08/11/2009 11:00PM

Big plans for Just as Well


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Okay, so Jonathan Sheppard lost a race at Arlington last weekend. Before Saturday, Sheppard had won the Chicago Handicap with Informed Decision and taken the Arlington Handicap with Just as Well with his only starters here this summer. But though Just as Well finished second in the Arlington Million, it had to feel like a defeat without too much sting.

For starters, Just as Well was a reclamation project, away from the races for more than a year with various infirmities and/or general unsoundness. Also, Sheppard happens to own Just as Well himself; second money in a million-dollar race is not chump change. And finally, Just as Well validated in the Million the perception that he has inched this year into the top echelon of North American grass horses not named Gio Ponti.

In fact, Just as Well has come so far that Sheppard mentioned the words "Breeders' Cup" when reached by phone Wednesday. While still calling a start in the BC Turf "a longshot," and mentioning the pricey entry fee as a possible impediment to running, Sheppard is at least ready to consider Just as Well for a Grade 1 race at 1 1/2 miles. Sheppard said Just as Well already had been invited by the New York Racing Association to the 12-furlong, Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on Oct. 3 at Belmont, an invitation Sheppard at this point would be inclined to accept.

"There's nothing absolutely concrete at this point, but now that he's learned to settle and relax and finish well, and he's had two races at a mile and a quarter, if ever we were going to try a mile and half, this would be the time to try it," Sheppard said. "It would be fairly good timing if we were thinking of the Breeders' Cup."

Sheppard said the Hirsch is "kind of a long way off," and that Just as Well could make one start before then. Just as Well in late spring gave off some warning signals relating to soundness, but the horse came out of the Million in good condition and has shown no sign of physical trouble lately, Sheppard said. Shipped to Presque Isle Downs after the Million, Just as Well was en route to Sheppard's farm in eastern Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

Euphony possible for Molly Pitcher

It could be back to dirt and on to the richest race of her career for Euphony, who lost a photo in the $100,000 Lady Canterbury on July 5, ending a six-race win streak. Euphony worked five furlongs on Polytrack in 1:02 Wednesday morning, and is tentatively being pointed to the Grade 2, $300,000 Molly Pitcher Stakes on Aug. 30 at Monmouth, trainer Donnie Von Hemel said.

Euphony has won on dirt, synthetic, and turf, but now has absorbed two of three career losses while racing over grass. Still, Von Hemel said circumstances beyond racing surface contributed to her defeat in the one-mile turf race at Canterbury.

"She did bleed a little bit up there, so we've been a little cautious the couple weeks after the race, but she worked good and scoped clean," Von Hemel said.

Von Hemel said the one-mile distance of the Lady Canterbury might have been on the short side for Euphony.

"Of course the bleeding is never a good thing, but maybe the flat mile was not enough ground there, more than anything," said Von Hemel.

Peach Brew, the Von Hemel-trained winner of the Arlington Oaks, is likely to make her next start in the Pucker Up on turf here on Sept. 7, Von Hemel said.

* Yes, there's a real jockeys' race on at Arlington. Going into Wednesday's racing, James Graham and Junior Alvarado were knotted atop the standings at 64 wins each. E.T. Baird is in close pursuit with 61 victories.