track. We got unlucky when it rained today."
"I didn't expect him to run like that, but he's 0-for-3 in the mud. John said when he held him together, he was moving along fine. As soon as he dropped his head, it was like he was spinning his wheels."