12/05/2008 12:00AM

Long trip got the best of Marsh Side


In the murky world of journalism, quoting secondary sources is always dicey. No writer worth their laptop makes that leap too often, and certainly not without heavy attribution, even when there seems to be no apparent reason for doubt.

Then along comes a doozy like this one, attributed to Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale after Marsh Side, winner of Woodbine's Canadian International, had to be scratched the day before he was scheduled to run in last weekend's Japan Cup:

"He looked fine yesterday," began the statement, found on the official Japan Cup site. "But, before going to the track in this morning, something wrong with him, I felt. After today's workout, he started to cough and I kept taking care of him carefully for a while. After all, I found out he got a fever and decided to scratch him in Japan Cup. I terribly sorry to have to make such decision, but I make promise to come back to next year's Japan Cup with Marsh Side who is in totally good form."

My first reaction was alarm. Had Drysdale suffered a head injury at some point during his stay in Tokyo? Why was he talking like the Harrison Ford character in "Regarding Henry"? Drysdale, a Hall of Famer and son of a British Marine, always has been extremely careful in choosing his words. Were his words now being chosen by committee?

Before anyone sends out for a sensitivity training manual, this was, of course, a minor issue of translation, and no offense is intended. The hosts of the Japan Cup take great pains to make sure their participants are not left dangling in language limbo. Anyway, my Japanese vocabulary is pretty much exhausted by the time I count to six. I'm always confusing their "hello" and "thank you," and once, trying to get to the suburb where Tokyo Race Course is located, I stood at a train ticket counter spraying "Fuchi! Fuchi! Fuchi!" to a politely confused attendant until he guessed, "Fuchu?" It was like asking directions to Los Artichokes.

It was a shame that Marsh Side had to miss the Japan Cup, especially since it's been 17 long years since an American runner - Golden Pheasant - won the race, and Marsh Side looked like he was in with a shot. Drysdale was the last U.S. trainer to come close, when Sarafan was beaten a nose by Falbrav in 2002.

Drysdale was back to work at Hollywood Park this week, preparing the filly Model for the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap on Sunday afternoon. Model, by Giant's Causeway, will face a field that includes such talent as Double Trouble, Baroness Thatcher, and Lady Digby, but her second-place finish to Zenyatta, beaten a length, in the Clement Hirsh at Del Mar still looms the best line in the field. Drysdale's assessment that Model is "in good shape - doing very well" needed no translation.

Marsh Side also had returned, but as of Friday morning he was still in quarantine.

"He came down with a bit of shipping fever just after he got there," Drysdale said of the Japan journey. "The weather was freezing, and coming from here, it was a bit of a shock to the system. It warmed up after a few days, then it rained, which was very suitable to him, taking the sting out of the ground."

The initial bout of shipping fever passed quickly, and Marsh Side was able to continue training for the Cup.

"He blew out very well," Drysdale noted. "But then the day after he just wasn't himself. It was a bit of a relapse. We treated him with antibiotics and he picked up very quickly."

By then it was too late, though, for the medication to clear. Marsh Side should be back to fight again, but probably not in California or anywhere else that offers conventional seven- and eight-furlong turf ovals. Possessed of a long stride and a relentless, galloping style, he is a big horse who prefers a mile and a half with as few turns as possible.

This has limited his best efforts to places like Colonial Downs and Woodbine, where he also won the 2006 Valedictory Stakes at 14 furlongs and finished second in the 12-furlong Northern Dancer. Michael Dickinson, now retired, trained him at the time for Robert Evans, who turned him over to Drysdale for the 2008 campaign.

Fans of an old-fashioned horse like Marsh Side were frustrated watching him try to negotiate the snappy turns and short straights of California's courses in three races earlier this year. So was Drysdale.

"It was silly to try," the trainer said. "We finally realized we were doing the wrong thing. That's why the Japan Cup course was so suitable. As it turned out, there wasn't much speed in the race and it would have been absolutely perfect for him. Once he gets to the lead, he is very difficult to get by."

No decision has been made about Marsh Side's future, although you can count on one hand the courses that suit his ambling style. One of them is Dubai, where the Dubai Sheema Classic will be run next March over a course that ends with straightaway of nearly three furlongs. It's a long way from Woodbine, but for a purse of $5 million it might be worth another trip.