Haskin's Derby Report: Shack Attack

It has been stated here on several occasions how well Shackleford has looked each morning in his gallops and his dominating physical presence. How that equates to his performance on Saturday is anyone’s guess, just as it is with every other horse in the race.

With a 30 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms Friday and Saturday, it may be time to start thinking about handicapping the race for an off track, just in case one those storms happens to find its way to Churchill Downs.

The two obvious horses based on past performances are Soldat, who won a 1 1/8-mile allowance race in the slop at Gulfstream by 10 ¾ lengths, earning a 103 Beyer speed figure, the highest Beyer fig by any Derby horse this year, and Pants on Fire, who broke his maiden by seven lengths in the slop at Delaware Park last year. Another horse who would move up in the slop is Sunland Derby (gr. III) winner Twice the Appeal, who won over a wet fast track at Santa Anita, and who has a terrific “slop” cross with the Valid Appeal/In Reality line on top and the His Majesty line on the bottom.

Which brings us back to Shackleford, whose pedigree is inundated with slop influences. In addition to having Pleasant Colony/His Majesty on top, he is inbred to In Reality on the bottom and inbred top and bottom to Dr. Fager, who relished the slop and is a major slop influence. In fact, if you go back one more generation, he is inbred three times to Dr. Fager’s dam Aspidistra, twice through Dr. Fager and once through her daughter Magic, a daughter of another major slop influence Buckpasser.

If you go to Shackleford’s tail-female line, you will find Tamerett, the dam of Tentam, who won the Met Mile (gr. I) in the slop, and Speak John, who is a yet another major slop influence from the Elmendorf Farm family and the sire of mud lover Verbatim.

He also has a strong 418 Tomlinson wet-track figure. The highest Tomlinson figure in the field goes to Twice the Appeal, with a 423. By the way, did we mention that Twice the Appeal is being ridden by Calvin Borel, who has won the last two Kentucky Derbys in the slop?

With his running style, Shackleford could run a Smarty Jones-type race on a sealed sloppy track, where speed often holds up. But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves, considering the weather forecast changes around here constantly. But it is good to know just in case we are indeed confronted with an off track.

If we are, you want to pay close attention to Shackleford, Twice the Appeal, Soldat, and Pants on Fire, and, yes, Uncle Mo, who has a number of slop influences, especially in his female family through Delta Judge, Cyane, and Rollicking. You will find Cyane in the pedigree of Smart Strike, sire of Curlin, who romped in the slop in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). and Uncle Mo has a 419 Tomlinson number, second to Twice the Appeal.

Now that we’ve just assured a fast track for Derby Day, let’s briefly get back to Shackleford, who not only has flashed excellent speed both sprinting and routing, but has shown a great deal of maturity with each race. That he was able to make the jump from a seven-furlong maiden race to a 1 1/8-mile allowance race and win as impressively as he did, despite racing greenly, shows what kind of ability he has. And he has on two occasions demonstrated his heart and willingness to fight by coming again after being passed in his maiden victory and by battling back when confronted by Dialed In in the Florida Derby (gr. I). And you had to love how strongly he galloped out in that race.

If you are concerned by his Fountain of Youth (gr. II) performance, he was not the only horse to run an inexplicably bad race in a major Gulfstream prep this year, and he did get worked up in the starting gate and banged his head to the extent that jockey Jesus Castanon said he appeared to be in a daze and had nothing that day. The fact that he bounced back with such a powerful performance against the early Kentucky Derby favorite in the Florida Derby makes that a throw-out race.

He then came to Churchill Downs and turned in a pair of bullet works, one in 1:00 1/5 breezing in the slop and his final work in a blazing :58 4/5. And he has put in powerful gallops every days since.

So, with a decent post and a good stalking trip, all the ingredients are there for a big performance on Saturday.

Who is catching the eye

We’ll just focus on a few of the horses who caught the eye this morning, as the horses finally had an opportunity to gallop over a fast track. Despite his lack of dirt form and only four career starts, Animal Kingdom, who we wrote about extensively on Monday, is looking better by the day, physically and in his gallops. He is looking more and more now like the “now” horse. If he can incorporate that into dirt form we’re looking at a live longshot.

The other horse who looked terrific this morning and who turned in his best gallop to date is Pants On Fire, who we also wrote about extensively last week. He was really into the bit and full of life as he glided over the track with powerful strides.

Archarcharch galloped by himself this morning after yesterday’s gallop/work and is still looking strong out there.

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