11/02/2012 9:40AM

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile: Two turns right up Shackleford’s alley

Barbara D. Livingston
Shackleford figures to be tough in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

ARCADIA, Calif. – It’s something of a tricky distance, which might partly explain why favorites are winless in the brief history of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Trainer Dale Romans would like to put an end to that talk right here, right now, assuming one of his stable stars, Shackleford, is the favorite Saturday in the sixth running of the $1 million Dirt Mile.

“They’ve never run this race as a two-turn mile on dirt,” Romans said. “I’m thinking it might be right up our alley.”

Shackleford is one of the most accomplished and well-known horses in the 29th Breeders’ Cup, which may explain why he will be favored over the other plausible choice, Emcee. Winner of the 2011 Preakness and 2012 Met Mile and an earner of more than $2.8 million, Shackleford is “coming into this the right way,” Romans said.

“He had those few weeks in the summer that he got sick, and we were kind of worried about him. He had the one bad race,” Romans said, referring to Shackleford’s last-place finish in the Vanderbilt on Aug. 5 at Saratoga, “but he turned a corner pretty quick after we treated him.”

Romans said Shackleford’s runner-up finish in his next race, the Grade 2 Kelso, and the way he’s trained since has told him, “We’ve got him back all the way.”

Shackleford will have Ramon Dominguez aboard when breaking from post 6 in a field of nine.

Romans is correct about the distances and surfaces over which the Dirt Mile has been run. It was a mile and 70 yards in the Monmouth slop in 2007; two turns over synthetic at Santa Anita in 2008-09; and a one-turn chute race over the Churchill dirt in 2010-11.

The two-turn mile on the Santa Anita dirt should find Emcee prominent from the start. In fact, he is a major threat to be prominent at the finish, too. A 4-year-old Godolphin homebred, Emcee posted a 4 1/2-length triumph nine weeks ago in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga. He has outstanding speed figures but has never raced beyond seven furlongs, and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin wavered between this race and the BC Sprint before settling on the Dirt Mile.

“It was not an easy decision, but we thought the race shape would be a lot better going a mile than 14 horses going six furlongs,” said McLaughlin. “We always thought he wants a mile. The two turns will be a question, but we feel like he’s the horse to beat in there.”

Emcee breaks from post 7 under Alan Garcia and figures to have to deal early with Delegation, one of three 3-year-olds in the field, along with Fed Biz and Second City.

“If Emcee clears us, then I think our horse will rate kindly,” said Mark Casse, trainer of Delegation. “But if he laps onto us and they keep going together, that won’t be good for either party.”

Shackleford and Fed Biz both have excellent early speed, too, and the ideal scenario for either would be to get a comfortable position from just behind Emcee and Delegation. Trainer Bob Baffert did not commit Fed Biz to the race until he saw how the colt trained in the aftermath of a disappointing third-place finish as the favorite in the Indiana Derby.

“The one time I rode him, he was really game,” said Joe Talamo, who rode Fed Biz to victory in the El Cajon Stakes at Del Mar.

The chasers through the early running, from the rail out, figure to be Rail Trip, ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr.; Jersey Town, Javier Castellano; John Scott, Victor Espinoza; Tapizar, Corey Nakatani; and Second City, Mario Gutierrez. Of those, Jersey Town will take the most action, having broken a 22-month drought when romping to a 3 1/2-length score at Belmont Park in the Sept. 29 Kelso at a one-turn mile.

Prior Dirt Mile winners starting with the 2007 inaugural were Corinthian (7-2), Albertus Maximus (6-1), Furthest Land (20-1), Dakota Phone (37-1), and Caleb’s Posse (6-1). The prospect of another upset does not bother Steve Asmussen, who said Tapizar has thrived in recent weeks at Santa Anita, where the colt has run two of his best races in winning the 2011 Sham Stakes and the 2012 San Fernando.

“It’s the best he’s trained all year,” Asmussen said.

The Dirt Mile is the third BC event of the day and the sixth of 12 overall races, with post time set for 1:14 p.m. Pacific.