10/24/2008 11:00PM

Muhannak best in BC Marathon


ARCADIA, Calif. - When the European-based gelding Muhannak returns to Santa Anita next fall for the second Breeders' Cup Marathon, the purse could be higher and his odds will be lower.

Muhannak sprang a $26.80 upset Saturday in the first running of the $565,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon, a 1 1/2-mile race on the Pro-Ride main track at Santa Anita. The 4-year-old gelding won by a head over Church Service, who finished three-quarters of a length in front of Big Booster. Sixties Icon, the 7-5 favorite, was bogged down in traffic at the quarter pole, failed to quicken, and finished fifth.

In its first year of existence, the Marathon was the only 2008 Breeders' Cup race with a purse less than $1 million. An increase will be seriously considered for 2009, according to Greg Avioli, the Breeders' Cup president and chief executive officer.

"If the race is a huge success, I'd say a purse increase is possible," Avioli said.

That would be just fine for London resident Richard Pegum, who purchased Muhannak for 70,000 pounds (approximately $135,000) this summer with the possibility of shipping to the United States for the Breeders' Cup Marathon, if he was good enough. In his first two starts for Pegum and trainer Ralph Beckett, Muhannak won minor races in England, on synthetic surfaces.

"He's a specialist," Beckett said. "The reality is that he's a Polytrack horse, and he is a mile-and-a-half horse. The conditions [of the Marathon] were ideal."

Muhannak became the second horse sired by Chester House to win a 2008 Breeder's Cup race; the filly Ventura won the Filly and Mare Sprint on Friday. Muhannak earned $305,000, nearly quadrupling his earnings total to $422,735.

Patrick Smullen rode the winner, who raced outside in fourth position, within striking range of the slow pace (1:16.20 for the opening six furlongs).

"There wasn't a lot of early pace," Smullen said. "When I wanted to make my move, I had no traffic problems."

That was not the case for jockey Frankie Dettori and the 7-5 favorite, Sixties Icon. He raced inside, and got stuck in heavy traffic at the quarter pole.

"I didn't want to have to go nine-wide, so I waited some on the turn," Dettori said. "It wasn't a matter of being in trouble, really. But when I was clear, he didn't have his usual turn of foot."

Booyah set the early pace, but he began to fade into the far turn. Zappa, the second betting choice, challenged on the far turn, but he was under a heavy drive into the lane and wilted to seventh.

Deep closers finished 2-3-4, including the runner-up and third-place finisher, both trained by Mike Mitchell. Church Service rallied from eighth to second; Big Booster rallied from seventh to third.

The order of finish was completed by Delightful Kiss, Sixties Icon, Cedar Mountain, Zappa, and Booyah.

The future of the BC Marathon will be re-evaluated in the coming months, but Avioli suggested the 1 1/2-mile race would continue to be part of the program. "These races are here, and they'll stay on the card unless there's a reason to remove them," he said. "Right now, I don't see any reason for that."

That suits Pegum, the owner of Muhannak, who is now 7 for 15.

"It's fair to say our tickets are booked, and we're ready to come back," Pegum said.

* Add Heat, listed at 20-1 on the morning line, was withdrawn Saturday after sustaining a suspensory injury to his right front leg. According to trainer Barry Abrams, the injury occurred Friday morning when Add Heat was coming off the track after a routine gallop.