Shackleford Calls it a Career

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- We form attachments writing about racehorses, as much as some of us try to deny it. Admiration of the Thoroughbred is, after all, part of why turf writers do what we do. The best and worst parts of our job revolve around the campaigns of these runners and our coverage of them. We get to know the horses and the people who care for them, and some demand our respect, and some are just nice to be around.

Shackleford, Churchill winner's circle, Clark Handicap 2012 (C. Novak)

The story of Shackleford, the blaze-faced chestnut with a 2011 Preakness win and a legion of fans, came to a close Friday evening with a frontrunning score in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. His third grade I victory in a three-year span for co-owners and breeders Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge was one of his most important, as he will now be retired to stud at John Phillips’ Darby Dan Farm near Lexington.

Shackleford wins the 2011 Preakness (A. Eberhardt)

Shackleford wasn’t the superstar every start; he won some and lost some, as a 6-5-1 record from 20 outings attests. But the son of Forestry danced almost every dance from the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) in his stakes debut to the Clark, with starts in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Belmont (gr. I), Haskell (gr. I), Travers (gr. I), Indiana Derby (gr. II), 2011 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (g. I), Donn Handicap (gr. I), Carter Handicap (gr. I), Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II), Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I), Kelso Handicap (gr. II), and the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) among them. In the modern era, staying sound and competitive through that many top-level graded stakes is a feat in and of itself. Shackleford did.

Shackleford beats Caleb's Posse in the 2012 Met Mile (Coglianese Photo)

Maybe it’s not that we form attachments to horses as much as we get used to having them around. We watch them train and write about their breezes and their travels and their racing plans. We preview their starts and recap their finishes. We learn their habits and foibles, strengths and weaknesses. Maybe it’s not so much an attachment as it is a comfort level, like getting to know someone who was once a stranger and is now a good friend.

Shackleford wins the 2012 Churchill Downs Stakes (K. Thompson)

I first laid eyes on “Shack,” as trainer Dale Romans and the rest of his connections and fans tend to call him, in the paddock at Churchill Downs before the Derby (he ran fourth after showing the way with quick early fractions). The big colt was schooling in preparation for the race, and his burnished coat was gleaming and his neck was arched as he pranced with high suspension around the walking ring. He exuded energy, confidence, and pure class. Watching him, you couldn’t help feeling it. Watching him, you thought Ah, now THERE’S a racehorse!

I remember interviewing Graham Motion when Animal Kingdom was beaten by Shackleford at the Preakness. I remember interviewing Jesus Castanon when Shackleford was training for the Travers. I remember interviewing Dale Romans on several occasions, and several topics centered around the runner who took his career to another level... and I remember Shackleford... poking his handsome head out of a stall at Churchill, Pimlico, Santa Anita… rolling in the sand pit outside a Saratoga barn... bouncing along like a helium balloon on the end of a lead shank in photos snapped by racing paparazzi.

Shackleford walks at Darby Dan Farm with Ryan Watson (K. Thompson)

Shackleford left Churchill today, retiring with more than $3 million in earnings and headed for a new phase of life. But earlier in the month we had a chance to visit when Romans popped him on a van, shipped him down to Darby Dan, and made him available to previewers. As in his racing career, he took the transition in stride, standing and walking with professional composure while taking in his surroundings with a curious eye.

Shackleford and stallion manager Ryan Watson at Darby Dan (K. Thompson)

Racehorse retirements are often emotional affairs, the exact circumstances of which are rarely dictated by the powers that be. Horses get hurt, get sick, leave the sport too soon, disappoint us. Much can be said, then, for Shackleford’s story. He was steady, he was sound, and at the top of his game, he put on a show – as he did last Friday, when he closed out his career with the perfect ending.


Leave a Comment:


Thanks for the neat write-up! Shack was among my first ever bets (along with Astrology) on that beautiful Preakness 2011 day. Have been hooked on to horses and racing ever since! Hope to see this guy in person one day, when I travel to Kentucky!

