04/13/2017 1:00PM

Bird Song gets distance test in Ben Ali

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Adam Coglianese/Coglianese Photos
Bird Song runs 1 1/8 miles for the first time in the Ben Ali on Saturday.

Ian Wilkes trains a skilled dirt miler in Bird Song, the winner of the Grade 3 Fred Hooper on March 3 at Gulfstream. And on Saturday at Keeneland, he and the racing public will find out if Bird Song’s effectiveness extends to a longer distance when the 4-year-old colt races in the 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali Stakes.

Although Wilkes chose to wait until Bird Song’s 10th start on Saturday to try him beyond a mile, he believes the added ground will be a benefit, not a hindrance.

“I was always so interested in running him two turns,” he said. “It was the process of developing him.”

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Bird Song enters the Grade 3, $200,000 Ben Ali having been first or second in four consecutive races, all at a mile. In addition to winning the Fred Hooper, he ran second to Tommy Macho in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream on Jan. 14.

To win the Ben Ali, he will have to defeat some horses with an affinity for Keeneland, including Eagle, the race’s defending champion who is 3 for 3 over the strip. Other rivals with victories or runner-up finishes on the Keeneland dirt include Watershed, Scuba, Taketothestreets, and Frammento.

Bird Song ran second in a one-mile allowance at Keeneland on Oct. 27 in his only two-turn race.

The Ben Ali marks the return of Scuba, a winner of three straight races, including the Grade 2 Marathon on the Breeders’ Cup undercard Nov. 4 in his last start. A long-distance specialist on dirt, he was given a break because there are few marathon dirt races available over the winter months.

“He’s actually come back as good as when he went out,” trainer Brendan Walsh told Keeneland publicity.

Key Contenders

Bird Song, by Unbridled’s Song

Last 3 Beyers: 101-96-99

◗ A Marylou Whitney homebred, he has the pedigree for success at 1 1/8 miles, with his sire, Unbridled’s Song, and dam, Bird Town, being Grade 1 winners at that distance. Bird Town is also a half-sister to Birdstone, who stretched out beyond 1 1/8 miles to win the 2004 Belmont and Travers.

Eagle, by Candy Ride

Last 3 Beyers: 92-91-96

◗ Fourth in a pair of Grade 3 stakes at Fair Grounds to kick off his campaign, he seeks to become the first repeat winner of the Ben Ali since Aspro in 1983-84.

Scuba, by Tapit

Last 3 Beyers: 100-98-97

◗ Given his skill as a dirt stayer, the Ben Ali has the look of a prep for 1 1/2-mile graded races like the Brooklyn and Greenwood Cup over the summer.