Gentle competitor is remembered

An old racehorse named Shakis finished his career symbolically at Hollywood Park, going full speed across the finish line, no other horse in front of him.

But that didn’t take place in Friday’s big race, the $400,000 Citation Handicap. The Citation was a Grade I test that the connections for Shakis -- trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and his brother, Neal, and owner Sheik Hamdan al Maktaum -- had designed as a last hurrah for the gentle senior citizen.

The plan was, after the Citation, Shakis would go to stud in Kentucky, a just reward for six years of racing, with seven wins and 17 finishes in the money that added up to a career bankroll of $860,532.

He was in great shape, nicely rested after his 11th-place finish in last month’s Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita, a race where jockey Alan Garcia had been given instructions, since Shakis drew the inside post, to simply save ground and hope that something opened up.

Nothing did.

But the silver lining was that Shakis came out of the race so well, having been in no position to make a strenuous run at the end, that he was fresh and eager for another race. That was to be the Citation, at a mile and a sixteenth, on the grass.


“I was here two weeks ago,” Neal McLaughlin said Friday. “It was the best I’ve seen him. He worked great, he was fresh. We didn’t have him on any medication.

“I felt like Shakis was going to run a huge race.”

Shakis, bred in Ireland and a projected 8-1 starter for the Citation, never made it to the gate.

In a workout exactly a week ago, after breezing a quick half a mile and zipping to the finish line under exercise rider Javier Fragoso, Shakis stepped wrong, fractured his left hind leg and suffered such a severe injury that he had to be euthanized.

“It was like Barbaro’s injury,” Neal McLaughlin said, “only twice as bad.”

And so, when the other horse that the McLaughlins and Sheik al Maktaum had running in Friday’s first day of Hollywood Park’s big Turf Festival weekend came through in the second-biggest race of the day, it was both joyous and bittersweet.

In the $100,000-added Grade III Miesque, the sixth race on a day that the Citation was the eighth, their favored 2-year-old filly, Habaya, closed nicely on the grass to beat Bob Baffert’s InternallyFlawless by three quarters of a length.

So McLaughlin, here in his brother’s absence, had something to feel good about, as well as something to trigger nostalgia.

“There are few horses that touch you like Shakis did,” he said. “If you didn’t like him, you were in the wrong business.

“When this happened, there were tears all over the barns. He was a special horse. The hot walkers, grooms, everybody back there fell in love with him. He was the kind of horse who, if you brought your young daughter to the barns, he’d stick his head out so she could pet his nose.”

After Habaya’s big race, McLaughlin had no need to stick around for the Citation, a race won with a huge run by trainer Julio Canan’s 5-year-old Hyperbaric.

Tyler Baze started with Hyperbaric on the rail, rode him into the lead out of the gate, held him there nicely and then simply turned the jets back on down the home stretch when Jean-Luc Samyn, aboard German horse Formal Decree, took a nice run at him in the middle of the track.

Baze’s summation of Hyperbaric’s wire-to-wire run was simple.

“He doesn’t like to let horses get by him,” he said.

The breakdown and eventual death of Shakis was the fifth at Hollywood Park since the meeting began Oct. 29. Shakis was one of two that died in training. Three more have died in races, two on the Cushion Track and one on the grass.

“It was a fluke, a bad step,” Neal McLaughlin said. “It might be that he felt so good he just stretched it too much. That’s usually when it happens. If they are sore, they take better care of themselves.

“This stuff is always sad. But you build a kind of a tough skin about it.”

That’s what the McLaughlins and the Sheik do. That is their business.

The little girls who petted an old horse’s nose recently probably don’t feel the same way.