With an increased amount of idle time, and social media ramping up in the COVID-19 weeks/months/age, we asked the Romans Racing faithful to participate in an informal survey. Who is your favorite Romans horse, past or present, and why? And, to no one's surprise, Shackleford won by a landslide with notables Dennis' Moment, Keen Ice, Promises Fulfilled, Dullahan. Kitten's Joy, Little Mike, Roses in May, Sally's Curlin, Free Drop Billy, Silver Max, Rare Form, and Cherry Wine duking it out for the top 10.
So, why was "Shack" such a big deal?
Of course he had the credentials. But, like most horses who experience a dramatic spike in fandom, he was able to capture hearts.
The 2008 son of Forestry, Shackleford was bred and owned by Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge. The colt had 6 wins in 20 starts with earnings over $3M. Three of those wins were the G1 Preakness Stakes, the G1 Metropolitan Handicap (Met Mile), and the G1 Clark Handicap. He ranked 2nd in overall earnings in 2011 (to Drosselmeyer). Shack, along with Little Mike, Dullahan and Tapitsfly were instrumental in catapulting their conditioner into the stratosphere, earning the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer that year.
But despite the ink, it's the intangibles that really set him apart.
“Shack would just will himself, like every great athlete does, to win..”In an interview in January, Dale equated the horse’s mentality to some of the world’s greatest athletes who not only posses physical ability but a drive, or an innate need, to prevail.
“Shackleford, he knows he's the king,” said Romans. “He's an absolutely special horse. When he won the Preakness, they always have a big party at the barn afterwards and there must've been a thousand people come by to pet him.” (At a meet-and-greet for 80+ Shack fans at the Breeders' Cup in 2011)
Jockey, Jesus Castanon: "Shack is my inspiration. Every day I get on a horse for my race, he is in my heart no matter where he is. No one can replace him In my heart, and my family's heart. We all love him so much."
How he got his name:
“I always thought he was a super cool horse and we wanted to give him a good name,” said Mike Lauffer. “We visit North Carolina a lot and the Shackleford Banks are part of the barrier islands off the coast. They are populated by wild horses that are believed to be descendents of a Spanish shipwreck in the 1700s.”
No Sweat? No. Sweat!
Shackleford was known to act up and sweat profusely in the paddock prior to a race, an attribute which commonly turned off bettors to the colt - a practice they came to regret. After the colt's successes began to build, Dale came to realize "that's just how he is." He laughs when he discusses a conversation he had with an equine veterinarian shortly after the Preakness dissecting the differences between heat-related vs anxiety-related perspiration. “We literally spent an hour just talking about horse sweat!”
A Perfect Ending
On November 23, 2012, The Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs was to be Shackleford's swan song before retiring to stand at Darby Dan Farm in Lexington.
"It was very emotional," said Jesus Castanon. "When I spoke to Dale and he told me I would be back on him, I was so happy. To be able to ride him in his last race was amazing." It was even more amazing when the colt crossed the wire first.
If you ask him to name his favorite race, Dale Romans often cites this particular one, not because of it's significance on paper, but how it played out with the home crowd on their feet as the colt was at the top of the stretch, cheering as if he was winning the Triple Crown. And the cheering did not end once the race was over, which truly moved the Romans team.
Said an emotional Romans after the race, "that’s the way he’s supposed to leave. That’s ‘Shack’ at his best. That's the way I wanted to see him end his career. "
And finally, in the words of some of the fans:
"Shackleford because he was the horse who made me fall in love with horse racing back when i was 12 years old. I was a goner for how handsome he was and I picked him to win the Preakness. When he won, I became a racing fan for life. I took my first non-local track trips to Saratoga and Belmont to see him run. He’s in my profile pic, I got to visit him one last time back in December. Averie Levanti
Shackleford 💙💙 always gave everything he had. Saw him in person at his Met Mile. Had the pleasure of meeting him after the race. I felt like a celebrity!! Love you Shackleford! Lauren Miller Kennedy
Shackleford hands down. When I saw him at Pimlico he glistened like a copper penny and you could tell he was a force to be reckoned with! He was a sight to see! Anna Epperly
SHACKLEFORD HE'S ALL HEART 🏇 I LOVE A HORSE 💓 THAT PUTS HIS HEAD DOWN DIGS IN, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN 🐴 Donny Osler
(All photos Eclipse Sportswire)