BALTIMORE -- He led to deep stretch in the Kentucky Derby, and Shackleford was going at it up front again yesterday in the Preakness. The chestnut colt with the big white blaze went head-to-head from the start with Flashpoint, and it looked like a suicidal speed duel.
When the quarter-mile time of 22.69 seconds went up, bettors on the closers smiled. The duo battled down the backstretch and into the far turn before Flashpoint cracked nearing the five-sixteenths pole and backpedaled to last. Shackleford kept on going for Jesus Castanon, who slowed the pace enough to save something for late, and this time Derby winner Animal Kingdom couldn't run him down.
Shackleford hung on by a half-length, giving Castanon and trainer Dale Romans his first classic triumph before a crowd of 107,398 at warm, sunny Pimlico. John Velazquez tried the same wide rally that worked in Louisville but it never looked as if he'd get there. So for the 33rd consecutive year, there will be no Triple Crown.
"I've won some big races," Romans said, "but none as exciting as that one. [The pace] was fast, but he kind of pulled everyone else out of the race. He has a high cruising speed, but I was concerned if he was going to hang on.
"We weren't as worried about slowing it down as much as letting him get into a good rhythmic pace and let him keep going."
Astrology held on for third behind Animal Kingdom, the 2-1 favorite, and Dialed In was fourth. If Dialed In had added a Preakness win to victories in the Holy Bull Stakes and Florida Derby, he would have earned a $5.5 million bonus, $5 million for owner Robert LaPenta and $500,000 for trainer Nick Zito.
Romans, a 44-year-old native of Louisville, has won numerous training titles at Churchill Downs but had been denied victory on the big stage since Roses in May took the 2005 Dubai World Cup. Romans finished third in last year's Derby with Paddy O'Prado, who won the race before yesterday's Preakness, the Dixie Handicap. Romans came close twice with First Dude in last year's Triple Crown -- second in the Preakness, third in the Belmont.
Castanon, 38, grew up in Mexico as the son of a jockey. He dedicated by far his biggest victory among more than 2,000 to his late father, also named Jesus, and his mother. "It's amazing," he said. "A horse like this can go any kind of speed. I felt somebody coming at the sixteenth pole, and I knew Animal Kingdom was the only horse who was able to come get me."
Shackleford paid $27.20 for his third victory in seven career starts, running 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:56.47 and earning $1.1 million for his owners and breeders, Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge.
Animal Kingdom's trainer, Graham Motion, looked glum but was gracious in defeat. "Our horse ran huge," Motion said. "It's tough to come that close. I was hoping he'd get there, but it seemed like he needed another sixteenth of a mile. Dale's horse slowed it down in the middle of the race, and I think that hurt us.
"It's kind of ironic, because Dale led me down to the winner's circle after the Derby."
Castanon and Cornelio Velasquez, on Flashpoint, slowed down the pace after the blazing first quarter. The second quarter went in :24.18, and the fractions for 6 furlongs (1:12.01) and the mile (1:37.22) let Shackleford conserve enough juice for the stretch.
"They ran quick early," Motion said. "That was fine. I think they slowed it down in the middle of the race, and that really helped Shackleford. I had my doubts about catching him. I felt like my horse was coming and coming, but I had a feeling he wasn't going to get there.
"If it wasn't for the fact that it was the Triple Crown, you'd be thrilled he ran so well. But it wasn't meant to be."