10/10/2012 5:54PM

Breeders' Cup Marathon: Eldaafer takes aim at fourth appearance in race

Tom Keyser
Eldaafer won the Breeders' Cup Marathon in 2010.

The heralded French mare Goldikova was among the stories of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs. After winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile an unprecedented three years in a row from 2008 to 2010, Goldikova finished third in her try for a fourth win in that prestigious race.

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This year, another horse will be starting in the same Breeders’ Cup race for the fourth consecutive year, albeit to much less fanfare. The 7-year-old gelding Eldaafer has started in the last three runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, and while he won’t be heading to Santa Anita this year looking for a four-peat, he did win the event at Churchill Downs in 2010.

That Eldaafer has a chance to make it back to the Breeders’ Cup at all is a story in itself, and a credit to his trainer, Diane Alvarado. Eldaafer has a reputation as a difficult horse to train, and Alvarado has admitted that the horse has his own way of doing things and that she learned early on that she had to try to “outthink” him. Once turned over to Alvarado, Eldaafer began to immediately find his potential. In his very first start out of Alvarado’s barn on June 5, 2009, Eldaafer won the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park. He made his first Breeders’ Cup appearance later that year over Santa Anita’s old synthetic surface, finishing seventh in a race won by European import Man of Iron.

But Eldaafer and Alvarado were just getting started at that point. In 2010, Eldaafer won four times from 10 starts, including two graded stakes, earned more than $400,000, and wrapped up the year by returning to the Breeders’ Cup to win the Marathon at odds of 10-1.

Things didn’t go quite as well in 2011 as Eldaafer could manage only a pair of victories in allowance company prior to making his way back to Churchill Downs to defend his Marathon title. After finishing sixth in that race, he was transferred out of Alvarado’s care to Brian Koriner in order to run on the West Coast, where his owners are based. His brief stay in California was missing an important piece – the trainer that knew him best. After failing to finish in the money in his three starts out West, Eldaafer was sent back to Alvarado to prepare for a fourth Breeders’ Cup appearance and perhaps a chance to crack the $1 million mark in career earnings.

Eldaafer’s second stint in Alvarado’s barn began from a familiar place: the Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park. After running second to the now-retired Redeemed in that race, Eldaafer won a stakes race at Delaware Park in September and most recently ran a close third in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup, his final prep for this year’s Marathon.

There will be more important races than the Marathon run over the two days of the Breeders’ Cup this year, and there will be bigger stars than Eldaafer and his trainer to keep tabs on, but there may not be a better story than the one they share.