LOUISVILLE — Although his connections stopped short of giving a definitive all systems go for the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford is looking increasingly likely to contest the final leg of the Triple Crown on June 11, trainer Dale Romans said Thursday morning.
Romans, who remained in Baltimore for a few days after the Preakness to attend the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale, watched Shackleford train over the Churchill track Thursday and said he expects to ship the son of Forestry to Belmont in the coming days.
"We're just going to train him as if we're going to run and, that being said, we'll probably end up going to New York in the next few days," Romans said. "We'll probably look for a breeze there next weekend over that racetrack."
The Belmont oval can be an intimidating one for newcomers because of its 11/2-mile circumference and its sandy dirt surface. So Romans wants to know sooner rather than later whether Shackleford looks as comfortable over the Long Island track as he has at Churchill and Pimlico.
"They have to get used to staying on that left lead as long as possible," Romans said of Belmont runners. "It can be deep and sandy depending on the amount of rain New York gets. I want to give him a chance to get over it (the track) and see that he likes it. We can always opt out but, right now, we're going to train as if we're going to run."
Shackleford galloped over the rain-soaked Churchill Downs surface on Thursday, his second day of going to the track since his Preakness victory over Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. The chestnut colt appears to be holding his flesh well two-thirds of the way through the Triple Crown and continues to please Romans with his mental and physical development.
"He's just gotten better all year as the year has gone on," Romans said. "And you don't get many horses that do like that. It started when he won the allowance race at Gulfstream, and he has continued to get better every day since. I think the light bulb has gone off, and it seems like the more we're doing with him, the better he gets. I won't say I'm surprised, but it's unusual with most horses."
Tom Walters' Santiva, sixth in the Kentucky Derby last time out, is another who is probable to start in the Belmont. The son of Giant's Causeway is scheduled to work on the main track at Churchill Friday morning, but bad weather could delay the work until Saturday.