Updated on 09/16/2011 9:19AM

BC Countdown - Juvenile: Longer distance ideal for Sky Mesa


Before running Sky Mesa in last month's Grade 1 Hopeful, trainer John Ward said he felt the race would be more of a stepping-stone than a defining moment in the 2-year-old colt's career.

When Sky Mesa defeated the highly regarded Zavata in the seven-furlong race, it established him as one of the favorites for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Ward said he and his wife and assistant, Donna, were more satisfied than surprised.

"I felt from what Donna and I saw in him, he definitely had the ability, but we knew Zavata was an extremely nice horse and if we ran our race and beat him he would have fulfilled what our expectation were,' Ward said. "We were pleasantly pleased; not surprised, pleased.'

Now, as the races stretch out in distance en route to the Juvenile, Ward expects even better things from Sky Mesa, who will make his next start in the $400,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 5.

"I think the two turns at Keeneland is exactly what he needs,' Ward said. "Edgar Prado was down here to work him on Monday and said he had matured enough mentally where he was like an older horse in the bridle. He's a very smart horse, he's grown up a little bit in size. He was a pretty good sized animal at Saratoga and he's had a little growing spurt.'

Ward, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos, is not one to push his horses at an early age. But, he said he wanted his colts to be more advanced this year. With the exception of Sky Mesa, a virus that swept through Ward's barn basically prevented that from happening.

Ward, who is conservative by nature, said ordinarily he would not have been in favor of the Breeders' Cup's decision to extend the Juvenile to nine furlongs this year. (Arlington cannot run races at 1 1/16 miles.) However, it may play to his advantage.

"Some things you don't like turn out to be your best friend,' Ward said. "It plays to his style, his breeding.'

The distance is also a reason Barry Irwin, the president of Team Valor, is excited about his recent purchase, Grand. A son of Grand Lodge, Grand has won his first two starts by a combined 30 lengths. He will make his next start in the Grey Breeders' Cup at Woodbine on Oct. 6.

"We bought this horse as a Triple Crown prospect, but we're looking at the Breeders' Cup because I don't think many American horses are trained to go 1 1/8 miles this early,' Irwin said. "This horse will have three races at a mile or longer. If he's any good, he'll have a shot.'

Trainer Bob Baffert will disperse his barn full of 2-year-olds throughout the country in next Saturday's trio of Juvenile preps. Baffert will run Del Mar Futurity winner Icecoldbeeratreds in the Champagne at Belmont, Truckle Feature in the Lane's End Breeders Futurity at Keeneland, and possibly Vindication in the Norfolk at Santa Anita. Baffert may opt to train Vindication up to the Juvenile. If Vindication skips the Norfolk, Kafwain, the Del Mar Futurity runner-up, could start in the Norfolk