Haskin's Belmont Report: It's Macho That Worries Irwin, Not Shackleford

If you’re going to play catch with Team Valor’s Barry Irwin, don’t assume if you lob the ball to him he’s going to lob it back to you.

New York Racing Association’s Andy Serling lobbed one to Irwin while emceeing Tuesday’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I) media luncheon, asking him if he’s concerned about the pace scenario, with Shackleford appearing to be the controlling speed in the mile and a half race.

But Irwin, who always speaks his mind, is never dull, and isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, came back with a big sweeping curve.

“My horse has high cruising speed,” he replied innocently enough before firing his strike-out pitch. “I’m not worried about Shackleford. I’m worried about Mucho Macho Man. I think he’s the horse to beat.”

Shackleford’s trainer, Dale Romans, wasn’t about to let that snub go unanswered. When it was his turn to come up to the microphone, he fired back at Irwin.

“I’ll meet (Animal Kingdom) anywhere, any track, any distance,” Romans said. “That wasn’t the dumbest thing I’ve heard Barry say, but it’s one of them.”

As Irwin was being interviewed by the media after the proceedings, Romans stopped briefly, pointed to Irwin, and in his best Muhammed Ali impersonation, yelled “I want you!”

Irwin explained, “I think (Mucho Macho Man) is going to love a mile and a half. I thought he ran great in the Derby. He’s a big, growthy horse and he needs a big track. He’s the one that scares me the most. He’s obviously had his little unfortunate things along the way, but I’m impressed with that horse.

When the word controversy was brought up in regard to his Shackleford comment, Irwin said, “What’s so controversial about it? I just gave my opinion.”

Irwin went on to say that he doesn’t “see Shackleford going a mile and a half, being by Forestry.” He added, “It would stretch the limits of credulity.”

Romans has heard from several other rivals in the past few days how Shackleford can’t go a mile and a half.

“Every time I turn around, someone is knocking my horse,” he said, “I had to defend him today. I know I wouldn’t trade horses with any one of them.”

A short while later, Irwin and Romans posed for photos, with St. Patrick’s Cathedral as a backdrop. They then engaged in a friendly conversation, knowing they had added a little spice to the day’s lunch.

Anyone who doesn’t think Barry Irwin is great for racing must have is or her head in the sand. This sport needs people to say what they feel, and back it up, and not follow the same boring scripts that most follow. Irwin is the king of improvisation, and if there is something the sport needs, especially during the high-profiled Triple Crown, it is spontaneity.

In other Belmont news:

Brilliant Speed had the exact kind of work trainer Tom Albertrani was looking for. What was most impressive about the half-mile breeze in :50 3/5 was how the son of Dynaformer closed while on a very loose rein from exercise rider and assistant Dan Blacker, and the way he galloped out, getting another eighth in :13 flat.

Shortly after 3:30 this afternoon, the vans carrying Santiva and Prime Cut pulled into the Belmont Park backstretch.

Santiva looked as if he had just traveled around the block. He didn’t turn a hair, his coat was radiant, and he settled right in, taking a roll in his new bedding and then attacking his hay rack.

He is just as we remember him from his days before the Derby standing at the gap after the renovation break without moving a muscle. He is such a cool little horse. Nothing bothers him and he has a personality you can’t help but love.

His race in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) was deceptively good, and that will be discussed in greater detail as the week progresses.

The weather forecast now calls for temperatures in the mid to high 90s over the next couple of days, followed by a chance of thunderstorms Friday night and 60% chance of showers on Saturday. That will bring back the old handicapping in the slop section in our Friday column.


Leave a Comment:

Dr Drunkinbum

Animal Kingdom is the horse to beat but he has more than Mucho Macho to worry about including Shackleford, Brilliant Speed, and Santiva. I'll probably be rooting for Shackleford again. I love seeing the limits of credulity stretched, and I still think Shackleford is the gamest horse in the race. Go Forestry and Shackleford. A mile and a half is a long ways for any of them regardless of pedigree. One thing I do know about Shackleford-he has the conditioning base, will give it his all, and has plenty of stamina in his pedigree.

07 Jun 2011 6:27 PM

YES, Dr. Drunkinbum, I remember when it was said that Shackleford's great-great grandsire, Secretariat couldn't go 1 1/2 miles. And Big Red became the undesputed king of the Belmont.

