Updated on 09/16/2011 8:11AM

West invaders could upset Atto


PHOENIX - If Noverre shows up for Sunday's Grade 1 Atto Mile at Woodbine meaning business, then everyone else is probably running for second.

After all, the 4-year-old Godolphin charge is likely one of the top three or four milers in the world. He's winless in four starts this year, but he's run in nothing but Grade 1's since the end of his 2-year-old campaign. This year he's finished second in the Dubai Duty Free to Terre a Terre, one of the world's top fillies, beating Breeders' Cup Mile winner Val Royal; second in the Sussex to the world's top miler Rock of Gibraltar; and third in the Juddmonte International behind Nayef and Golan, two of the top half-dozen turf horses in the world.

In the Juddmonte, Noverre was asked to go 1 1/4 miles, which is farther than his best. That he was beaten only two lengths speaks volumes for his quality.

What you have here is a world-class horse, so it befuddles me that Del Mar Show is the morning-line favorite over Noverre.

Del Mar Show is a nice horse, to be sure, but he's run in only one Grade 1 race in his career, and that was the Dubai Duty Free, in which Noverre finished second and Del Mar Show finished 10th. Del Mar Show has run better since that race, winning the Grade 3 New Hampshire Sweepstakes and Grade 2 Bernard Baruch (over Forbidden Apple and Volponi).

By post time of the Atto Mile, Noverre should be in the 8-5 range, with Del Mar Show around 7-2.

There is one horse who on occasion has flashed the type of raw talent it takes to beat a horse such as Noverre: Touch of the Blues, trained by Neil Drysdale. Noverre and Del Mar Show will take money, and Touch of the Blues's price will be helped further by recent so-so efforts. But if he's in the mood, he can blast home with the best of them.

Touch of the Blues comes to the Atto off three straight losses, but back in April in the Grade 2 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland, he stormed home to win by almost a length. In that race he was also coming off a couple mediocre outings.

Last summer in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile he did everything but win, finishing strongly to miss by a neck to his stablemate Irish Prize. Last race, Touch of the Blues finished second in the Wickerr at a mile on the Del Mar turf.

"He's doing very well," said Drysdale. "I'm very pleased with the horse.

"When we ran him at Del Mar, I liked his race a lot. The speed was holding, and he came from last. That just confirmed that we were going in the right direction, and the horse has done well since that race."

Drysdale will be making his fifth consecutive appearance in the Atto Mile and has done well. He won the 1998 edition with Labeeb and finished first in 1999 with Hawksley Hill, who was disqualified and placed fourth.

His entrant last year, Irish Prize, finished a close fourth after breaking from the outside in the field of 14. Drysdale has said before that Touch of the Blues and Irish Prize are very close in ability.

Woodbine's huge, sweeping course certainly figures to play to the strength of the kickers. There should be plenty of room for them to maneuver and not have their rally stopped, and the bigger layout also prevents them from having to circle the field and go very wide. A jockey like Corey Nakatani, who rides Touch of the Blues, can use his guile, pick a spot, and blast through.

Nakatani has been brilliant at this over the years, winning big races like B.C. Sprints with Lit de Justice and Elmhurst, and he recently won the Grade 1 Eddie Read at Del Mar with the Drysdale-trained Sarafan, beating Beat Hollow.

Touch of the Blues should be in the 8-1 range.

There is another horse of interest. Nuclear Debate has been strictly a turf sprinter and has had considerable success out West for trainer Darrell Vienna. He's already won on this course, taking the Grade 2 Nearctic, so you know he handles shipping and the course. Nuclear Debate finished eighth, beaten 10 lengths, on the dirt last out. But if he can stretch his turf sprint form a couple more furlongs, he looms an upset possibility at 12-1 or so.

So, my play for the Atto Mile will line up like this: Touch of the Blues to win, then exacta boxes with Del Mar Show and Noverre. I will also box Touch of the Blues with Nuclear Debate, hoping for the brass ring, and in case Touch of the Blues doesn't fire and Nuclear Debate does, an exacta of Noverre over Nuclear Debate.