It wasn't especially pretty. It wasn't especially fast. But Shagaf got the job done in the Gotham Stakes, giving owner Shadwell Farm a second unbeaten Kentucky Derby prospect.
The big talk among racing observers and handicappers leading up to the Gotham was the extreme inside speed bias on the Aqueduct inner dirt course. Shagaf broke well from post two under Irad Ortiz, Jr. and seemingly could have grabbed the golden rail but Ortiz relented and let a hustling Laoban seize the initiative. Shagaf instead settled into third along the inside before being shuffled back to fourth on the backstretch. Ortiz began to ask Shagaf going into the far turn and shifted to the three path for the stretch run. There was no immediate gain on the leaders, Shagaf was still third at the 1/8 pole, but he eventually wore down the speedy Laoban for a workmanlike victory.
The final time of 1:45.90 is the slowest time since the Gotham was moved to the Aqueduct inner track back in 2006 and the Beyer Speed Figure registered at a subpar 87.
The effort can be looked on a little more favorably after reading the comments of trainer Chad Brown, who wasn't interested in going out to win the Gotham battle and risk a chance at victory in the Triple Crown war.
"He took plenty of dirt in the race, which will hopefully serve him well down the road," Brown said of the Gotham win. "I think he gained a lot of experience, it was only his third start and this horse has done everything we asked him to do. I don't think he could've run any better in any of the three races for what we want him to do. I'm very happy with the result and I'm happy with the education he got".
Shagaf's pedigree certainly suggests continued improvement can be expected, with a peak coming closer to Belmont Stakes time in June, or even later. He's by 2006 Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Bernardini, one the eight male ancestors in Shagaf's four generation pedigree to have won a Triple Crown race. Half of those won the Belmont. Like Risen Star Stakes (G2) winner Gun Runner, Shagaf is inbred to Fappiano, an influence that's dominated the American Classics scene in recent seasons.
If both Shagaf and Mohaymen make it to the first Saturday in May unbeaten Shadwell Farm will be the first owners with two perfect colts in the Derby starting gate since Roy and Gretchen Jackson started Showing Up and Barbaro in 2006. As we know, one of those runners wore the roses.