We are going to see a show in the Belmont.

07 Jun 2011 7:19 PM

Well said, Dr D.  Shackleford has always been very gutsy and shows a lot of heart in every race. I also agree with you regarding the stamina in his pedigree. I thought he had a shot at the Derby.  I do like Animal Kingdom but think this should be an interesting Belmont as far as predicting the outcome.

07 Jun 2011 7:51 PM

Boy howdy, you are so right about Irwin, Steve.  Ever since Queen Z left the track, the sport just hasn't been the same.  Its much too quiet.

Its great to have Irwin and Romans spice it up a little.  I like Baffert too.

07 Jun 2011 9:35 PM
Mister Frisky

I think MMM is over the top,also don't like the shoe problem two of the last three races.Ak over all the derby horses that skipped the Preakness.

07 Jun 2011 10:36 PM

Thanks Steve for being our eyes on the Belmont backstretch.  There is a little video of this very thing at the Irwin/Romans luncheon on the "Belmont Stakes" website.  Also there are the video works at Belmont these last couple of days of AK, Shack, Brilliant Speed, and Nehro.

And Santiva arrived today, he is a COOL colt and very cute.  The little world traveler should be well on his way, Master of Airspace, oooops, I mean Hounds!  

For those that have not been there, Belmont Park is my favorite track (I have not seen Santa Anita or Hollywood Park yet though) on the east coast.  It is very glorious and prestigious, with ivy draped over the outside of the clubhouse walls.  It's lush greenery all over the grounds, and a statue of Secretariat himself adorns the paddock.  It's glamorous, very different from Saratoga, which to me is in a more quaint and countryish setting.  Belmont Park is one of my favorite places in all of New York.  Only 3 more work days and then I drive over!

07 Jun 2011 10:38 PM
no hurry

GO SHACKLEFORD! Yes I admit he has Forestry in his pedigree but he also has UNBRIDLED on his dam's side.I love this horse he is tough.

08 Jun 2011 8:12 AM
Pedigree Ann

Dr. D, Secretariat was a son of Bold Ruler, who had won 10f stakes races and had sired 10f+ SWs like Bold Bidder, Gamely, and Successor. BR had speed, but he could stay the classic distance. Forestry's big wins were the 7f King's Bishop and the one-turn 8.5f Dwyer. He had not sired a graded dirt SW at beyond 9f before Shackleford; even his brilliant son Discreet Cat couldn't stretch farther than that, despite having a dam who won the Alabama. Shackleford is not like Comma to the Top, whose sire was a 6f-sprint specialist and was staggering at the end of 9f; he is a high-class miler. Given the right pace scenario, he could have an impact on the Belmont outcome. But there are some genuine stayer-bred horses in this field who will find any chinks in his armor.

08 Jun 2011 8:48 AM

I welcome the attention that Irwin is giving MMM,I hope he has enough clout to convince enough bettors so that MMM's odds will go down.I will stick with Nehro,he is the most versatile runner in the field.He has run close or closed from the back.I would like to see an inside post for Nehro so that he can stay on the rail and relax,much like his last workout.

08 Jun 2011 9:13 AM

Irwin is just saying what everyone else has seen, except Romans...Shackleford, though a nice horse, was not pulling away or gaining at the end of the Derby or Preakness. He's cooked past 1 3/8ths against this level of competition. If the Preakness had been the typical size field it usually is, we are looking at our first triple crown winner in a long overdue time. But that's been the way of it lately...

08 Jun 2011 9:34 AM

The one thing everyone needs to keep in mind about Shackleford is where the Preakness is run - Pimlico.   Pimlico is always extremely kind to front running horses and even more say on a fast track after several days of rain as was the case for this year's Preakness.   I expect the Belmont to resemble the Derby much more so than the Preakness.  Even with a slow pace in the Belmont, Shackleford will be gobbled up down the stretch, just as he was in the Derby.  After his poor start and dropping far back early, Animal Kingdom's second in the Preakness was very, very impressive against the bias at Pimlico.  I also like that Motion declared him in for the Belmont the first few days after the Preakness without any hesitation.  He must truly like what he sees.  