26 Nov 2012 4:27 PM
spectacular bid

had the opportunity to meet shack at Santa Anita before the breeders cup thanks to Mr. Romans. what an absolutely gorgeous horse. im planning a trip to ky in January to coincide with the keeneland sale and open houses at the farms and seeing shack at Darby Dan is a definite priority. as was stated in the article above, shack danced every dance, i hope he makes an exceptional stallion

26 Nov 2012 5:40 PM

Thanks so much, Claire, for adding your insights to covering Shack's career. He danced and pranced his way into all our hearts.  Someone posted a video of the post parade before the Clark and he really put on a show, his neck arched, bucking and just exhibiting pure horse joy! I'm looking forward to hopefully visiting him in KY and can't wait to see his foals in 2014. He has been such a joy to follow.

26 Nov 2012 6:03 PM

Enjoy your retirement Shackleford, and thanks for the memories.  I loved watching that bright red coat with the even brighter white face come charging down the stretch.

Sure, you didn't win every race, but you certainly laid it on the line and dared the world to come get you.

Just one question you handsome guy - why didn't you like my beloved Saratoga?????

26 Nov 2012 6:28 PM

for selfish reasons would have loved to see Dale try the big guy on the sod...god speed Shack!

26 Nov 2012 6:31 PM

He is an honest, hard knocking horse that I fell in love with the moment I saw him.  He is a regular guy who won a lot of races, lost some, but always did his best.  I hope Darby Dan will keep all of Shacks fans in mind and share pictures of him as he goes forward into his new life.  

26 Nov 2012 6:37 PM

Thank you for a NICE tribute to a WONDERFUL horse who gave many of us many thrills.  Shackleford was (is) a Champ...a real Warrior!  I will miss him greatly, but, my best wishes go out to him in his new career...Can't wait to see his babies!

26 Nov 2012 7:37 PM

I first started watching Shackleford in the Florida Derby.  Yes, I was attracted to his good looks and marveled at how beautiful this racehorse was.  He really didn't disappoint me in that race, finishing a surprising second to Dialed In.  The Kentucky Derby was surprising, too.  For a brief moment, I thought he was gonna win this thing, but strength was ebbing and he was fourth.  Nothing wrong with that.  Continuing to follow Shack, I rooted for him in every single race in which he was entered and even through defeat, I was still on his side.  Finally, in his very last race, I took a look at him in the post parade, marveling at his antics, much like we all marveled at Zenyatta's dancing, smiling all the way.  Shack ran his last race the way he always wanted, on the front end.  By the top of the homestretch, I thought he had it won, but those other two were coming awfully close!  Biting my fingernails and screaming at the television, I said "you can do it, Shack, dig in."  And he did.  And he won!!  He didn't disappoint his many fans.  His soundness, courage and most of all, his heart will be remembered by many of us Shackettes.  I had the privilege of seeing him at Darby Dan a few weeks ago, took many pictures, and saw the trust in Shack's eyes as he was led up and down, parading in front of many fans, led by the stallion manager, Ryan Watson.  If Shack can pass his genes on down to his foals for his soundness, consistency, and gutsy races, he will do well in the breeding shed.  I wish him luck, but most of all, I will miss the flashy chestnut with the blue and white silks and big white blaze racing down the stretch, giving it his all, fighting back the competition.  We'll miss you, Shack!  Hope to see you again at Darby Dan!

26 Nov 2012 7:44 PM
Mary Jo in Florida

Thank you for the lovely article and beautiful photos. Hope Darby Dan allows visits.

26 Nov 2012 7:53 PM

Great article & photos. Love the Darby Dan picture. Hopefully, 1/2 brother Stephanoatsee will step up in class next year. He also is stunning with a huge white blaze.

26 Nov 2012 8:31 PM

Thank you for writing such a wonderful article about Shackleford. He's such a powerful and resilient racehorse who made it through all of those races without injury and, I might add, with a mind of his own.  I believe he could have another good year or so of racing.  However, he will now go to stud, and many of us will miss him greatly. He's my idea of an ideal racehorse.  Thanks.

26 Nov 2012 8:41 PM
Brown brother

Nice piece. You hit the nail on the head in that just making all those top class races is a fear in itself these days. Die hard fans appreciate a horse like shack as much or more than the higher percentage winners like ghostzapper, invasion, candy ride and even the great zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, who were more fragile. And, I think he will make hardier and perhaps even more brilliant progeny.shack will be missed but no true fan could say he could have given more.

