11/05/2009 12:00AM

Godolphin looks for strong start to Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
Mastery, a Goldolphin-owned 3-year-old, is the likely favorite in Friday's 1 3/4-mile Breeders' Cup Marathon. Mastery comes into the race off a victory in the Group 1 English St. Leger at Doncaster on Sept. 12.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The first shall be longest. Newly positioned as the first of 14 Breeders' Cup races, the $500,000 BC Marathon will kick off the two-day series at Santa Anita with Mastery a solid favorite in the lead-off position for Godolphin Racing.

Contested over the main Pro-Ride surface at 1 3/4 miles, the Marathon should provide an early glimpse into the Breeders' Cup fortunes of Godolphin, the powerhouse stable that will proceed to send out a slew of highly regarded contenders Friday and Saturday. Mastery is the 9-5 morning-line favorite and will break from post 6 in the three-turn race with Frankie Dettori aboard.

As the winner of the Group 1 English St. Leger at Doncaster in his last start, Mastery brings the combination of stamina and class that will be required to prevail in a field of 10. He was among the final Godolphin arrivals, having landed here Sunday. The 3-year-old British-bred colt made his first racetrack appearance early Tuesday, jogging an easy mile and becoming familiar with the surroundings. He was back early Wednesday for an easy gallop.

"The good thing about Mastery is he is proven at the trip," Dettori said. "He's in good form, good shape. If I had to be critical, he is a 3-year-old, and it's been a long season. Other than that, everything should be okay."

Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, Mastery has won 3 of 8 starts and earned nearly $1.2 million, with the Group 2 Italian Derby in May being his other notable score.

Two of the more formidable opponents for Mastery are foreign-based 3-year-old colts who also shipped over the weekend. Like Mastery, Father Time and Man of Iron have raced mostly over grass, although all three have had a modicum of racing experience over synthetics.

Surely a key race toward the Marathon was the Sept. 12 St. Leger. Contested over turf at about 1 13/16 miles, Mastery won at 14-1, while Father Time finished fourth at 7-1. For the Marathon, Father Time is listed as the 3-1 second choice with Eddie Ahern to ride.

Man of Iron has kept weak company at marginal tracks in Ireland in recent months and might well be a cut below the favored Euros. One major point in his favor, however, is that he comes from the shed row of Aidan O'Brien, the Irish training icon whose horses invariably draw strong backing.

As for the American contingent, Nite Light and Cloudy's Knight figure as the top challengers.

Nite Light, the first of 12 BC runners (including one also-eligible) for trainer Todd Pletcher, beat inferior competition at Turfway Park last out but has shown himself as a stayer with tactical speed.

Cloudy's Knight, by far the top earner in the lineup with more than $2.25 million, has shown newfound life at 9, having won twice in as many starts since recuperating from an injury suffered last fall.

"He's a remarkable horse," Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard said.

The first Marathon was run last year at Santa Anita at 1 1/2 miles. The race was lengthened when BC officials sought to bring the race in line with the standards for a marathon set by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, which coordinates rules and standards among 58 racing countries.

Last year, when the inaugural Marathon was run on Saturday of BC weekend, Muhannak prevailed at 12-1, but he has gone badly off form since. The 5-year-old Irish-bred is back Friday but surely will be dismissed at bigger odds and would easily qualify as an even bigger surprise in victory.

The other longshot chances in the Marathon are all American runners: Black Astor, Sir Dave, Eldaafer, and Gangbuster.

The BC Marathon is the third of 10 overall races on the Friday card, with post time set for 12:35 p.m. Pacific. First post is 11:15 a.m.