Friday's running of the Grade 1 $400,000 Clark Handicap, at Churchill Downs, will be the final race of Shackleford's illustrious career.
The four-year-old colt has amassed $2,824,047 in earnings while winning the 2011 Preakness Stakes, 2012 Churchill Downs Stakes and the 2012 Metropolitan Mile. A fan favorite, Shackleford will be the morning line favorite at 2-1, in a race run at a mile-and-an-eighth.
Although many racing fans will be rooting for Shackleford to go out on top (myself included), I see another entry—four-year-old Lunar Victory winning the race. Lunar Victory, a winner of six of his last eight races, will open at odds of 6-1.
His last three races, at this distance, have been victories by a total of seven lengths. One of them, Lunar Victory's last race, was the Empire Stakes at Belmont Park. Shackleford's last three races have resulted in defeat, not including his last two at this distance (also defeats). Lunar Victory will be getting a four-pound weight break from Shackleford.
Shackleford appears to have the early pace advantage in his favor. However, his most recent races have been at considerably shorter distances. None of Shackleford's last six races were over a mile. I see that working against him, especially if confronted early by three-year-old Take Charge Indy. Take Charge Indy has shown a propensity for going to the front in some of his races.
I see Shackleford's only chance to win the Clark Handicap is by stealing the race on the front end. Lunar Victory has proven consistently that he can handle the distance. The question will be, can Shackleford run Lunar Victory into the ground? To his credit, Shackleford won his last race at Churchill Downs, the Churchill Downs Stakes, at seven furlongs.
My prediction is that Lunar Victory will win a thrilling race. If Shackleford tires, he may not finish in the money. Come post time, Lunar Victory's odds will have dropped below his opening line of 6-1.
For the handicapper, I see a few longer odds entries with a chance of hitting the board if the race breaks down. They are Bourbon Courage at 15-1, Cease at 5-1 and Mission Impazible at 5-1.