Shackleford withstands late charge from Caleb's Posse
Shackleford held off a furious rush to the finish by Caleb's Posse and won the $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap by a nose on a steamy Monday at Belmont Park.
Shackleford led from the start, and when the field turned for home Caleb's Posse came charging down the stretch. But the 2011 Preakness winner dug in for the win, with hard-luck Caleb's Posse losing a photo finish for the third straight race.
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Trained by Dale Romans, Shackleford covered the mile in 1:33.30, and returned $8.80 for a $2 win bet as the 3-1 second choice in perhaps the strongest field of older horses this year.
"He beat the best today," said Romans, who will send out Dullahan in the Belmont Stakes on June 9 in an attempt to upset Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another. "It's as good a race as we've seen in a long time. He laid it all on the line."
After his Preakness win, Shackleford lost his next seven starts before winning the Churchill Downs Stakes on May 5. Romans said his colt was back in the groove. He was right, but just barely.
Ridden for the first time by John Velazquez, Shackleford broke to the front in the field of six, which also included Grade I winners To Honor and Serve, the 8-5 favorite, and Jackson Bend. Entering the final turn, Shackleford was still in command, but Caleb's Posse, under Rajiv Maragh, began his patented come-from-behind move on the outside from about 10 lengths back.
With every long stride, Caleb's Posse moved closer to the lead, and pulled within inches of Shackleford at the finish. A photo confirmed Shackleford had won. To Honor and Serve was third, followed by Caixa Eletronica, Jackson Bend and Saginaw.
On the undercard, It's Tricky won the $400,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap, and Contested won the $300,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies. It's Tricky caught Cash for Clunkers in the stretch for a hard-fought, three-quarters of the length victory in the Grade I race for older fillies and mare. Awesome Maria, sent off as the 3-4 favorite under Velazquez, could not mount a challenge in the stretch and finished third, ending the 5-year-old gray mare's six-race winning streak.
O'Neill taking it easy on I'll Have Another
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another went for a morning gallop Monday at Belmont Park, jogging a half mile and then galloping another mile over the massive oval. The son of Flower Alley will train for the 1½ -mile Belmont without a timed workout, with trainer Doug O'Neill choosing to use gallops as a way of having his horse fresh when his chance arrives to join the likes of Secretariat, Citation and Affirmed as the 12th Triple Crown champion.
"He looked great. He maintained his energy level and his stride and he looked fantastic," O'Neill said. "He may do a little more one day, but for the most part he'll have a mile-and-a-half exercise. We want to continue doing what got us here."
Black Caviar won't face Frankel
The best horses of the Northern and Southern hemispheres won't meet in a race in August as hoped. Sponsors had put up a $1.6 million prize fund to entice unbeaten Black Caviar and Frankel to enter the Sussex Stakes on Aug. 1. But the manager of Black Caviar said the Australian mare will not take part.
Jeff Connor, Black Caviar's racing manager, said Monday that his horse would return to Melbourne after competing at Royal Ascot to ensure her fitness for races in Australia in the second half of 2012.
Azarenka gets scare in French opener
Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka turned it on when she had to Monday, winning 12 of the final 14 games to reach the second round at the French Open. The Australian Open champion, who took over the No. 1 ranking by winning in Melbourne, struggled for long stretches but came back to beat Alberta Brianti of Italy 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-2.
Brianti, a 32-year-old veteran with one career WTA title, won the first set and led 4-0 in the second before losing six straight games.
"I think it says it all. Bad days happen," Azarenka said. "Unfortunately today I had way more mistakes than I usually do, but, you know, it happens sometimes."
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer managed less stressful wins.
Federer beat Tobias Kamke 6-2, 7-5, 6-3. The 16-time major champion equaled Jimmy Connors' record of 233 Grand Slam match wins in the Open era. Federer is 233-35 at tennis' top four tournaments. Connors was 233-49.
The top-ranked Djokovic, who is trying to win his fourth straight Grand Slam title, never faced a break point in beating Potito Starace 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-1.
■ American tennis player Mardy Fish told USA Today he recently had a medical procedure to correct a heart problem. Fish, who hasn't played since late March after being diagnosed with fatigue, said he had a procedure called cardiac catheter ablation on Wednesday to deal with misfiring electrical pulses in his heart.
Fish, who at No. 10 is the highest-ranked American on the ATP Tour, told USA Today that at times he would wake up with his heart racing as if he'd been running sprints. He said: "It felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest."
Fish said he can resume light training soon and hopes to play at a grass-court tune-up for Wimbledon that begins June 11.
Montgomerie, Olazabal out of U.S. Open
Alex Noren of Sweden qualified for the U.S. Open for the second straight year, while past and present European Ryder Cup captains Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal failed to do so.
Noren shot rounds of 67 and 68 in the 36-hole, qualifying tournament Monday in Walton Heath, England. He joined Marc Warren of Scotland (70, 65) at 11 under as the leading players of the 11 qualifiers at Walton Heath.
The other qualifiers were: France's Gregory Bourdy and Raphael Jacquelin, England's Lee Slattery and Matthew Baldwin, Italy's Matteo Manassero, Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen, Finland's Mikko Illonen, South Africa's George Coetzee and Ireland's Peter Lawrie.
The U.S. Open is June 14-17 at Olympic Club in San Francisco. Sectional qualifying in the U.S. is scheduled for Monday, June 4.
The last word
Oakland A's outfielder Coco Crisp, who is batting .156 this season, left eight runners on base in his team's 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Monday. He grounded into two of his team's four double plays. Crisp said afterward:
"I'm at the point where I'm ready to boo myself. Things have to change, and I'm just going to continue to work at it. Hope, pray, do some voodoo, magic, whatever it takes to get it right. Hopefully it will happen soon."