Thursday, November 05, 2009

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile notes

Bullsbay – Trainer Graham Motion counted himself lucky just to be able to send Bullsbay to the Santa Anita track Wednesday morning for a 1 1/2m gallop under exercise rider Alice Clapham.

Rated second at 3-1 in the morning-line for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Bullsbay was a longshot to make it to Santa Anita.

After winning the Whitney Handicap and finishing a solid third behind Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, Bullsbay stepped on a piece of metal in early September.

“He just came back from the track one day. We noticed it very quickly it was in there, because he was very sore. He barely took a step on it,” Motion said. “It could have been very dangerous. We did an MRI on him to make sure it wasn’t too caught into the foot.”

Motion sent Bullsbay to the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania to be checked out by Dr. Dean Richardson.

“Dr. Richardson examined him at the New Bolton Center and saw that it hadn’t actually damaged any of the intricate parts of the coffin bone or anything,” said Motion. “Basically we were just dealing with an abscess from the infection, so, once that worked its way out, we were fine. It was scary there for a week or so. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we’d be here.”

Bullsbay was confined to his stall for a week and missed training from 10 days to two weeks, said Motion, who trains the 5yo son of Tiznow for Steve Mitchell’s Mitchell Ranch and Frank Lewkowitz.

“We set up a program for him for what we needed to do to get here, and I explained to Steve and his son, Sam, that everything would have to go perfectly or we weren’t going to make it, and it has. We’ve be able to do everything we’ve needed to do to get here,” he said.

The Mitchells, who transferred Bullsbay to Motion’s stable last year, are friends of the owners of Better Talk Now, the old gelding whom Motion saddled for a victory in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Lone Star Park and four subsequent starts in the 1 1/2m turf race. Better Talk Now was recently retired due to injury after competing in Grade I company at the age of 10.

“It’s kind of odd not having him here,”’ said Motion. “We were actually toying with the idea of running him in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, but everything since ’04 when he won the Breeders’ Cup has been a bonus. Certainly, we miss having him around, but we’ve been lucky having him around the last couple of years.

“He’s the reason I got here the first time, and I kind of feel like he gave me the momentum to come back the last four or five years. Now I’m spoiled. It would be hard to not come back. To me, this is my Derby. Everybody loves to go to the Derby, but it means more to me to be here with three serious contenders. There’s nothing like it.”

Chocolate Candy – Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and his assistant, Dan Ward, were both ecstatic with the 5f work of their promising starter in Saturday’s Dirt Mile, as the son of Candy Stripes was clocked in 1:00 2/5 on the main track.

“He started off a little slow, like he was supposed to, and then finished very strong,” Hollendorfer said following the move. Ward was a bit more expansive, saying, “He sure looks like he’s ready to run his best race ever. I don’t know exactly where that puts him with the rest of the field, but it’s the best we can do.”

Regular rider Joel Rosario was up for the work.

Furthest Land – The 4yo son of Smart Strike drew post 2 for Saturday’s Dirt Mile. While not thrilled with the spot, trainer Mike Maker remains confident that Further Land will run a big race.

“I would have picked something else, but once they break from there, things change,” Maker said. “Positioning into the first turn will be important, and luck certainly comes into play. He’s a superior Poly-turf horse who is coming up to the race the right way.”

Furthest Land has enjoyed the vast majority of his success on turf and synthetics, but following a win in the Golden Bear Stakes over a sloppy Indiana Downs track, the connections decided to take a crack at the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury. Sent off as the 4-5 favorite, the 4yo gelded son of Smart Strike finished fourth.

“It was the first time we tried him on a fast track, and he didn’t care for it,” Maker said. “It was worth a shot.”

Off two months, Furthest Land returned to win the Kentucky Cup Classic on Sept. 26 at Turfway, and he’s now perfect from two starts over synthetic surfaces.

“We ran him in an allowance race this past spring at Keeneland, and he was very impressive that day,” Maker said. “The right opportunity (to run on synthetics) didn’t come along again until the Kentucky Cup. Timing-wise, that was a great spot for him.”

Mambo Meister – After working 5f in 1:00 2/5 on Tuesday, Mambo Meister walked the shedrow of Barn 36 on the Santa Anita backstretch Wednesday morning.

The 4yo gelding will represent Quantum Racing Team #1 LLC, in which Chris Pallas of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. is the managing partner. The winner of the Spend a Buck Handicap at Calder was rated at 30-1 in the morning-line for the Dirt Mile.

Mastercraftsman – Trainer Aidan O’Brien said drawing the rail should not hurt the 3yo colt’s chances in the Dirt Mile, where he is the 6-5 morning line favorite.

