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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

NEXT AS GOOD AS EVER

Edited NYRA Staff Release. – Michael Foster’s Next has reigned supreme in the dirt marathon division and confirmed it yet again with an impressive title-defense in Friday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Brooklyn, a 1 3/8-mile test for older horses, at Belmont at the Big A.

Trained by William “Doug” Cowans, the Not This Time gray earned his fifth consecutive dirt marathon victory, a streak that began in last year’s Brooklyn when contested one furlong longer in June at Belmont Park. He went on to win the Listed Birdstone by 11 3/4 lengths last July at Saratoga Race Course, the Grade 3 Greenwood Cup by a widening 25 lengths in September at Parx Racing, and the Isaac Murphy Marathon last-out by 11 1/4 lengths on May 1 at Churchill Downs. 

Cowans said that he knew Next, who has now hit the board in 9-of-10 starts since being claimed for $62,500 in April 2022 at Keeneland, was a special prospect for longer races.

“Early on I told these guys this horse has a real unusual way of having this stamina and we need to do something different with it and try to capitalize on it,” said Cowans. “I always say that I don’t know if the horse can do any better than he has, but he continues to come out and put on performances like that. He just loves this, and we’re going to try and keep doing it with him.”

With regular pilot Luan Machado aboard, Next broke alertly from post 6 and was content to sit just off of dual stakes-winning New York-bred Drake’s Passage, who was taken to the front by Manny Franco from post 5 before the field passed the wire for the first time through an opening quarter-mile in 24.08 seconds over the fast main track.

Around the first turn, Next tracked in second position within one length of Drake’s Passage with a half-length back to a close pack of Lure Him In, Masqueparade, and Dai Vernon within striking distance of the front pair as the half-mile elapsed in 49.29.

Down the backside, the complexion up front remained unchanged but Irad Ortiz, Jr. began to advance from the back of the field with last-out Grade 2 Suburban-winner Crupi after three-quarters in 1:14.07. As Drake’s Passage entered the far turn, Next had drawn up alongside for the lead while Masqueparade established a clear third over the retreating Lure Him In and Dai Vernon.

At the top of the stretch, Next passed the last-out nine-furlong state-bred Commentator-winner Drake’s Passage with Crupi being urged into contention under Ortiz, Jr., coming with a wide-bid after one-mile in 1:37.89.

With a hand-ride from Machado, Next spurted away from the early pacesetter through ten furlongs in 2:01.79 to lead by 4 1/2 lengths at the stretch call. Crupi continued to gain on Drake’s Passage with a world of work in order to catch the reigning Brooklyn-champion.

“When you get to the quarter pole when the horses are going this long, you feel like they are kind of flattening out, but he doesn’t,” said Machado. “He feels like he keeps kicking on in the last quarter-mile.”

Machado, nicknamed the “Ax Man,” would have no deficit to chop today as Next drew off to a 9 1/4-length victory in a final time of 2:13.68.

The rider added that Next has the consistency to go along with his talent.

“He’s been very, very consistent. He just did the same [as his previous races],” Machado said. “When it feels like everybody starts to slow down, that’s when I’m kind of checking on him and he responds that way. It’s just unbelievable.”

Crupi edged Drake’s Passage by a half-length for place-honors, with another five lengths back to Masqueparade rounding out the superfecta. Dai Vernon, Spencer’s Boy Luna and Lure Him In completed the order of finish.

Cowans, who confirmed another title-defense attempt in the Listed $150,000 Birdstone, a 1 3/4-mile marathon for older horses on August 4 at Saratoga Race Course, said he prefers the pace dynamics of marathon races over shorter distances.

“I don’t know about putting him into a 46 [second] half. That’s not his style,” Cowans said. “The problem is, the pace is going to change when you start shortening things down. I worry about that with him. Early on he likes to be up close, and he has some natural speed but he likes to get into a rhythm once he breaks out of there with that natural speed.”

Ortiz, Jr. said Crupi, trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, was game in defeat by a strong foe.

“He’s [Next] so good. They came home running, because my horse was running and I couldn’t make up any ground on that one. Beautiful trip,” Ortiz, Jr. said. 

Bred in Kentucky by Silverton Hill, Next, out of the stakes-placed Awesome Again mare Bahia Beach, banked $110,000 in victory while improving his record to 21-11-0-1. He returned $2.90 for a $2 win bet.

Live racing resumes Saturday at Belmont at the Big A with an 11-race program that includes the Grade 3, $200,000 Dwyer, in Race 2; Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Derby, in Race 6; Grade 2, $200,000 John A. Nerud, in Race 8; and the Grade 1, $500,000 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks Invitational, in Race 9. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.

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