10/30/2009 12:00AM

Distance just right for a few


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Turf stakes at 1 3/8 miles don't come along very often, which explains the popularity of the $60,000 John Henry at the Meadowlands on Friday night.


The race attracted a full field of 14 for the three-turn contest, including a maiden, Czar Alex, and a mare, Talkin About Love.

The distance is a major question mark hanging over most of the runners. For a select few, the 11 furlongs should be right up their alley.

Picou, for one, should enjoy the return to this distance. Winless in three tries this year in shorter races, Picou will look to duplicate his success here last fall in another 1 3/8-mile grass stakes, winning the Princeton for 3-year-olds before stepping up against older runners to get second behind graded stakes winner Hotstufanthensome in the John Henry.

Picou is a separate betting interest from stablemate Expansion for trainer Chad Brown, who is a perfect 3 for 3 at the meet.

The John Henry will be a cutback in distance for Southwest, second to Picou in last year's Princeton.

A gray 4-year-old colt trained by Rodney Jenkins, Southwest was a tiring fifth under Miguel Mena most recently in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf Stakes, run at 1 1/2 miles at Kentucky Downs.

"It's kind of like a hunt meet, and the jockey told me he had a lot of horse going down the backside, but turning for home, he was out of gas coming up the hill," Jenkins said. "He couldn't finish. I just think he threw in a clunker."

Before that, Southwest was a close second in a restricted stakes at Saratoga at 1 5/8 miles.

Jenkins had been shopping for 1 3/8-mile races without much success.

"That's his distance, and you have to hunt and search and ship when you find one," Jenkins said. "Down here in Maryland, you say a mile and three-eighths or a mile and a half, they faint. They think that's two races."

It helps when you have a horse like Southwest, who loves an extended distance.

"He has about a three-eighths of a mile run, so I think he'll do real good," Jenkins said. "He's been training beautifully, and he's coming into the race good."

New Fandan is another who likes it long. A Brazilian-bred gelding, New Fandan missed by a head going 1 1/2 miles in his U.S. debut at Gulfstream Park in January.