09/29/2009 11:00PM

Mastercraftsman samples synthetic


Mastercraftsman will try to book his place alongside his stablemate Rip Van Winkle in the Breeders' Cup Classic lineup when he makes his synthetic-track debut Friday in the Group 3 Diamond Stakes at Dundalk.

However, this 1 1/4-mile and 150-yard contest is a Win And You're In event not for the Breeders' Cup Classic but for the Breeders' Cup Marathon, an anomaly explained by two factors. First, this was the race won last year by Muhannak before he shipped to California to win the Marathon. And, of course, the Marathon's distance has been extended to 1 3/4 miles since last year.

Although entered, Muhannak will not be running this time around as he had his final outing prior to defending his Marathon crown when finishing fifth in the Group 3 Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Ascot on Sunday.

Instead, Mastercraftsman will become the highest-rated horse ever to race at this new course, located on Ireland's east coast midway between Belfast and Dublin and opened little more than two years ago.

Trained by Aidan O'Brien, Mastercraftsman will be unpenalized for his four career Group 1 victories. He will have nothing of the caliber of Sea the Stars, who has beaten him in each of his last two starts, in opposition. Perhaps the pick of his potential rivals is Fiery Lad, who finished third to Muhannak in this race last year.

Newmarket: Juveniles in spotlight

On the eve of an epic weekend that sees no less than 24 major Group or Grade 1 races around the globe, Newmarket plays host Friday to two prestigious Group 1 juvenile contests over six furlongs on its straight turf course. Both are worth about $250,000.

The colts showpiece is the Shadwell Middle Park Stakes, where Showcasing, the impressive winner of the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes at York in August, faces two unbeaten youngsters - Arctic and Awzaan - among his four opponents.

Trained by the once U.S.-based John Gosden, Showcasing is a son of Oasis Dream who showed blinding speed to land the Gimcrack by two lengths. Trained in Ireland by Tracey Collins, Arctic would be a fairy-tale winner as he cost a mere 9,000 pounds when bought at the Tattersalls yearling sales in Newmarket less than a year ago. But he will encounter much faster ground here than when an easy Group 3 winner last time out.

Awzaan, who, like Arctic, boasts a perfect 3-for-3 record, won the Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes over this distance at Newbury two weeks ago.

Nine fillies line up for an intriguing renewal of the Cheveley Park Stakes that could boil down to a Anglo-French duel between Lady of the Desert and Special Duty.

Trained by Brian Meehan, Lady of the Desert is a daughter of Queen's Logic, who was forced into retirement by injury after just five starts but won them all, including the 2001 running of this race.

Lady of the Desert has not quite lived up to her dam's record as she found U.S. invader Jealous Again too hot to handle in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. But she has won her other three races, including the Group 2 Lowther Stakes at York.

Special Duty, trained by Criquette Head-Maarek, will be running against her own sex for the first time. She has shown up really well against the boys, following a Group 2 win at Maisons-Laffitte with a great effort in the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville, where the wire came a few strides too late and she was caught by Arcano.