Updated on 09/15/2011 2:00PM

Thumbs up for overlooked, overdue Brahms


PHOENIX - It's time for some beautiful music in Sunday's Grade 1 Atto Mile.

Brahms certainly hasn't run poorly in 2001, but he has strayed from the path after stamping himself at 3 as a major turf horse. You would have had a lot of others in your corner if you had predicted in January that Brahms would win this year's Breeders' Cup Mile.

But some of Brahms's luster has come off. In four races this year he has finished third three times and second once. He certainly hasn't run poorly, but those losses have changed him from a "can't miss" to a "maybe."

When he returned in April for trainer Elliott Walden he was an excellent second to North East Bound in the Grade 2 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland. He was beaten just a neck, and considering it was his first start in five months his reputation emerged intact. It also didn't hurt that the horse who beat him, North East Bound, had finished a fine second to War Chant in last year's BC Mile.

So when Brahms returned in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs on Derby Day there was much cause for optimism, and he went off the 2-1 second choice behind King Cugat and just ahead of White Heart. He was wide early and in tight late, ending up third beaten just over a length by White Heart and King Cugat. Still, his reputation did not suffer, and maybe the 1 1/8 miles was a smidge beyond his best.

Next was the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood in May. He had shipped west and succeeded before, winning the Hollywood Derby last fall via a disqualification. In the Shoemaker, he was the 6-5 favorite. He ran well again, but Neil Drysdale's pair of Irish Prize and Touch of the Blues were too much. Brahms finished third, beaten a half-length.

Then came an experiment. Walden had noted that Brahms always trained well on dirt. Well, they were offering a nice chunk of change in Churchill's Grade 2 Stephen Foster, it was the track where he was training, and there were questions about favored Captain Steve, who was making his first start since his big Dubai win in March.

The result was a mixed bag. Brahms finished third, earning a 112 Beyer Speed Figure, but he was never a threat to winner Guided Tour or runner-up Captain Steve. It was hardly a disaster, but Walden knew it was time get back on the path.

And that path has led him to Sunday's Atto Mile. Brahms is at his best going a mile on the turf. And while Irish Prize and Affirmed Success are significant hurdles, it isn't the toughest Atto Mile ever held.

Irish Prize isn't close to either Labeeb or Hawksley Hill, two Drysdale stalwarts who finished first in this race. In the biggest mile turf races of Affirmed Success's career he has found one or two just a bit better.

And it doesn't hurt in the least that Brahms's decline on the popularity chart will help out on the tote board. Had he won the Shoemaker Mile, or one of his other two turf starts, he would have been long touted as the BC Mile favorite.

Instead, he has been a bit forgotten.

Brahms has trained smartly since his June 16 Foster try, with this race in mind. Regular rider Pat Day comes along, and Woodbine's sweeping turf course should help Brahms find room from not far off the pace. It can add up to an overdue victory, and a reintroduction to a horse to be taken seriously for the Breeders' Cup.

Completing the exotics is a much more murky picture. Irish Prize comes off three straight big wins, though they were by a neck, neck, and nose. Drysdale certainly can target a race and get there in top form, but the price will be too short. Affirmed Success fires every time, and his speed should have him in it all the way.

But the others who entice are locals. Quiet Resolve ran miserably in the Arlington Million, but he wasn't alone - a number of horses did not handle the bog-like conditions. Now he returns home, and when he's right the quality is there. He was a super second to Kalanisi (at 41-1) in last year's BC Turf, and won the 1999 Atto Mile when Hawksley Hill was disqualified.

Another attractive local is Numerous Times. He has yet to run in a stakes race, but is unbeaten and virtually untested in five career starts. His last three have been going seven furlongs on this course. Obviously, he loves it here, he has tactical speed, and there's still no telling how good he may be.

So my play will be exactas keying Brahms over Affirmed Success, Numerous Times, and Quiet Resolve - though I will be looking around nervously for Irish Prize.