In the paddock before the Bernard Baruch, Shadwell Stable vice president Rick Nichols patted Shakis on the neck and made a promise.
“Win this one and I’ll find you a spot in the stallion barn,” Nichols said.
An 8-year-old son of Machiavellian, Shakis took the comment to heart at about the quarter-pole and swooped past the field to win the $200,000 Baruch for the second consecutive year. The Irish-bred caught War Monger in the final yards to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:46.78 for the 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf. War Monger stayed for second with Operation Red Dawn third.
Since none of the 10 starters in the Grade II Baruch came into the race off a win, the public made a case for everyone, putting Proudinsky the slight favorite over fellow Grade II winner Thorn Song. Winless since last year’s renewal, Shakis went off at better than 6-1 in his first start since finishing ninth in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont in June for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Thorn Song (Julien Leparoux) bounced to a quick lead, pressured by War Monger; meanwhile, Shakis (Alan Garcia) settled toward the back, ninth early, still eighth on the backstretch through a half-mile in 48.17 seconds. Angled outside on the turn, the winner spun off at about the same time War Monger (Kent Desormeaux) cruised past Thorn Song up front. War Monger found overdrive, bounced clear briefly and looked poised to thwart all the closers.
Fanning to the center of the track, Shakis accelerated into contention – getting his first mention from Tom Durkin inside the sixteenth pole – and collected his seventh win from 32 career starts.
“To show the turn of foot he did then is something,” said Nichols. “I’d like to know what he ran the last eighth in.”
For the record, the official time for the final furlong was 11.52 seconds but that’s not taking into account Shakis’ position at the eighth-pole. Oh well, it was plenty fast.
“I knew that as long as he broke well, he would be there for me in the end,” said Garcia. “Last year we came up the hedge but this year it wasn’t there. I went outside and he just took off. The course was playing OK, both inside and outside, but today I took him to the outside. It didn’t matter where we went today, he was going to be running strong at the end no matter what.”
The much-traveled Shakis spent time in Shadwell’s programs in Ireland and Dubai (where he started in the 2006 World Cup). But Irish turf was a little too soft. Dirt wasn’t his thing. The Dubai racing calendar hamstrung him. So Shadwell trainer Doug Watson suggested America, and Shakis joined McLaughlin’s barn last spring. He won twice, and just missed a Grade I tally in the 2007 Manhattan. After the 2007 Baruch, he finished third in the Shadwell mile in October and returned for an 8-year-old campaign.
“The horse has got a lot of talent and we’re in the business to have racehorses,” said Nichols. “The horse is good and sound and as long they are enjoying life on the racetrack, we want to keep them in training. He loves to train, he’s happy with his life and he’s productive.”
A popular part of the McLaughlin barn, Shakis thrilled his trainer.
“He’s one of the barn favorites and people just like him – he’s a neat horse,” said McLaughlin. “He’s easy to like. I’m real happy for Shadwell, they’re sponsoring the Travers, and we’ve been pointing for this day and this race in hopes of running well. There were 20 or 30 people here from Shadwell who have never been to Saratoga – good horse, great race, great experience for everybody.”
Shakis became the fifth horse to win two runnings of the Baruch (which celebrated its 50th anniversary Saturday), following Hap (2000 and 2001), Fourstars Allstar (1992 and 1995), Win (1984 and 1985) and Red Reality (1971 and 1973). No horse has won the race three times.
So what about a try at age 9 next year?
“We’ll see,” said Nichols. “Being by Machiavellian, he’ll probably end up at one of the Shadwell farms in England or Ireland, but I owe him that debt to come to Kentucky at some point.”