ARCADIA, CA – Trainer Jorge Navarro’s Shancelot worked for the first time since his narrow defeat in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (G1), running well enough over the Santa Anita Park main track that Navarro had one word to describe his Saturday morning effort: “Phenomenal.”

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Under multiple Breeders’ Cup-winning jockey Martin Garcia, Shancelot worked 4 furlongs in a published time of :46.80. Not only is that time exceedingly quick over what many are calling a deep, slow, tiring main track, but only one horse in the past two weeks has worked faster – Bob Baffert’s Improbable, who went 4 furlongs in :46.40 on October 7.

“When Martin came back, he was shaking,” Navarro said. “I said, ‘You’ve ridden for Baffert all the time, you’re used to good horses.’ He knew the horse was fast, he just didn’t know how fast.”

Navarro’s only request before Garcia hopped aboard was to aim for a 48-second work, but when he returned, Garcia knew he’d gone much faster than asked and apologized. Navarro, though, was pleased with the effort, both from the horse and from his rider.

“I kinda knew he wouldn’t do 48 (seconds),” Navarro said. “I just wanted to see him relax. Martin had his hands (still) the whole time; he didn’t try to restrain him. He just let him go.”

Shancelot working under Martin Garcia on October 19, 2019 (Credit: Ernie Belmonte)

That specific notion – the rider keeping his hands still and allowing Shancelot to relax with his early speed – prompted Navarro to make the difficult decision to replace Shancelot’s regular jockey Emisael Jaramillo with Jose Ortiz, the 2017 Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Jockey. Several top jockeys’ agents have reached out asking to ride Shancelot, but Navarro said that he chose Ortiz because of how he rode Todd Pletcher’s Sweet Melania to a front-running victory in the Jessamine Stakes (G2) at Keeneland.

“When he rode (Sweet Melania), look at his hands,” Navarro explained. “He’s not fighting; he’s giving (reins). Look at his hands. When he’s up front, he’s calm, relaxed.”

Replacing Jaramillo was not an easy move. As Navarro’s first-call rider, the two have combined to win at a 30% clip (47 of 157), including Shancelot’s track record-setting effort in the Amsterdam Stakes (G2) at Saratoga. However, back-to-back narrow defeats in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1) and the Santa Anita Sprint Championship made Navarro feel that a change was necessary.

“I love him to death and it was very hard for me to make that decision,” he said. “I watched the replay yesterday of the Amsterdam. Jaramillo was kissing at him and not so tight (on the reins). But then (in the next two races), he was holding him so tight and kept looking back (at his competition).”

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Shancelot remains on track for a start in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) on November 2, a race that until recently appeared to be a rematch with Richard Mandella’s Omaha Beach, who defeated him last out. Navarro opted to keep him training over the local course after his recent effort, rather than ship him back and forth from New Jersey. So far, the decision seems to be paying off.

“I know what we’re getting ourselves into, but he can do it,” Navarro said. “We’ve got a race over the track and we just ran into a super horse (in Omaha Beach). Mandella and (jockey) Mike Smith said, ‘We had to run (all out) to beat him (last time).

“I like my chances.”