11/01/2017 12:10PM

Hard Aces in his element in Marathon

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Benoit & Associates
Hard Aces (right) finishes second to Curlin Road in the Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. – On Sunday, thousands of runners will take part in the New York City Marathon, running their way through 26.2 miles of the city’s five boroughs. On Friday, approximately 3,000 miles away, Del Mar will host the Grade 2, $200,000 Marathon, where eight equine athletes will navigate 1 3/4 miles around Del Mar’s dirt oval.

Hard Aces, second in last year’s Marathon, clearly will be the one to beat. A staple in graded stakes on the Southern California circuit for three years, Hard Aces is dropping in class from a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, where he faced the likes of Collected and Arrogate, both running in Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Two starts back, Hard Aces was beaten a nose in the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap going 1 1/2 miles at Del Mar. He won the Cougar II last year.

“This year, he’s turned into a long-distance specialist,” trainer John Sadler said. “This is an ideal spot.”

In last year’s Marathon, Hard Aces finished second to Scuba. Sadler said Hard Aces simply was second-best that day.

“This looks like a little softer spot this year,” Sadler said.

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Hard Aces will break from post 7 under Santiago Gonzalez.

Destin, from New York, and Estrechada, an Argentine-bred mare based in California who has made her last three starts in New York, head the competition.

Destin, beaten a nose in last year’s Belmont Stakes, is also dropping in class after finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. He stumbled at the start and got out of position. A cleaner break Friday likely puts him in the first flight of horses under John Velazquez.

“Hopefully, he’ll find a comfortable rhythm,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Hope he settles and relaxes enough to go the distance.”

Trainer Mike Puype is confident Estrechada can go the distance. Puype had the option of running her in the Long Island Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on turf at Aqueduct this weekend, and chose this race, believing a win here could make her more valuable.

Though she has made five of her six starts for Puype on turf, he believes Estrechada can handle the dirt equally well.

“She trained super good at Del Mar in the summer,” Puype said. “She’s a four-time winner on the dirt. I’m not afraid to challenge the boys. I think she’s going to run very well. They’re going to lope for the first mile, mile and a quarter, and that’s what she is, a loper.”

Javier Castellano rides from post 4.

Archanova, third in a pair of marathon stakes in New York for trainer Ian Wilkes, is another contender. Infobedad, Noble Nick, Ground Rules, and Dressed in Hermes complete the field.