26 Nov 2012 8:58 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

I didn't think Shackleford was going to win The Clark until I saw him pre-race. He looked magnificent, raring to go but totally under control from what I could see on the internet. It certainly is fitting for him to go out with a win after all of the excitement this warrior has given us. Now it's time to get ready to shack up in his new career, and I expect him to be a very successful sire, passing on his gameness and enthusiasm, heart and beauty. A true champion. Hats of to Romans also for choosing this race. I now believe 9f to be Shacklford's ideal distance, and obviously he has the ability to win at longer also.

26 Nov 2012 9:18 PM

thanks shack for dancing the dance. love your connections. human and not. will miss you

26 Nov 2012 9:37 PM

Love this horse and his pedigree!  I will be sending one of my mares to him this winter/spring.  

27 Nov 2012 8:52 AM
Tiz Herself

Shackleford will be missed and I look forward to seeing him my next trip to Kentucky.

Would like to thank Dale Romans and Shack's connections for giving the fans and racing world alike the chance to get to know Shackleford better and raced him at the age of four. Too often, many of our young talent is retired and put to stud and it is hard for a hard core fan or a casual one to follow anyone in the sport when you only get a glimpse of them. Shack was consistent and he was competitive, tenacious and courageous. He will have a caring and loving home in Darby Dan.

I hope Shack and his connections are an inspiration to others who have a talented horse to keep them racing and that they can have sound, healthy careers.

Thanks for the memories Shackleford, will never forget the Shack Attack! From your biggest Alberta fan!

27 Nov 2012 10:33 AM
Bill Rinker

Claire, Thanks for the great article and photos. It has been very enjoyable following Shackleford the past few years,  the way he carried himself while racing was reminiscent of his sire, and as noted he is an exceptional Thoroughbred. I was very fortunate to share a few special moments with him while standing at the rail at Pimlico, of which I'm sure I'll never forget. It will be interesting to see how his offspring turn out. He has a very good pedigree, and his racing attributes are what you would like to see in a stallion. Best of luck to all of his connections, past, present and future.

27 Nov 2012 10:33 AM
Linda in Texas

Shackleford. A beauty. A handsome finely honed magnificent creature whose bones and muscles all came together in perfect form. His heart was full of win, his antics were to be chuckled at. He has his own mind and will win as he wishes. Parading to the gates one last time i knew he knew this was a special race. No doubt about it. To me it was his best win of all. A last hurrah until one day we see his likeness in the foals then colts and fillies who will perhaps race against the Rachel Alexandra's and Zenyatta's,and Tapit's, etc. and all of them will be remembered again. In 2 or 3 years, we shall all have something to think back on. Emotional yes. Attachment you bet. Admiration of course. First race i ever watched him run, i was hooked. Lather and all. Attitude and all. He is a stallion after all so what else should he do?

Wrote something the other day about him and felt on Paynter's Blog it would not be appropriate so i am glad you gave us the chance to speak Claire. Thank you.

And appropriate thanks for the great memories to the Messers Lauffer and Cubbedge. So also to Dale Romans, Tammy, and the entire Romans family of hot walkers, grooms, and all who cared for Shackleford. Give yourselves a treat for a job well done. You certainly contributed to giving his fans one every time he showed up looking race ready and full of himself. He is special.

Now my 2012 hero favorites are set.

1. Paynter/I'll Have Another (Tie)

2. Shackleford *wire to wire on his

  Clark Win* was awesome.

Thank you Claire. To me your shot of Shack and Jesus walking off into the sunset captured a poignant precious scene.  

27 Nov 2012 10:51 AM
Maria Knack

Great article! Shack was so fun to watch and so beautiful. Won our hearts and is going to be sorely missed. Friends ask what horse are you going to follow now and I think I am going to wait for his offspring. He was so special, no other horse stands up to him. Good luck Shack!!

27 Nov 2012 6:07 PM

Going to miss this horse.  He may not have been a superstar, but he was sound, tough, and never gave way in a stretch battle out of fear of looking another horse in the eye. From his guts-alone win in the Preakness to his gritty run in the Met Mile, he was a reminder of why we love Thoroughbreds.  I'm happy he went out on a win, but sorry he had to go out at all.  Here's hoping that, in a couple of years, we'll get to see a good crop of big-blazed chestnuts glaring down their challengers as they come in on the wire.

27 Nov 2012 9:29 PM

I love Shack.  I am not a fan of chesnuts but once in awhile one comes along that steals my heart and Shack did. I never tired of watching him, even when he lost, I know he is a true champion among others.  I look forward to seeing his children burning up the track and doing his pre victory dances!!

