Shackleford outlasted a surging Caleb's Posse to post a thrilling nose victory in the $750,000 Metropolitan H. (G1) on Memorial Day at Belmont Park, giving the 4-year-old son of Forestry his second straight graded stakes victory, following his win on Derby Day in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs S.
The Met Mile, one of the biggest races on the New York circuit, attracted its usual top-class field, including Caleb's Posse, who Shackleford had faced three times in the past. With regular rider Jesus Castanon on the sidelines due to an injury, Shackleford was ridden Monday by John Velasquez.
Shackleford shot to the lead and set fractions of 22.77 and 44.73, with Grade 1 winners Jackson Bend and favored To Honor and Serve giving chase. He put those foes away coming into the stretch, then had to face the oncoming Caleb's Posse in deep stretch. The pair raced as one in the final hundred yards, and it appeared that Caleb's Posse got his head in front, but Shackleford was in front when it mattered most. The final time was 1:33.30, 0.49 seconds off the stakes record set by Honour and Glory in 1996.
“He broke so good, so I didn’t have to do much, and he was doing it easy,” said Velazquez. “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,” Velazquez added. “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.”
Shackleford digs in to win the G1 Met Mile
Shackleford, owned by Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge, and the Phillips Racing Partnership, the $450,000 winner’s share of the Met Mile purse pushed Shackleford’s earnings $2,741,381 and gave him his first Grade 1 victory since the 2011 Preakness S.
“I thought coming off the turn he was going to be tough to get by,” said winning trainer Dale Romans. “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.”
Romans said Shackleford will ship back to his Churchill Downs base on Tuesday, and he will decide what's next in the coming days.