10/07/2010 1:52PM

Must-win situation for Musket Man in Monmouth Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Derek Ryan says Musket Man must win the Monmouth Cup in order to move on to the Breeders' Cup Classic.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – The stakes are high for Musket Man on Saturday in the Grade 2, $300,000 Monmouth Cup.

A win sends the 4-year-old Musket Man on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Musket Man will head to Churchill Downs only if he delivers a victory in the race formerly known as the Meadowlands Cup.

With no Thoroughbred meet at the Meadowlands this fall, the 1 1/8-mile Cup relocated to Monmouth and was rechristened in honor of its new home.

The final graded stakes of the year at Monmouth attracted a competitive field of six. In addition to Musket Man, the lineup consists of Duke of Mischief, a multiple-graded stakes winner this year; Florida Derby winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box; Dry Martini, who is coming off a pair of turf races, and the duo of Etched and Chirac, the one-two finishers in Monmouth’s Formal Gold Stakes.

From the rail, Musket Man looks very tough in this spot. Although his record is only 1 for 5 this season, Musket Man has faced the cream of the handicap division. He has been second or third in his last four races, a stretch that includes three Grade 1’s and close finishes to the likes of Quality Road and Blame.

In order to tackle them one more time in this campaign, Musket Man must fire a winning shot on Saturday in his first race at Monmouth after spending three seasons here.

Trainer Derek Ryan had last weekend’s Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park under consideration for Musket Man. Those plans went by the boards when Musket Man briefly spiked a temperature. At the end of the day, Ryan has the Musket Man in the spot he envisioned all along.

“We need to get a win into him off the last couple of races if we want to move forward to the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” Ryan said. “We know my horse likes the track [Churchill Downs] and we’ve been running against the best, but at the same time, we have to win on Saturday first.”

After a busy spring that included four races, and a pair of seconds in the Carter and Metropolitan handicaps, Ryan ran Musket Man only once over the summer, a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.

That was by design, to avoid the heat of summer and to have a fresh horse for the fall.

“He was never a horse that trained really well in the warm weather,” Ryan said. “He worked super here last week and he’s good to go.”

That final tune-up was a bullet move, five furlongs at Monmouth in 1:00.80 last weekend.

Musket Man will be reunited with Eibar Coa, who was aboard last year for the win in the Illinois Derby and the third-place efforts in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Duke of Mischief pulled off a 16-1 upset last time out in Monmouth’s Grade 3 Iselin Stakes. He is also in Win and You’re In mode. Trainer David Fawkes wants to see him deliver another victory before considering the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

“He’s got to win this race,” Fawkes said. “He’s got a step up a little bit more. That race is coming up tough. Right now, he remains on target, but he’s got to move forward again.”