08 Jun 2011 9:48 AM

The key quote for me here is your observation about Barry Irwin:

"Anyone who doesn’t think Barry Irwin is great for racing must have is or her head in the sand. This sport needs people to say what they feel, and back it up, and not follow the same boring scripts that most follow. Irwin is the king of improvisation, and if there is something the sport needs, especially during the high-profiled Triple Crown, it is spontaneity."

Even though his mouth occasionally overloads his brain, his approach to breeding and to the sport itself is one to be admired and emulated. As you indicated, he doesn't pull his punches, he's not out to win any popularity contests, but he is definitely "great for racing"!

I'm still pulling for Mucho, as he captured my heart and if he can keep his shoes on, this may just be "his race"!!

Great article, Steve, per usual!!

08 Jun 2011 10:20 AM

P.S. Irwin and Romans theatre reminds me of the scene in the movie Seabiscuit, where Howard and Riddle are each being quoted, both leading up to and then just prior to the upcoming match race. Their comments just fueled the interest in the race and made it more exciting and fun. As you say, what the sport needs is more "sponteneity"!! Bring it on!!

08 Jun 2011 10:27 AM
steve from st louis

Master of Hounds represents the latest product of the Mr. Prospector sire line crossed with Northern Dancer line mares which has accounted for Belmont winners Hansel, Thunder Gulch,Victory Gallop, Jazil, Birdstone, Empire Maker, Summer Bird and Drosselmeyer. Any questions?

08 Jun 2011 10:29 AM
Dr Drunkinbum


  I think that Shackleford very well could have won The Derby with a different track surface like sloppy or fast-firm rather than fast-deep and cuppy.


   I do believe we're going to see a great show also, but a competitive one. I doubt if we'll ever see an exhibition again like Secretariat put on but maybe we'll see a Curlin-Rags, or Affirmed- Alydar type show. Nothing I have ever seen compares to the awe inspiring performance of Secretariat's Belmont. I still have to fight hard to keep from bawling just from watching the replay.

Pedigree Ann

   I agree. There are others much better suited pedigreewise for this race. That is one reason it would be so exciting if Shackleford won it. His talent, gameness and conditioning gives me some hope that he could pull it off, and a son of Forestry winning it would just be very special. I would also agree that his true odds are higher than what you would be getting to bet on him in this race. I won't be keying him like I did in the Derby and Preakness but I will put him in a box. Every horse in here at 10f will be saying, "The race isn't over, you've got to be kidding !!!"


   Have fun !!!!!!

08 Jun 2011 10:59 AM
Abigail Anderson

I follow the focus of Pedigree Ann's post regarding Shackleford since this is the "take" on the Storm Cats, most of whom picked up the influence of Terlingua & her dam, brilliant sprinter Crimson Saint. I would really like to see AK deliver a mind-boggling performance, but also like the chances of Nehro. Either way, I expect AK and Nehro to figure in the top 3.

08 Jun 2011 11:35 AM

Seems to me that Romans is a tad overly sensitive.  In Shack's favor, he has heart, but that distance is gonna be a killer for him.  I'll play him in my super, tho not on top.  MMM, AK and Nehro are simply too threatening to overlook.  And a question for anyone - why on earth did O'Brien wait til yesterday to ship in MOH?  Seems to me that doesn't leave alot of time to overcome the jet lag.  While I believe he'll excel at this distance, this insane shipping arrangement practically forces me to toss him out.

08 Jun 2011 12:01 PM

Good for Irwin and Romans! Enough of the "politically correct" tiptoeing around. You can't even get people to denounce cheating by trainers with drugs anymore; no one wants to say their real opinions. Mr. Irwin isn't afraid to and neither, it seems, is Mr. Romans. It should be a great Belmont. BTW Mr Haskins, when watching a rerun of Thunder Gulch's Belmont last night, I saw a man standing behind D. Wayne Lukas who looked a lot like you! Were my eyes deceiving me or were you behind him in the stands during the race?

08 Jun 2011 12:03 PM

I'm beginning to like Barry Irwin. Let's face it, in the wake of ZENMANIA things have been a bit dull and a little controversy is not the worse thing for an industry desperately trying to extend its reach. Barry has now effectively created a rivalry between his horse and Dale Romans so what could be wrong with that.

08 Jun 2011 1:00 PM

Steve - many heartfelt thanks for keeping us all in the loop.  I completely agree with your belief that Mr. Irwin is great for the sport.

Dr. D. - I have the exact same reaction to that replay - and often fail.  There are few things in history so purely beautiful.

