12/02/2011 2:34PM

Woodbine: Valedictory gets a class crew

Tom Keyser
Afleet Again, with Cornelio Velasquez riding, wins the Breeders' Cup Marathon.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – The upgrade to Grade 3 status of Sunday’s $150,000 Valedictory Stakes this year couldn’t have been more timely, since the 1 3/4-mile marathon has drawn an excellent field, which includes the Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner, Afleet Again.

The other protagonists in Woodbine’s closing-day feature are Eagle Poise and Eye of the Leopard, who battled through the stretch in the 13-furlong allowance prep for the Valedictory.

Eagle Poise gave favored Cloudy’s Knight a run for his money in the 2009 Valedictory, in which he wound up second. He has started three times this year for new trainer Graham Motion.

[MORE: Full coverage of the Sunday card from Woodbine]

Eagle Poise finished second following a long layoff in a one-mile allowance Sept. 1 at Presque Isle. He went on to be beaten by fewer than four lengths in the Grade 3 Sycamore at Keeneland by stablemate Sanagas, who subsequently won the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup.

“I thought he ran well the first time that I ran him at Presque Isle,” said Motion. “It was a lot shorter than his optimum distance. The race at Keeneland was ambitious for his second start, and having said that, it wasn’t a bad effort. Sanagas came back and won pretty impressively in California. It was no disgrace to be beaten by him.”

Motion said Eagle Poise has an affinity for longer distances, and for Woodbine’s Polytrack, as evidenced by his hard-fought win here in the prep, in which he ran without hind shoes.

“Clearly, he really likes the track, and the distance is huge for him,” Motion explained. “It’s quick to come back in three weeks, but he seems to be doing well. Hopefully, with the way that we’ve handled him up until now, it’s prepared him for it in that he hasn’t been overworked.”

Eye of the Leopard, the 2009 Queen’s Plate winner, was a valiant second in last year’s Valedictory, behind future Grade 1 winner Pool Play.

“He just got out-kicked,” said trainer Mark Frostad. “That’s the trouble with those real long races – if the pace is too slow, then it turns into a sprint at the end, but he almost got there.”

Following a 10-month layoff in October, Eye of the Leopard checked in fourth in the Grade 3 Durham Cup Stakes. He was beaten a neck in the Nov. 11 prep, after looking the part of a winner in midstretch.

“I didn’t get him in until the end of August, which makes it pretty difficult to get him ready for this kind of race,” said Frostad. “The first start back was pretty hard on him, but he’s good now. His second start was a lot better. He’s come into this race in very good shape.”

Afleet Again, based in Philadelphia with trainer Butch Reid, will be making his first start on a synthetic track.

Afleet Again ended a 13-race losing streak when he came wide from off a lively pace to take the Grade 2 BC Marathon at 41-1 at Churchill Nov. 5. He captured the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in 2010.

Completing the field are shippers Getta Rhythm and Harrods Creek, along with Alpha Bettor.