The Brock Talk

Monday, May 23, 2011

No More Debbie Downers for Shackleford

You have to give credit to trainer Dale Romans and owners Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge. Yes, they deserve all the prestige and riches that come with winning an American sports classic like the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) with their Shackleford. But they should get some additional recognition for the tenacity and faith that they’ve shown through what has been a bumpy Winter and Spring campaign with Shackleford.

With each step leading up to the Triple Crown races, it seems that Romans, Lauffer and Cubbedge were plaqued by many in the racing media and gaming circles playing the role of 2000s Saturday Night Live character Debbie Downer. Rachel Dratch’s Debbie Downer was famous for adding negative comment to otherwise pleasant discussion, thus bringing down the mood of everyone. Of course her commentary was followed by the cartoonish muted trombone sound effect “wah! wa-a-a-a-ah.”

After Shackleford broke his maiden last November at Churchill Downs, Roman’s was giving hints of a potential horse the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands. Early this year, Shackleford was indeed listed on a few Kentucky Derby watch lists. But those were usually very long lists. The likes of Uncle Mo and To Honor and Serve were on the short lists. “wah! wa-a-a-a-ah.”

Shackleford started the year winning an entry level allowance race at Gulfstream Park in the first week of February. It was a solid win over a good field and it was around two turns at 1-1/8 miles. But it wasn’t like winning the grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park a week earlier. “wah! wa-a-a-a-ah.”

Shackleford’s next race was a bust as he finished fifth, some 23 lengths behind winner Soldat in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). But Romans, Lauffer and Cubbedge stayed on plan with Shackleford and the Florida Derby (gr. I) would be next.

At odds of 68-1, jockey Jesus Castanon put Shackledford on the lead right from the start of the Florida Derby. It would be a position maintained until last few yards of the 1-1/8 mile Florida Derby as Holy Bull winner Dialed In hit the wire, just a head in front of second-place Shackleford. It was a dynamite performance by the long shot Shackleford.

The Debbie Downers, however, were quick to point out the main track had been beneficial to front runner all that day at Gulfstream Park. Shackleford and mearily benefited from the bias while Dialed In, a closer, had overcome it. “wah! wa-a-a-a-ah.”

And Shackleford would never get such an easy lead in the Kentucky Derby, usually run in not a fast pace, but more frantic during the early and middle parts of the race. “wah! wa-a-a-a-ah.”

But Castanon would hear nothing of the Debbie Downer’s criticism and put Shackleford on the lead in the Kentucky Derby. But he also slowed Shackleford to a pedestrian pace – in fact the slowest 1/1 mile in the Derby since 1947. Shackleford did not win the Kentucky Derby, but certainly ran a credible race, hanging on for fourth.

But again the Debbie Downers would say that the slow pace in the Derby was an anomaly and would surely not happen again in the Preakness. “wah! wa-a-a-a-ah.”

As if all of that wasn’t enough, in the moments just before the start of the Preakness, it appeared Shackleford was anything but ready for the race. He had become very hot while warming up for the Preakness and looked on edge before entering the starting gate. One final “wah! wa-a-a-a-ah.”

In the end, Shackleford was able to silence his critics with the Preakness victory, if only for a while. But in the Pimlico winner’s circle and on the infield podium where the Woodlawn Vase was presented to the winners – Debbie Downer and her trumpet where neither seen nor heard.

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