Updated on 09/16/2011 9:12AM

Atto to be test of Nuclear energy


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Nuclear Debate has racked up plenty of miles throughout his career, racing in England, France, Italy, Hong Kong, Dubai, the United States, and Canada.

But Nuclear Debate will be confronted with a new type of journey here Sunday: The Atto Mile will be the longest distance he has yet attempted.

Despite being a 7-year-old veteran of 44 starts, Nuclear Debate has not raced farther than 6 1/2 furlongs. He finished seventh and third in two trips over Santa Anita's hillside course earlier this season, both at 6 1/2 furlongs.

And while he will still have just one turn to contend with in the Atto Mile, Nuclear Debate's connections confess to the uncertainty of the venture.

"There's no real reason to think he won't do it," said Scott Chaney, assistant to Darrell Vienna, who has been training Nuclear Debate at Del Mar for Herrick Racing. "But then, there's no real reason to think he will.

"It's kind of a classic mistake, to run a late-running sprinter long, but we're going to try it."

Nuclear Debate, who was bred in Kentucky, began his career in England and toiled in relative anonymity before bursting into the top echelon by winning a Group 1 race at age 5.

After adding another Group 1 to his resume last August, Nuclear Debate came east after being purchased privately and has made California his base of operations while increasing his frequent flyer miles current with trips to Sha Tin, Lone Star, and Woodbine.

Nuclear Debate's first Canadian venture was memorable, as he overcame a troubled trip for a rallying win in the six-furlong Nearctic Handicap under jockey David Flores June 23.

Gary Stevens, who had ridden Nuclear Debate on two earlier occasions, will be returning to the irons Sunday.

"The horse seems to like trouble," said Chaney. "Gary had talked to some of his riders in Europe, and they said you had to cover him up, bury him behind horses.

"The first couple of times he ran for us, we just gave him his head, but we found out that wasn't the thing to do with him."

Nuclear Debate has started once since the Nearctic, finishing eighth in Del Mar's Bing Crosby, his debut on a North American main track.

"He'd trained great after his trip here, but there was nowhere to run him," said Chaney. "So we tried him on dirt, and he kind of disappointed. I don't know how bad it was, though - he never really got covered up, because we tried to keep the dirt out of his face.

"After that dirt start we started looking around and had two options - either bringing him here, or going to Japan and running in a couple of turf sprint stakes for big money.

"We decided to keep him at 'home.' We know he likes it here. Now we'll see if he has another dimension, if he can go a mile. We've sure picked some decent horses to try it against."

Willaford steps in for Mott

The Atto Mile entrants come with a high-profile assortment of trainers with Vienna, Saeed bin Suroor, Neil Drysdale, Wally Dollase, Mark Frostad, and Joe Orseno no strangers to participating in Grade 1 races.

And then there's Leana Willaford, a 27-year-old assistant to Bill Mott, who will be saddling her first horse for the outfit when she puts the tack on favored Del Mar Show before the Atto Mile.

Willaford, however, has mixed feelings about the occasion, as she got the call after Mott was handed a seven-day suspension for a positive test earlier this week.

"It's kind of cool, and everything," said Willaford, "but I wish the way it had worked out was different."

Willaford has been a licensed trainer since age 20, when she campaigned a public stable in the Midwestern United States.

"I trained at Prairie Meadows for five years," she said "but about this time two years ago, I was down to a few horses. I left, and took a job in the race office at Hoosier Park."

But after attending the Breeders' Cup that fall of 2000, at Churchill Downs, Willaford found the call of the racetrack too strong to resist.

"I decided I should be with horses like that," she said. "So I got hold of Bill, and asked him if I could start galloping horses for him."

Willaford started working for Mott in Florida that December, and galloping Del Mar Show was one of her first assignments.

"I'm pretty close to him," she said. "He tries so hard; he's got a huge heart."

All-star riders are Atto maidens

The Atto Mile also boasts a high-powered assortment of invading jockeys, with Robby Albarado, Jerry Bailey, Eibar Coa, Pat Day, Frankie Dettori, Richard Migliore, and Corey Nakatani joining Stevens on the program.

But the only riding participant with a previous Atto Mile win to his credit is Patrick Husbands, who guided locally based Numerous Times to victory last year and has picked up the mount on New Jersey-based outsider Autonomy.

The local rider with the best shot at winning the Atto Mile this year is Todd Kabel, who won no less than six stakes here over the recent holiday weekend and has a live mount in Quiet Resolve.

"He deserved to win it last year," said Kabel, who was in the irons when Quiet Resolve finished a troubled third, beaten a head, in the 2001 Atto Mile. "If he gets a trip, he'll be tough."