Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Breeders' Cup Marathon

The 2011 edition will only be the fourth running of the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, which is much longer than most of the races run on American soil. The race, which will be the first Breeders’ Cup race run on Saturday, November 5, is run at a distance of a mile and three-quarters. It attracts many iron horses each year and it is not different this year.

Here are my top four picks for the Marathon:
1. Birdrun: If you’re a huge Smarty Jones fan like me, you would wince if you read the name of Birdrun’s sire. Birdstone, whose name is synonymous to Blame for me, spoiled Smarty Jones’ bid for the Triple Crown back in 2004 when he won the Belmont Stakes (GI). Since then, the son of Grindstone has sired a Kentucky Derby (GI) winner in Mine That Bird and a three-time grade one winner in 2009 Champion Three-Year-Old Male Summer Bird. Oddly enough, as much as the name “Birdstone” makes me grimace, I am a big fan of Mine That Bird, Summer Bird, and Birdrun.
After two disappointing finishes in stakes races in the South at the beginning of the year, the chestnut five-year-old returned to New York. He finished second by a neck to 2010 Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer in the One Count Stakes at Belmont on May 15. He got revenge on Drosselmeyer next out in the Brooklyn Handicap (GII), defeating him by nearly four lengths at the mile and one-half distance. He then finished second to A.U. Miner in the Greenwood Cup Stakes, though he was moved up to first when A.U. Miner was disqualified for drug misuse. In his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup, however, Birdrun finished sixth of seven in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (GI) at a distance of a mile and one-quarter over a muddy track.
Nonetheless, the horse is training well for Bill Mott while getting accustomed to the Churchill Downs surface. His last two works have been at the Lousiville track: a 48.40 work for a half-mile and a 1:01.20 work for five furlongs. The beautiful chestnut horse is very talented at long distances and will fight for the win.
2. Meeznah: As a European distance runner, this filly is well-prepared for the distance of the Marathon.  In fact, she’s run longer before. She has already won at the distance of a mile and quarter, when she won the Park Hill Stakes (GII) two starts back at Doncaster. She didn’t run the best race last out in the British Champions Fillies and Mares (GII), but she seemed to resurge slightly at the end and finished fifth.
The main worry with this filly is that she’s never run on dirt. However, her sire, Dynaformer, has produced talented dirt horses, including Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Still, it will be an unknown surface to the filly. Despite that fact, the filly has faced some extremely talented horses and is quite successful at long distances, which will make her competitive in the Marathon.
3. Pleasant Prince: Like Birdrun, Pleasant Prince is a Florida-bred radiant chestnut with a striking face marking. Unlike Birdrun, Pleasant Prince has never run longer than a mile and one-quarter. The Marathon will be a huge stamina test for him, but the four-year-old is a grandson of a Belmont Stakes winner in A.P. Indy and of a Jockey Club Gold Cup winner in Pleasant Tap.
Pleasant Prince has only run four times this year. Two of his starts have been wins while the others were dismal performances. He is coming into the Breeders’ Cup off a romp in the Pot O’ Luck Stakes over Rail Trip and Colizeo. However, that was only at a mile and sixteenth.
Trainer Wesley Ward has been working the son of Indy King at distances of five and six furlongs at Keeneland. These works may help him build up stamina, but he will face a grueling test in the Breeders’ Cup.
4. Giant Oak: A stocky, dark chestnut with a wide blaze, Giant Oak catches the eyes of many. The son of Giant’s Causeway is known for turning in mediocre performances and not quite getting there. In the fall of 2010 and the beginning of this year, he looked as if he’d become one of the top handicap horses the nation.
It was not to be. After consecutive grade one wins, he went downhill and has formed a string of third and fifth place finishes. However, the Chris Block trainee seems to have to an affinity for Churchill Downs. He has turned in some of his best performances under the Twin Spires. In seven starts there, he has recorded one win, one second, three fourths, and two fifths. This five-year-old will have to bring his “A” game on November 5.

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