by J. Keeler Johnson
One month ago, when Shancelot dominated a six-furlong optional claiming race at Monmouth Park, trainer Jorge Navarro declared the lightly-raced three-year-old to be the best horse he’s ever trained.
In terms of overall accomplishments, Shancelot is still a long way from matching the achievements of his Navarro-trained predecessors Private Zone, X Y Jet and Sharp Azteca, all Grade 1 winners. But speaking in terms of raw talent, Shancelot backed up Navarro’s lofty praise by absolutely shredding 11 rivals in the $200,000 Amsterdam Stakes (G2) on Sunday at Saratoga.
One would be hard-pressed to describe in words the tour-de-force display of dominance turned in by Shancelot. From the moment the starting gates opened, the son of Shanghai Bobby was in a different league than his competition in the 6 1/2-furlong sprint.
Seemingly channeling the spirit of the free-running Dr. Fager, Shancelot came away from post 12 like an Olympic sprinter and dared anyone to keep pace. Classy John, a speedy colt in his own right, briefly endeavored to match strides, but conceded to the superiority of his front-running rival before a furlong had been run.
As a result, Shancelot cleared the field by 1 1/2 lengths through an opening quarter in :21.79 and seized the rail heading into the turn. Without any special urging from jockey Emisael Jaramillo, Shancelot started lengthening his lead with every stride, oblivious to his pursuers while running his own race in his own way.
Three lengths, four lengths, then five, then six – by the time Shancelot turned for home, he was seven lengths in front, with his strides still coming strong. The timer revealed he had run a half-mile in :43.92, a sensational fraction that would leave most horses exhausted and gasping for air. Shancelot? He just switched leads on cue and lengthened his lead to eight lengths.
The run down the homestretch was more of a coronation than a race. Shancelot flew through six furlongs in 1:07.63 – faster than the track record of 1:07.92 set by six-year-old Imperial Hint in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) one day prior – before crossing the finish line in 1:14.01, missing a decade-old track record by just 0.27 seconds.
“Wow. To say what I said a month ago, that this is the best horse I’ve ever trained,” Navarro said. “Private Zone was good. Sharp Azteca was good. X Y Jet is still good – going into the race, I knew he was running against some good horses, I thought, ‘Am I going to be wrong?’ I guess not.”
Toiling 12 1/2 lengths behind in second place was Nitrous, beaten just a neck in the June 8 Woody Stephen Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, but no match for Shancelot at Saratoga. Honest Mischief, sixth in the Woody Stephens, improved to third in the Amsterdam, while Super Comet rallied for fourth after stumbling badly at the start.
Demonstrating the destructive nature of Shancelot’s pace, the minor awards were dominated by late runners while Shancelot’s closest early pursuers – Classy John, Lemniscate and Wendell Fong – finished finished no better than eighth while beaten a minimum of 20 3/4 lengths.
“The jockey jumped off and said, ‘Jorge, this was just a workout,’” Navarro added. “He said, ‘I had so much in the bottom.’ I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
Owned by Ivan Rodriguez, Albert Crawford and Michelle Crawford, Shancelot returned $4.70 to win as the 1.35-1 favorite and boosted his career record to a perfect three-for-three, with earnings of $164,300.
Navarro indicated the seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) on August 24 at Saratoga would be Shancelot’s next target.
“If everything comes out good, that’s where we’ll end up,” Navarro said. “We’ll go through everything with him, make sure everything is fine. That’s our plan.”
Older sprinters beware – there’s a new kid on the block, and it’s going to take a wickedly fast horse to match his pure, unbridled speed.