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East's turf better suits Marsh Side
ELMONT, N.Y. - Marsh Side may reside in Southern California, but when it's time to get down to business, he's a New Yorker at heart.
Marsh Side arrived here Wednesday afternoon for the second of three scheduled visits to the Empire State when he runs in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park. Marsh Side is one of six Grade 1 winners among the nine horses entered to run 1 3/8 miles over Belmont's inner turf.
Last month, in his most recent trip east, Marsh Side finished second to Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap. Gio Ponti is the likely favorite in here.
"I was very pleased with the way the horse ran,'' Neil Drysdale, the trainer of Marsh Side, said by phone Wednesday from California. "Gio Ponti can accelerate more than he can; our horse is a stayer more suited to a mile and a half.''
Marsh Side won't get to run 1 1/2 miles until he returns to New York for next month's Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga.
Drysdale said the longer distances and the more forgiving turf courses of the East Coast are why he chooses to run Marsh Side here as opposed to California. Drysdale said the Woodbine turf course favors Marsh Side the most, so a return trip to the $2 million Canadian International in October is on the agenda.
"Obviously, he doesn't care for hard ground,'' Drysdale said. "Hopefully, the ground should have some give in it with all the rain you've had.''
The Manhattan was run over a yielding turf course. In that race, Marsh Side was getting a clean trip while in the clear in sixth position. He made a three-wide bid around the far turn and eventually made a brief lead inside the sixteenth pole before getting passed by Gio Ponti.
Marsh Side is not the only California-based horse in the Man o' War. Midships, winner of three straight including the Grade 1 Whittingham at Hollywood Park, is here as well. He was setting up to be the main speed until Musketier was entered by Roger Attfield.
The Man o' War also drew Grade 1 winners Grand Couturier, Dancing Forever, and the European-based Group 1 winner Quijano.
Vineyard Haven back on work tab
Vineyard Haven, a finalist for the Eclipse Award as North America's leading 2-year-old in 2008, breezed three furlongs in 37.10 seconds Tuesday at Belmont Park, his first published move since returning to North America from Dubai earlier this year.
Vineyard Haven, winner of the Hopeful and Champagne in New York last year, has not run since finishing a well-beaten fourth in the UAE 2000 Guineas at Nad al Sheba on Feb. 12. Shortly after that race, he was taken off the Triple Crown trail by his owner, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who purchased the horse late last year from majority owner/trainer Bobby Frankel.
"Glad to see him breeze again,'' said Rick Mettee, the assistant trainer who oversees Godolphin's Belmont string. "He just stretched his legs, but seemed to go over this track well. He came back out of the work good, so we'll step up to a half-mile next time.''
Mettee said trainer Saeed bin Suroor does not have a specific target picked out for Vineyard Haven, but said he hoped to be able to make a race sometime during the Saratoga meeting.
Meanwhile, Mettee said Midshipman, the 2-year-old champion whom Godolphin purchased just before he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, could hit the work tab within the next week or two. Midshipman sustained a soft tissue injury while training in Dubai, but has since been given a clean bill of health to resume normal training.
"He scanned clean; so far he's trained good on this dirt track here at Belmont,'' Mettee said. "I believe this is the first time he trained on the dirt track.''
Jockeys try out new whips
As part of the safety guidelines recommended by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Safety and Integrity Alliance, jockeys here on Wednesday began experimenting with new whips that are designed to be gentler on horses. Beginning Wednesday, and lasting throughout this meet, the stewards will designate two races each day where the jockeys are required to use the safer whips.
These whips cannot be longer than 29 inches long, as compared with 31 inches. The "popper'' - the part of the whip that touches the horse's skin - is 5 1/2 inches long, or 2 1/2 inches more than the older whips, and has more padding to help soften the blow to a horse.
NYRA officials hope to have all the jockeys using these whips by the time the Saratoga meet begins on July 29. Bruce Johnstone, NYRA's manager of racing operations, selected three types of whips that have been widely accepted by riders at Keeneland.
"The main thing is get the jocks comfortable with them,'' said P.J. Campo, vice president and director of racing.
Ramon Dominguez, the leading rider at this meet, said these whips have been mandatory at Delaware Park, where he formerly rode, so he is more used to them than a veteran New York rider.
"You see some riders not too happy riding with it; you can't blame them because they're used to so many years riding with the same type of whip,'' said Dominguez, who won one of Wednesday's races in which the new whips were used.
Hangingbyathread, Law Enforcement, win stakes
Jose Lezcano was able to get Hangingbyathread ($6.40) off the rail in midstretch and the 5-year-old gelding rallied to a 1 3-4/length victory over Kutais in the $67,200 Do It Fast Stakes.
Hangingbyathread, a 5-year-old gelded son of Giant's Causeway, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.44 over firm turf for Carl Lizza's Flying Zee Stables and trainer Carlos Martin.
Earlier on the card, Law Enforcement ($6.80) picked up the pieces from a ridiculous speed duel between Dr. W and Groomedforvictory to win the $67,250 Thepromonroe Stakes for New York-bred sprinters. Executive Search got up for second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Undocumented.
NYTHA supports animal welfare
The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association donated $10,000 to the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA in support of programs and services for animals that are unwanted, neglected, lost, and/or abused.
"NYTHA is proud to support CGHS/SPCA in its efforts and we can't thank them enough for their care and speedy efforts in taking care of horses in need of human kindness,'' NYTHA president Rick Violette said in a release.