Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend a pair of 4-year-olds concluded their racing careers the way every trainer and owner would like to see. One-time competitors Shackleford and Stay Thirsty each bid farewell to racing fans with last race victories.
The two colts closed out stellar careers with stakes wins before heading to the breeding barn. Shackleford proved the top horse in Friday's $447,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and Stay Thirsty showed tenacity in winning the $350,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.
"That's the way he's supposed to leave," said trainer Dale Romans after Shackleford went gate-to-wire in the Clark. "He was very impressive today. That's 'Shack' at his best."
With Jesus Castanon in the saddle, Shackleford set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile stakes and was able to hold off Florida Derby champ Take Charge Indy to win by a length under the Twin Spires,
"I know what he likes to do and I put him in a spot where he wanted to be," said Castanon. "He finished up strong. Once they let me open up, I knew he was going to last. I could have gone around again and I don't think they would have gotten me. He would have just kept going."
Castanon had been Shackleford's primary rider, guiding the colt to victory in last year's Preakness and earlier this season in the Churchill Downs Stakes and Met Mile.
"That's the way I wanted to see him end his career. I'm very proud of him. This win was for him. It put him back in the winner's circle before he left and let everyone know he's still the same Shackleford he used to be," Romans exclaimed.
Shackleford, who lost to Stay Thirsty last year in the Travers, will stand as a stallion at Darby Dan Farm in Lexington, Ky. The colt finished his racing career with six wins in 20 starts for more than $3.1 million.
"He's been very sound throughout his whole career and we've never ducked anyone," said co-owner and breeder Mike Lauffer. "All his races have pretty much been Grade I or Grade II races and he's as good right now as he's ever been.
"We love this horse so much because we bred him and everything. What better way to go out than a win? We were just sick at this Breeders' Cup when he stumbled out of the gate and didn't get a chance. I told everyone that if he came out of the race good and was training well, we're going to give him one more shot. It couldn't have worked out any better."
The next day at Aqueduct, Stay Thirsty made one final start before heading to Ashford Stud in Kentucky. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the colt put on a show versus Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint champion Groupie Doll in the Cigar Mile.
The two battled through the stretch with Stay Thirsty nosing out the even- money favorite at the wire.
"That was very gratifying for a number of reasons," said Pletcher. "It's big for his future career to go out on a big note like that."
Stay Thirsty, owned by Mike Repole, had the benefit of having Ramon Dominguez in the saddle so the colt could not only end his career with a win, but pick up his only win of 2012.
"This is a special, special bittersweet moment," Repole said following the Cigar Mile, "to go out a winner, beating Groupie Doll, who's going to win the Eclipse Award. He had the lead one time, and it happened to be when the wire came up."
Stay Thirsty finished his career 5 wins in 17 starts and earned $1,936,000.