28 Nov 2012 12:55 PM
Carol Schwankl

I love Shackleford...remember seeing him that first time when he ran in Florida. Have to identify with his antics before racing as he seems nervous. I hope Darby Dan will let visitors see him. And, I look forward to seeing his babies. Dale Romans--thanks for letting us see him race as a 4 year old.

28 Nov 2012 1:12 PM

Your summation of Shackleford's achievements, including what he has accomplished in the name of the sport, is like frosting on the cake. He is every trainers dream. May his retirement from the track be equally successful.

28 Nov 2012 4:31 PM

there are so many disappointments in this game--but one of the happiest days at the track for me ever was was shack's clark victory.

i so wanted him to go out a winner--if ever a horse deserved to go out like that, he did.

mr. romans-- if your out there--thank you so much for letting our last racing memory of this mighty horse be that magnificent win.

i've been rooting for shack since i bet on him blind as the 60-1 long shot in the fl derby--and have been  in his camp ever since.

one thing his race record doesn't really capture is how close most of his losses were--he was only a few inches shy from having had not just a solid career, but a magnificent career--won the hard way, by blazing a path ahead of the pack, and running all the other speed into the ground.

oh boy am i gonna miss this horse!

happy retirement shack! looking forward to all the little shacklets on the way!

29 Nov 2012 12:25 AM
Fran Loszynski

Have a great life Shack. I hope you get to meet Afleet Alex along the way on your journies. You share the ultimate heart for racing. I still say I could sit back and remember Secretariat in you hoofs. A sweet life to you. Those front hoofs just wouldn't give up.

29 Nov 2012 11:16 AM

Best of luck and happiness SHACKLEFORD ! I have always thought you were awesome. Mr. Romans sure did a great job with a very fine colt !  Looking forward to seeing some nice foals and wishing you & your connections all the best.

01 Dec 2012 9:04 PM

Shackleford is proof that a great horse is not necessarily the horse who wins the most. He has always been such a gutsy, determined horse who will not give up. I haven't been such a committed fan for any horse in a very long time and was thrilled with his win in the Clark. We need more like him in the Thoroughbred gene pool. And Smartysgal, love those "Shackettes!"

02 Dec 2012 11:49 AM
Lammtarra's Arc

I hope he gets good mares booked to him.

03 Dec 2012 6:41 PM

I became a fan of Shack after seeing him race in the Florida Derby on television.  I became a devoted fan of his from that moment on and looked forward to all of his races.  I had the honor of meeting him in person after the Met Mile last year and it was an amazing experience.  While I am going to miss seeing him run, I am so happy that he is retiring healthy and as a champ.  I look forward to visiting him in Kentucky one day and can't wait to root for all the Little Shack babies that are to follow in his footsteps.  He is an amazing animal!!!

05 Dec 2012 11:54 AM

It was early morning at Pimlico and I was sipping a welcome cup of coffee. I noticed this really handsome horse walking up the other side of the fence from me. He stopped right beside me and I looked up at the rider and told him how beautiful his horse was and I asked if I could pet him. He said sure. I wished him all the best in the Preakness and the rest of his career. I sat in my seat Preakness day and gritty Shack won his race. What a thrill that was. He walked right in front of me after the race with his new Preakness blanket on and I got a shot of him looking right at me. It is my screen saver on my computer. He is the blue collar G1 horse of today. He dances every dance and does what he can. He might lose but he never gives up. That is why we all love Shack.

06 Dec 2012 1:09 PM

Thanks Claire for this terrific article about one of my all-time favorites.  I hope he enjoys his retirement and new career.  I feel so lucky I've seen him in person at the various tracks and he always, always gave his best.  He put quite a show on in the BC in the paddock.  Quite the rodeo star!!!

10 Dec 2012 10:55 AM

On Shack's Preakness Day, at post time, I snuck out of church (my son's confirmation), watched the race on my phone, and snuck back in. Not so sure Jesus was with me as he was with Shackleford that day. :)

28 Dec 2012 9:49 PM
Uncle Smiley

Thank you, Shack, for some three years of honest to goodness racing.

When I had the opportunity to watch, my chant was Go Shackie, Go!

Like to see you hook up with Thundering Emilia.


10 Feb 2013 9:01 PM

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