My heart remains with Mucho Macho Man.  There is something so genuine and appealing about him.

Alex'sBigFan, I envy you - have a great time!

08 Jun 2011 1:03 PM
calico cat

"This sport needs people to say what they feel, and back it up, and not follow the same boring scripts that most follow."

Mr. Haskin, right on!!! Listening to connection's interviews is an exercise in frustration and boredom. They all say the same politically correct, insipid pap. One of the cliches I dislike the most is: "We'll let the horse tell us..." What a crock that is! Horses only "talk" during and/or after the race, not before. Yet how often do we hear this nonsense from trainers and owners who consistently run horses where they do not belong? Far too many times.

Barry Irwin and Dale Romans spoke their minds before the race. The horses will prove them right or wrong on the track, without saying a single word. Ha!  

08 Jun 2011 1:08 PM

I would like to ask all of you to remember Zenyatta's 2010 Breeder's Cup race (and hold your hand over your heart) ..... Zenyatta was gaining on Blame with every stride and she passed him one second past the finish line; now.... in the Preakness, Animal Kingdom was closing in on Shackelford with every stride.  Same story, second verse.  I love Shackelford, but I really believe this race will be between Animal Kingdom, Nehro and MMM.   The bottom line is a good trip.  Thank you Steve for all your outstanding  reports, don't know what I'd do without your great well-put thoughts.   Dovie from Texas!

08 Jun 2011 1:36 PM

Just a coment on the Secretariat Belmont.That was the best race ever run in the TC series(IMO) and his race that day was helped by the fact SHAM and Secretariat were the only horses in the race and in the Triple crown that year.Shams race in the Belmont brought out the best in Secretariat that day.He probably wins by 10 or more without Sham but not by 31 and with the time he ran.

08 Jun 2011 1:48 PM

Like i was taugh over 60 years ago,the only horse that can not win is the one that stays in the stall.However this race is coming up real good with some very nice horses on it.Still i thing that this is between Animaql Kingdon and Shakelford.Good luck to everyone and enjoy.

08 Jun 2011 2:06 PM

OMG... What a bad post for Shackleford. Well, I was there for the wedding, I might as well attend the funeral.

Skackleford now has only half the distance to the turn to get position. Oh well. At least the turns are sweeping and not sharp, so his loss of ground shouldn't be too bad if he gets caught wider than the 3 path.

08 Jun 2011 2:42 PM
Melissa P

This is going to be an exciting Belmont! Things could get really interesting if an off-track comes up.

Shackleford is a tank! The horse is amazing to look at. Reminds me more of the prototypical hunter.

I'm firmly on the Brilliant Speed bandwagon (especially on an off-track). The distance will definitely be a benefit for him and Ms. Weber is absolutely due a huge win in New York. Love the story behind MMM. Can't discount AK. Again, this could be a really exciting Belmont. Mostly hoping for a safe trip for all!

08 Jun 2011 3:02 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


   Thanks. I don't recall any time that my eyes weren't moist. I do remember one time that I was a blubbering fool and couldn't stop for awhile. I always get goosebumps, often just thinking about that race. And I'm not normally one to enjoy wipeouts. I like close, hard fought battles, and extreme closers, and any horse that shows gameness, but I consider Secretariat's Belmont to be one of the greatest feats in the history of life, a far greater achievement than the first man on the moon. The first one to stand atop Mt. Everest was pretty good, Lewis and Clark was pretty cool, as were many of the explorer's feats but nothing matches Secretariat's Belmont. I like DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak too. Speaking of baseball, there are records far less likely to be broken than the 56 game hitting streak such as complete games in a season and lifetime by a pitcher.

08 Jun 2011 3:24 PM
Scott C

The stretch run sat. will mimic that of the Risen Star. Macho will gain the lead shortly after the final turn and no one will get by. This colt is still improving. Another late run by AK will garner second place honors again, and Brilliant Speed will just nip Nehro for third.

08 Jun 2011 3:36 PM
Karen in Texas

This is going to be an emotional Belmont for me. I want Animal Kingdom to win, but I don't want Shack to lose. (Doesn't make a lot of sense, I know.) I believe Barry Irwin is truly and rightfully concerned about MMM's chances as well. That they all come out of the race safely is my sincere hope.

