11/04/2010 1:32PM

Willcox Inn, Madman Diaries trying turf in Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

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It is not uncommon to see horses running on dirt for the first time in a race like the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, given its prestige and that a 2-year-old championship can result from a victory.

Horses seemingly less frequently venture into the unknown by trying grass for the first time in the one-mile Juvenile Turf, something two entrants attempt this year: Willcox Inn and Madman Diaries.

Both have pedigrees for the grass, with Willcox Inn strongly bred on his dam side to handle the turf and Madman Diaries having a Tomlinson Turf Rating of 416, the highest of any Breeders’ Cup horse competing Saturday.

Wesley Ward, trainer and co-owner of Madman Diaries, also owns his horse’s sire, Bring the Heat, and the sire’s offspring “all love the turf,” he said.

Of Bring the Heat’s 23 runners to try the grass, six won their first start on the surface – good for a lofty 26 percent strike rate – though most of his progeny are sprinters.

It is Willcox Inn’s female family that points to turf success, though progeny of his sire, Harlan’s Holiday, win their turf debuts at a solid 14 percent clip. His dam, the Gone West mare De Aar, is a half-sister to Grade 1 winners Cetewayo and Dynaforce and was stakes placed in seven races on grass, twice in graded events.

Willcox Inn’s two races came on Polytrack, first a maiden win at Arlington and then a third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
Willcox Inn has recorded two sharp breezes on the Keeneland grass in preparation for the Juvenile Turf. His last on Oct. 30 was his best, when he outworked stablemate and fellow Juvenile Turf starter Rough Sailing, who came under pressure to keep up. Both were clocked covering five furlongs around the dogs in 1:01.40, though Willcox Inn’s work was visually more impressive, coming under no encouragement from his rider.

“It was real firm, and he got over it nice,” trainer Mike Stidham said. “That’s obviously what we are going to have Saturday, a real firm turf course. I feel good about that.”