“I don’t think it’s a problem because the reality of Mastercraftsman is that his best run ever was over six furlongs when there was a really hard fast pace in front of him,” O’Brien said. “I would imagine over a mile he’s going to get that. We’re going to hope that at halfway that he’s not too far back.”

Mastercraftsman won the Irish 2000 Guineas and the Saint James’s Palace Stakes against 3yos, then was second and third in Group Is against older horses. He prepped for the Dirt Mile with a convincing five-length victory in the 1 5/16m Diamond Stakes over a synthetic surface at Dundalk in Ireland on October 2.

Midshipman – The 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner schooled in the gate and galloped at Santa Anita around 6:40 a.m. among the third set of Godolphin’s U.S.-trained Breeders’ Cup runners.

His preps for the Dirt Mile completed with a 6f move in 1:13 on Nov. 1, he had jockey Garrett Gomez looking forward to a reunion. Gomez brought home the son of Unbridled’s Song for his Juvenile score last year, one of a record-setting four Breeders’ Cup victories for the Eclipse Award-winning rider (over the two days).

“Winning with that horse would probably mean the most to me,” said Gomez, who rides in 13 of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races on Friday and Saturday. “Either winning with him or Ventura. I haven’t ridden him since then so it should be interesting.”

Midshipman comes into the Dirt Mile off a 3 ¾-length score in a 6 1/2f allowance optional claimer at Belmont Sept. 18 of this year, his only start since the Juvenile win. He was out of training from October of 2008 to September of 2009 after he suffered a soft tissue injury in his left foreleg while training in Dubai.

Mr. Sidney – The 5yo son of Storm Cat galloped on the main track Wednesday morning and is “doing fine” in preparation for his Breeders’ Cup debut. Nine of his 12 career starts have come on the grass as well as all five wins, but Mott opted for the Dirt Mile.

“One race on the synthetics, but it was a very good race,” Mott said. “It looks like he handles that as well as the turf, so we’re covered in the Turf Mile with Courageous Cat. From a trainer’s standpoint, it’s nice to have one in each spot.”

Mr. Sidney’s only synthetic start came at Keeneland going 1 1/8m in an allowance last October, a race in which he finished second. Bullsbay, another Dirt Mile entrant, was third. Kent Desormeaux, who has been aboard in 10 of Mr. Sidney's 12 starts, gets the ride in the Dirt Mile from post 8.

Neko Bay – Owners Jerry and Ann Moss, trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Mike Smith – the same connections as Zenyatta – hope to spring an upset earlier on the card with the lightly raced 6yo horse.

Neko Bay galloped on the main track Wednesday.

“He likes it here,” said assistant Francisco Leal. “He has done well here.”

In six starts at Santa Anita, the son of Giant's Causeway has recorded four wins and two seconds.

Pyro – The 4yo son of Pulpit jogged the Santa Anita track at 5:50 a.m. on Wednesday, his final work for the Dirt Mile turned in Sunday when he went 5f in 1:03 2/5.

Winner of the Forego Stakes in New York on Sept. 5, Pyro will wrap up his career with the Dirt Mile unless his Godolphin Stable connections choose to run him a final time in Aqueduct’s Cigar Mile on Nov. 28.

“He’s going to stand stud next year so this will either be his last race, or the Cigar Mile three weeks from now will be his last race,” said Rick Mettee, United States assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor. “Now that he won his Grade I (at Saratoga), we didn’t think there was any harm in taking another shot at this race.”

Pyro ran an uninspiring sixth in the 2008 edition of the Dirt Mile after getting a slow break. His only other start over a synthetic surface came earlier that year in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, where he finished 10th, but his connections are holding out hope.

“He seems to have done well out here in California,” said Mettee. “Some of his works have been good over this track; some of them haven’t been so good. The post position doesn’t really affect him; he should be running somewhere mid-pack. The distance isn’t going to be a problem; he was third in the Travers at a mile and a quarter, so it’s all just a question if he can translate that sharp Forego form onto a track that he was a moderate sixth over last time.”

Jockey John Velazquez, aboard for the colt’s last two starts, has the mount.

Ready's Echo – The 4yo More Than Ready jogged 1m over the main track and was declared to be “in good shape” for the Dirt Mile by trainer Todd Pletcher, who will have at least 11 starters in the two days of Cup racing.

“He’s liked synthetics in the past, and he’s a horse that drops way out of it and makes one big run,” said Pletcher, who ranks seventh on the all-time Breeders’ Cup earnings list with $8.1 million.

Calvin Borel, who rarely rides for Pletcher, gets the mount on the 20-1 shot in a solid 10-horse field.

Ready’s Echo has been on synthetic tracks twice this year, winning a Keeneland allowance and finishing second in the Seagram’s Cup at Woodbine.

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