Dr.D---My husband, who doesn't know or care very much about horseracing, always gets "shakey" when watching Secretariat enter the gate on a replay of the '73 Belmont. That race simply transcends the sport.

Alex'sBigFan---Don't forget to show us your hat! Yes, Belmont is lush and green and you can actually feel the history there!

08 Jun 2011 3:48 PM
Old Timer

I do not have any problem with Irwin's comment this time. However his comment about trainers lying to him did not seem to me to be very positive nor very diplomatic nor good for racing.

08 Jun 2011 4:21 PM

Shackleford is a beautiful chestnut colt and a tough campaigner but on pedigree he's out of his depth at 12 furlongs in this field; can't see him making the frame at all.  Santiva is going to turn the race into a test of stamina by attacking Shackleford down that long Belmont backstretch and once he comandeers the lead it will take a brawler to peg him back.  Master of Hounds and the Derby winner, Animal Kingdom are his main threat but expect big runs from Stay Thirsty and Nehro; this race looks like a thriller in the making.  I cant remember a more competitive Belmont stakes line up.  Can you, Steve?

08 Jun 2011 5:31 PM
Linda in Texas

Friends, if the predicted 50 percent chance of showers on Saturday at Belmont come to pass, will that make the track fast - deep and cuppy or just sloppy?  

And Post Positions, 12 for Shack, 10 for MMM, 9 for Animal Kingdom. That will be interesting with those 3 all exiting the gates so close together. Could you give your scenario on that one and where might MOH in 1 and Brilliant Speed in 5 be in the mix?

All i have to say is Master of Hounds, bless him, i have some Advantage miles i could share with his owners!

And ABF - don't forget to give us the signal if you get close to a TV camera! Will your Chapeau have feathers? :) Enjoy every bit of your day at Pimlico And The Belmont,we will look forward to hearing all about your good times.

Steve, have a great time. I really don't care who wins, just want them all back safely. But - really down deep, i want Shackleford or Brilliant Speed! And MMM and Stay

Thirsty and Animal Kingdom and and - - -.  

I wrote this way early today and was afraid it sounded like stupid questions. But i just read Steve's latest post and i wish i could transfer it there!

08 Jun 2011 8:41 PM
Linda in Texas

Rinzler - not to fear, don't give up on Shackleford, read Steve's new post and regain your composure, no funerals, please.

You tell'm Zookeeper, tell it like it is folks, this is serious stuff and no time to dilly dally around.

So good for Romans and Irwin.

Linda :+  

08 Jun 2011 8:46 PM

Dr. D., I figure the main things Baseball and Racing have in common are strategy and the ever-lurking potential to perform beyond presumed ability.  I've never been good at remembering stats, but instead remember things that amaze me - like 1986 Keith Hernandez' ability to hit foul after foul, wearing down a pitcher until he finally slipped up and threw a hittable pitch.  A few weeks ago the stretch run of Secretariat's Belmont was being replayed by whichever channel I had on, and I can't even tell you what I was doing, only that I stopped in my tracks and just as you described, felt those tears welling up instantly.

This Belmont is far more likely to be the competitive race to the wire we are blessed with when a well-matched field enters the gate, and I very much look forward to it!  Blowouts are visually impressive, but a fight to the finish more likely to leave me breathless and ready for a rematch!

08 Jun 2011 10:34 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


  I got goosebumps just thinking of you watching the race. As a kid I knew every baseball record by heart. Let's hope for a fierce stretch duel in this year's Belmont. Rags To Riches win has got to be one of the greatest races I've ever seen. I couldn't believe how she perservered and won. "She did it, she really did it." Really quite amazing to beat the great Curlin like that. It's got to be number two for me of all of the Belmont's.

09 Jun 2011 10:19 AM

you can say what you like about shackleford he do have 2 triple crown in his bloodlines the great big red and the count fleet,

09 Jun 2011 5:02 PM

Oh Dr. D., right on!  I kept the newspaper clipping of Rags' win with a beautiful picture of her crossing the wire on my desk for more than a year :)

Tonight I caught the replay of Point Given's win - he made it look so easy I almost forgot to be impressed LOL.  Dearly Beloved asked how a replay of a race I knew the outcome of could be interesting to watch, and compared it to watching a replay of a baseball game - guess who I thought of right away :)

10 Jun 2011 11:49 PM

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