11/03/2010 12:38PM

Midday goes for repeat in Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf

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Barbara D. Livingston
Midday trains Wednesday at Churchill, where she will face familiar rival Plumania and top 3-year-old Harmonius on Friday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The last Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs left all except the hardest contrarian awash in satisfaction. Ouija Board was a chalky 7-5 winner in 2006, and the victory − which followed a win in the 2004 running and a second in 2005 − reminded American racing fans what a world-class grass horse looks like. Another one has come to Churchill this week, and Midday will be strongly favored to succeed where Ouija Board failed by winning the Filly and Mare Turf for the second year in a row.

Ouija Board, like Midday an English horse, was unable to repeat as the Filly and Mare Turf winner in 2005, when she was upset by Intercontinental, who slipped loose on a clear lead and couldn’t be caught. Saturday’s race also lacks front-runners, but there is no analog to Intercontinental this time. Last year at Santa Anita, Midday was fifth at the first call before moving up to third on the backstretch and taking control of the race in the stretch. A similar trip under regular rider Tom Queally would probably lead to victory Saturday.

Midday is one of 11 in Friday’s $2 million Filly and Mare Turf, run over 1 3/8 miles and around three turns after being contested at 1 1/4 miles the last two years at Santa Anita. The longer distance plays to Midday’s strengths; her last two races, Group 1 wins overseas, came at 1 1/2 miles. And whereas Midday came into last year’s Breeders’ Cup with two wins from six tries, this year she has won 3 of 4, all Group 1’s.

“She had three races in eight weeks, but I managed to give her a little break,” said Henry Cecil, who trains Midday for Khalid Abdullah, the principal in Juddmonte Farms. “I’ve tried to freshen her up and keep her happy, and I think she’s well.”

Cecil, who said Midday was on her feed and relaxed in her new surroundings here, expressed concern Monday about the hard, dry Churchill grass course, but Midday gets over all kinds of surfaces. Her Santa Anita victory came on firm, short-cut, West Coast grass, while her three recent Group 1 victories were on soft turf at Longchamp, good going at York, and a good-to-firm course at Goodwood.

“I think the course here will suit her,” Cecil said. “It’s a tight track, and she’s not a big filly.”

Plumania, an English-bred based in France, could challenge Midday if she bounces back from a 17th-place finish in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. A 4-year-old trained by Andre Fabre, Plumania held a lead in the final quarter-mile of the Sept. 12 Prix Vermeille but was overtaken late by Midday, finishing second by three-quarters of a length.

German-bred Éclair de Lune would have been no match for Midday at 2 and 3, when she raced in France, but she has improved markedly since being imported to the U.S. and may set a plodding pace Saturday. Her breakout performance was a second to Tuscan Evening in the Modesty Handicap, and a month later she comfortably won the Grade 1 Beverly D. on Aug. 21. Ron McAnally decided to train her up to the Breeders’ Cup and, accordingly, has given Éclair de Lune a series of long-distance workouts rather than a recent race.

“Last time we worked her a mile and an eighth,” McAnally said. “That’s the same thing we did with John Henry.”

Harmonious has never faced older horses but won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup by more than four lengths Oct. 16 and will be racing at a new distance that might suit her.

“The thing in her favor is she seems to appreciate a distance of ground,” trainer John Shirreffs said.

Red Desire, a solid Grade 1-type turf filly in Japan, had things working against her when she finished third as the favorite in the Oct. 2 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont and has trained well since moving to Churchill.

Also exiting the Flower Bowl is Forever Together, who won the 2008 Filly and Mare Turf and finished third as the favorite in last year’s edition. Forever Together has failed to win in five 2010 starts, but her sixth-place finish last out can be attributed to a boggy turf course.

“I blame myself for even running her there,” trainer Jonathan Sheppard said.

Shared Account is the other candidate to lead and came within a head of Proviso in the Grade 1 Diana. Hibaayeb won a subpar edition of the Yellow Ribbon last out and has yet to come back to her best 2-year-old form of 2009. Hot Cha Cha, Keertana, and Miss Keller all are capable Grade 2 types. Standing up to the likes of Midday, one of the stars of Breeders’ Cup weekend, may be asking too much.