A tall, elegant colt who looks the part of a Classic contender, Shagaf is unquestionably bred to get the Derby distance. His sire Bernardini won the 2006 Preakness Stakes (USA-I) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (USA-I) and was beaten only a length by the brilliant Invasor in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Classic (USA-I). On the dam's side, Shagaf has Belmont Stakes (USA-I) winners Tabasco Cat and Temperence Hill as the sires of his second and third dams, while Unbridled's Song provides a welcome dash of speed as the maternal grandsire. The female family is classy and deep: Shagaf's dam Muhaawara is a stakes winner, her dam Habibti is a multiple Grade I winner and a Grade II producer, Habibti's dam Miss Sobriety is a half sister to 1995 Kentucky Oaks (USA-I) and Canadian Oaks winner Gal in a Ruckus, and Miss Sobriety's dam Quillummo is a half sister to three stakes winners and to the great Canadian foundation mare No Class.
Shagaf's innate talent was displayed in the Gotham, but so were the reasons why he is not Shadwell's top hope. While he has good early speed, he is more of a grinder than is Mohaymen and does not quite have the same fluid ability to change pace. He also appeared to be reluctant to move up on the inside while he was taking kickback, though this tendency may improve with seasoning. Still, it's not something you want to see heading into the Derby, where having to deal with close quarters and kicked-up dirt are routine.
Another issue is the slow closing time and final time. To Shagaf's credit, he made his winning move against a rail bias, but it still took him about 34 seconds to run the final 5/16 of a mile, suggesting that his victory owed more to a gassed front-runner and superior stamina than to a real closing kick. The final time of 1:45.90 was over 4/5 of a second slower than 5-year-old mare Mei Ling's time while winning the Heavenly Prize Invitational Stakes two races earlier on the same card, and Mei Ling, while a nice mare, has never had any pretensions of being a potential Grade I horse.
Shadwell racing manage Rick Nichols has gone on record as saying that Shagaf is "pretty much in the same league with" Mohaymen on basic ability. If this is the case, the Wood Memorial (USA-I) on April 9 should be pretty much at Shagaf's mercy, while Mohaymen has a much sterner task ahead if the expected showdown with Nyquist in the Florida Derby (USA-I) materializes. My feeling is that Shagaf may still need more time to mature and may be a better bet for the Belmont Stakes than the Kentucky Derby, but if both colts come through their final Derby preps with flying colors, look for the entry to be a heavy favorite to gain the first Kentucky Derby victory for the Maktoum family.