Once Shakhimat finally made his way into the Keeneland starting gate for his 3-year-old debut Friday, everything went according to plan.
It was getting there that proved to be the challenge.
After a long winter in Florida that included a three-week quarantine, the Canadian-bred colt led gate to wire to win the Grade III, $100,000 Transylvania Stakes on a chilly opening start to the Keeneland Spring Meet.
Shakhimat broke well and moved straight to the lead under jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, setting up shop on the rail and staying there throughout to win the 1 1/16 -mile race by 3 1/4 lengths as the 6-1 fourth choice in the eight-horse field.
The son of Lonhro was never tested in the stretch.
“I don’t know if I thought the win was going to be that easy, but I thought getting the lead was definitely going to be in our wheelhouse,” Wilson said. “Looking through the form, we were the only legitimate pace. The last time he ran, he put up a quick opening quarter and was on the lead. But he settled back and was in my hands. I knew if I had the same kind of trip today, it would be a similar kind of effort.”
Patrick Dixon, assistant to trainer Roger Attfield, called it a repeat performance of Shakhimat’s last race, a 9 3/4 -length, gate-to-wire victory in the Coronation Futurity at Woodbine in November.
Getting from that race to the Transylvania didn’t go as expected.
Shakhimat spent the winter training at Payson Park, and the plan was to run him once at Gulfstream to prep for a start in last weekend’s Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. Those plans went awry when a horse at Payson Park tested positive for Equine Herpesvirus-1, leading to a three-week quarantine at the training center.
“We worked through it, and this was our next option,” Dixon said. “We had to get a race into him anyway, to see where we were at with him and whether he’s good enough to do what we think he’s capable of doing.”
Shakhimat looked plenty talented in his long-awaited season debut, holding off the late-running J R’s Holiday to give Attfield his second victory in the Transylvania Stakes. His first came 26 years ago with Izvestia in the second running of the race.
Attfield has been steering Shakhimat toward the 157th running of the Queen’s Plate, which is set for July 3 at Woodbine. The 76-year-old trainer is looking for his record ninth victory in that race.
“That would be the ultimate goal,” Dixon said. “Where we go from here to there, that will be between Roger and the owners.”
Saturday at Keeneland
3:28 p.m. (6th race): Grade 1, $500,000 Central Bank Ashland (TVG)
4:05 p.m. (7th race): Grade 3, $250,000 Commonwealth (TVG)
4:42 p.m. (8th race): Grade 2, $200,000 Shakertown (TVG)
5:20 p.m. (9th race): Grade 1, $300,000 Madison (TVG)
6 p.m. (10th race): Grade 1, $1 million Toyota Blue Grass (NBC Sports Network)
Spring Meet details
When: Friday through April 29, with no racing on Mondays and Tuesdays
First post: 1:05 p.m. each day, with the exception of April 9 and 16, it’s 12:35 p.m.