11/02/2011 5:27PM

Breeders' Cup: Pace should suit improving Cease in Marathon

Barbara D. Livingston
Cease has come into his own since an off-the-turf victory at Saratoga during the summer. In a Breeders’ Cup Marathon lacking multiple speed threats, he figures to get a trip just off the expected pacesetter Birdrun.

The longer the race, the more important the pace.

This racing axiom is older than dirt, but it’s worth dredging up in the context of the Grade 2, $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon because – at a distance of 1 3/4 miles – the Marathon is about as long as races get in this country these days.

“Pace is important in every race,” notes trainer Al Stall Jr. “The longer the race, the more of a chance the pace can get away from you, if you go too fast in the middle stages. I think that true class comes out in longer races.”

Stall’s viewpoint is helpful, but he is not exactly an objective observer in this particular instance. Stall trains Cease, and even if you for a moment completely ignore the pace setup in this Marathon, Cease would still be a top threat to win it.

Simply put, Cease has been a revelation since discovering dirt racing only last August. That discovery came in an off-the-turf maiden race at Saratoga, and Cease won by the length of the stretch in fast time. He came back with another dominant score at the Spa and then last time out finished a sharp third, despite a massive class jump, in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. Cease is already good enough to win the Marathon, even if he is easily the most inexperienced member of the field with but six career starts. And yet, because he is so lightly raced, Cease has the best chance of any to deliver a breakthrough performance Saturday, because he has by far the most room to improve.

But when you factor pace into the equation, Cease’s chances look even better. Birdrun, who won the 12-furlong Brooklyn last June and who figures to improve off a sixth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in his recent return from a 2 1/2-month freshening, is the lone true front-runner in the field. That certainly makes Birdrun one to respect. But Cease, who has never been that far off the early lead in shorter races, should be a major pace player, too.

When you look around in this Marathon, you wonder where the other speed might be. There isn’t any from the U.S. side, and the three European Marathon entrants – Brigantin, Meeznah, and Harrison’s Cave – are a tricky read. Unless one of them takes unanticipated initiative early, the fact that they come out of slow-paced European races suggests that they won’t be prominent early. This means that Birdrun and Cease could end up walking in the early stages. And that would be problematic for A. U. Miner, Pleasant Prince, Giant Oak, and Eldaafer, the most respected closers in this Marathon.

For the most part, Stall agrees with this pace scenario.

“We’ll be on the pace, or close to it,” he said. “We can watch Birdrun from the three-quarter pole to the quarter pole first time around, see what he does, and take it from there. I do think the pace will be easy. That’s why we worked him slow Monday. We already know with his natural style that he will be close to the pace.

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“But the real reason he’ll be tough is because he’s a good horse. We didn’t know it until he hit dirt accidentally, thanks to Mother Nature. But we do now.”

None of the Europeans have ever raced on dirt, but Brigantin is still dangerous. Brigantin finished third in two 20-furlong Group 1 races this year, one of them the revered Ascot Gold Cup. It’s also timely to note that in his one Group 2 victory this season, Brigantin nosed Dunaden, winner of the prestigious Melbourne Cup on Tuesday.

Pace or not, A. U. Miner will take some beating. A. U. Miner, who was moved up to third in last year’s Marathon, was a gaining fifth most recently in the Jockey Club Gold Cup while coming off the same layoff Birdrun was. Before that, A. U. Miner scored decisively over Birdrun in the Greenwood Cup, but was subsequently disqualified from the purse money because of a drug positive.

Giant Oak owns this field’s biggest win this year, that coming in the Grade 1 Donn last February. But Giant Oak is 0 for 6 since and seems well below his Donn form.

Eldaafer won this race last year at 10-1, but was in sharper form then than he appears to be now.

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A. Stall Jr.
G. Gomez 98, 99, 102 Lightly raced gelding emerged after moving to dirt; still has room to improve 9-2
A. Fabre
J. Leparoux n/a, n/a, n/a Third in two Euro Gr. 1's this year going 20 furlongs; dirt is the big question 8-1
A. U. Miner
C. Hanna
C. Borel 102, 97, 84 Finished well when fifth vs. better in JC Gold Cup; placed 3rd in this last year 3-1
W. Mott
J. Velazquez 99, 93, 96 Sixth in JC Gold Cup and like 'Miner,' he should be tougher second off layoff 5-1
Pleasant Prince
W. Ward
J. Rosario 99, 59, 89 Big winner of an overnight stakes last time; seems the type who'll run all day 8-1
Giant Oak
C. Block
S. Bridgmohan 92, 100, 101 Beaten chalk in this last year; disappointed last time in Hawthorne Gold Cup 6-1
D. Alvarado
J. Castellano 86, 95, 90 Won this last year, but was in better form then; form this year is erratic 10-1
Harrison's Cave
A. O'Brien
R. Moore n/a, n/a, n/a Has won two of last three, but is far from the best this barn has sent over 20-1
D. Lanigan
T. Queally n/a, n/a, n/a Euro filly won a Group 3 at this distance in July; yet another unknown on dirt 15-1
M. Maker
M. Smith 77, 96, 89 Fine third in turf two starts back, but has never been as effective on dirt 15-1
Afleet Again
R. Reid Jr.
C. Velasquez 81, 80, 80 Finished third behind 'Miner,' Birdrun in Greenwood Cup in July; shaky since 30-1