congratulations, Sheikinator!

Things started out fast for Sheikinator (Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union).  In 2013, his juvenile year, he finished second on debut.  Next out, he prevailed in a maiden special weight at Churchill over a field that included eventual Illinois Derby (GIII) winner Dynamic Impact.  Trainer Ken McPeek saw enough to send him out against much tougher stuff for his third outing, trying him in the CashCall Futurity (GI).  The likes of Shared Belief proved a bit tough for him, and he finished seventh.

His three-year-old year started with a few disappointing outings at Oaklawn, but a close second-place finish in an allowance on the Kentucky Derby undercard showed some life.  That was the first of three second-place finishes he rattled off in a row.  After two off-board finishes against claiming company at Churchill in the fall, he got a little breather, and came back to Oaklawn for the winter.  He finished fifth against $30,000-$25,000 company in his four-year-old debut (a neck behind fourth-place Ostentatious Me, another son of Curlin!).  That was his lowest class level to date, but also his first race in over two months.

Thursday, he returned to the track.

Sheikinator took one more step down the class ladder.  It was not a precipitous one, but he faced $25,000-$20,000 company.  The race was at a mile and a sixteenth over the Oaklawn dirt.  This was the same distance at which he had broken his maiden at age two.  Though he had never finished better than fifth in three tries over that track, he looked strong on class and distance aptitude, and went off the 5/2 second choice.

Sheikinator broke midpack, and fell into a comfortable stride.  He showed no urgency early.  On the rail by the time the field hit the clubhouse turn, he settled at the back of the pack.  Down the backstretch and into the far turn, he chased a dozen lengths off the pace set by Perky Kitten, Cool Roger, and the pressing Cov.  About halfway through the far turn, he kicked into gear.  He gained along the rail, and swung outside turning for home.  Into the stretch he had nothing but open track ahead of him on the outside.  Sheikinator was well in range entering the final furlong, and found his best stride just past the eighth pole.  He rolled past the fading pacesetters, out-rallied Belvin, and won by an emphatic length and a half.

With as many close calls as he had last year, it was good to see Sheikinator put it together again.  Though he seems more likely to be a hard-knocking claiming and allowance type than a graded stakes runner, what matters is that trainer Ken McPeek found a place where he could win and Sheikinator responded.

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