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Updated on 09/18/2011 2:13AM
Classic audition for Dylan Thomas
Since trainer Aidan O'Brien already knows what Dylan Thomas can do on the turf, it made no sense to him to ship Dylan Thomas halfway around the world to run in another grass race.
By sending Dylan Thomas to Belmont Park for Saturday's $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup, O'Brien will find out not only if Dylan Thomas can handle the dirt, but if he can handle it against Bernardini, North America's premier dirt runner. If Dylan Thomas can handle this assignment, O'Brien may have a candidate for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic next month at Churchill Downs.
"At least we'd be able to get some kind of a guide whether we're able to move forward or whether we move out altogether," O'Brien said Wednesday from his Ballydoyle headquarters in Ireland.
Six years ago, O'Brien shipped Giant's Causeway to Churchill Downs for his dirt debut in the Breeders' Cup Classic, where Giant's Causeway finished second, beaten a neck by Tiznow. As a son of Storm Cat, Giant's Causeway had the breeding to handle the dirt. Dylan Thomas, 3, is a son of Danehill and appears to be mostly turf-bred on both sides of his pedigree.
"He's a horse that handles fast ground well," O'Brien said. "He stays well. He seems to have tactical speed on the turf. But obviously it's whether he hits the gates quick enough and can get some kind of handy position without being under too much pressure to do it, and whether he adapts to the dirt or not in time. We have a Polytrack here and he works on that very well and all that, but obviously the dirt is going to be different again."
O'Brien said he believes there are a lot of similarities between Giant's Causeway and Dylan Thomas, including their tenacity. Dylan Thomas showed his tenacity in the Irish Champion Stakes, in which he was passed in the stretch by the champion mare Ouija Board only to come back and beat her by a neck.
"He's a tough horse," said O'Brien. "He doesn't surrender easily."
In the Irish Derby, Dylan Thomas was boxed in along the rail and showed a strong turn of foot when he found room 100 meters from home. He won by three lengths.
Only four horses are expected to run in the Gold Cup, something that O'Brien feels may work in his favor.
"To me, that would be an advantage for us," O'Brien said. "We're running on the dirt for the first time and obviously there might be a chance to keep him out of the kickback a little bit. Maybe he'll be too slow away and never get into the position that he'll want, but maybe he'll break and he might be able to keep in touch somewhere and might have some kind of a shot in this race."
English Channel will have rabbit to chase
English Channel will have a little help from a friend in the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Saturday at Belmont Park. He will be joined in the Hirsch by recently acquired stablemate Icy Atlantic, who will play the role of rabbit.
Icy Atlantic, the front-running winner of the Battlefield Stakes at the Meadowlands Racetrack in June, will ensure a solid early pace in the Hirsch, which is run at 1 1/2 miles. A 5-year-old, Icy Atlantic was a private purchase by Jim Scatuorchio, English Channel's owner, from Arthur Appleton. This will be the first time English Channel and Icy Atlantic will team up.
Multiple Grade 1 winner Better Talk Now has often been aided by having Shake the Bank serve as his rabbit. Trainer Todd Pletcher said he hopes that strategy works for English Channel, who has already secured Grade 1 wins this year in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs and the United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park.
"We want to make sure there's enough pace so that English Channel can sit behind one horse," said Pletcher. "Without Icy Atlantic in there, it's not perfectly clear that would happen. We hope to get a good mile out of Icy Atlantic."
English Channel has already benefited from having a rabbit in a race this year, even though it wasn't his own. He sat fourth in the U.N. as Shake the Bank dictated the pace. English Channel rallied for the win, and Better Talk Now failed to fire and finished fifth.
Jerkens has upset shots in two stakes
War Front and Teammate, both trained by Allen Jerkens, won't be favored in their Grade 1 engagements Saturday, but both have legitimate chances to pull upsets.
War Front, winner of the Grade 2 Vanderbilt Handicap in August, will take on Grade 1 winners Henny Hughes and Silver Train in the $400,000 Vosburgh for males sprinters at six furlongs. Teammate, runner-up in the Alabama and Gazelle, will challenge four Grade 1 winners in the $600,000 Beldame for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles.
War Front finished second by a neck to possible Vosburgh favorite Silver Train in the Tom Fool in July. That was War Front's first start off a four-month layoff.
"I thought we had him there," Jerkens said. "[War Front] was pretty good that day. He worked very good for that race."
The Beldame will mark Teammate's sixth consecutive start in a Grade 1 stakes. She finished second to Pine Island in the Alabama and Gazelle. In the Gazelle, Teammate sat off of Bushfire before taking the lead outside the quarter pole. She ran well through the stretch before giving way late to Pine Island.
"It was almost a replay of the Alabama," Jerkens said. "She looked like a winner, all of a sudden she was in trouble."
Jerkens said he also plans to run Test winner Swap Fliparoo in Sunday's Gallant Bloom Handicap.
Film Maker seeks trademark strong finish
This is Film Maker's favorite time of year. She has a history of strong efforts late in the year, including in-the-money finishes in the last two runnings of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
That trend could continue Saturday, when she runs in Belmont's Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational at 1 1/4 miles on the turf.
Film Maker has made only two starts this year, winning the Grade 3 All Along Breeders' Cup Stakes at Colonial Downs and finishing second in the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park, where she wound up in traffic turning for home.
"I don't know if steadied is the right word," said trainer Graham Motion. "She had to wait, and that gave Gorella a chance to get the jump on her."
In was another in a series of mishaps that have hampered Film Maker's career. Last year, she stumbled in the Filly and Mare Turf before finishing third.
"She's had extraordinary bad luck or unfortunate circumstances," Motion said. "She really should have another Grade 1 by her name at this point."
Film Maker's lone Grade 1 victory came in the 2003 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland.
Pedersen hoping to return mid-month
Jennifer Pedersen has recovered from surgery in which she had a plate and six screws inserted into her vertebrae, and she said she plans to resume her training career later this month.
Pedersen, who earlier this year split with Ernie Paragallo's Paraneck Stable and opened a public stable, gave up her four horses in late August to deal with her physical problems. Pedersen said she suffered from paralysis on her right side, but the surgery alleviated that.
Pedersen said she hopes to return to training around mid-October. On Oct. 27, she will appear before a judge hearing her appeal of a 60-day suspension that resulted from what the New York State Racing and Wagering Board termed possession of hypodermic equipment and controlled substances in the spring of 2005.
Pedersen, through her attorney, Karen Murphy, will argue that she did not have hypodermic equipment or controlled substances, but rather "vials of routine care products," Murphy said. Murphy will also challenge constitutionality of the rule as applied in this case.
- additional reporting by Mike Farrell