- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2011

BALTIMORE — Working out on a sloppy track Thursday morning, Shackleford looked like the best horse in the world. If he could just run the Preakness then, co-owner Mike Lauffer said, he would have won.

Saturday evening, the track was dry and fast. But so was Shackleford, who settled down after some pre-race jitters to capture the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. He held off a hard-charging Animal Kingdom to spoil the Kentucky Derby winner’s Triple Crown bid. Shackleford went off at odds of 12-1.

It’s the first Triple Crown victory of any kind for owners Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge, trainer Dale Romans and jockey Jesus Castanon.

“We’ve all stuck together with this horse,” Lauffer said. “We had a bad race or two, but we stuck with our team and it paid off.”

Saturday was far from a bad race for Shackleford, who was right behind a blazing Flashpoint as the horses flew around the first turn. Shackleford led going around the final turn and was able to use his natural speed down the stretch with Animal Kingdom closing fast.

“I felt somebody was coming at the 16th pole a little bit,” Castanon said. “It kinda went through my mind that that was the only horse that was able to come to get me.”

The Preakness is 1 3-16 miles long, while the Derby is a 1 1-4 miles. Animal Kingdom came up half a length short. Animal Kingdom jockey John Velazquez said dirt kicking up into his horse’s face eventually cost him the race.

Shackleford and his connections were the beneficiaries. For Castanon, whose father died in November, to say this was an emotional victory would be an understatement.

“When I cross the wire,” he said, “I know he was up there watching me.”

Lauffer got some vindication from a business standpoint, too. Two years ago he and co-owner Dolphus Morrison sold super filly Rachel Alexandra for $10 million just two weeks before she won the Preakness. He was in attendance for that race and was happy for Rachel Alexandra, but this was special.

“She was a special horse that just comes around once in a lifetime,” Lauffer said. “I’m probably a little closer to Shackleford because we bred him and raced him and we’ve been with him for three years now. We’re just so proud of him.”

Romans gets onto the map in a big way with Shackleford’s victory, too. He’s an early front-runner for trainer of the year after capturing the Preakness for the first time in his career — an accomplishment that elicited “a personal record” 160 text messages just after the race. The trainer admitted almost falling down when Shackleford crossed the wire first.

“We’ve won some big races, but not as exciting as that one,” he said.

The question now becomes whether Shackleford and/or Animal Kingdom will come back to the Triple Crown trail for the Belmont Stakes on June 11.

“Hopefully,” Romans said, “because it’ll be good for horse racing if we have another good rivalry.”

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