Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Nov. 5-6
$500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon (Grade III)
Three-Year-Olds & Up
1 3/4 Miles
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Awesome Gem – Trainer Craig Dollase holds the distinction of being the youngest conditioner to win a Breeders’ Cup championship race, having saddled Reraise to win the 1998 Sprint at age 27.
Now at 39, the Southern California-based Dollase will be saddling 7yo Awesome Gem for a chance to join two other old warriors as the oldest winners of a Breeders’ Cup race. A victory for Awesome Gem, making his fourth start in Breeders’ Cup competition when starting in Friday’s Marathon, would put him in the company of Cardmania (1993 Sprint) and Miesque’s Approval (2006 Mile) as the oldest winners.
Dollase, who sent the gelded son of Awesome Again on a 1 1/2 m gallop Thursday for his final tune-up, is expecting the old boy, making his 40th lifetime start, to lay close in the 1 3/4 m race.
“I’m expecting another race like he ran when he won the Hollywood Gold Cup [three races back]. He loves the dirt and I love the long stretch for him.”
Bright Horizon – Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith’s 3yo galloped once around the dirt course on Thursday.
The son of Galileo finished a close-up fourth, less than a length from winning a 1 1/4 m handicap at Dundalk on Polytrack on Sept. 5 in his only race not on the turf. He followed that performance with his best race yet, a 5 ½ length victory in the Irish Cesarewitch Handicap on Sept. 26.
Aidan O’Brien’s head lad Pat Keating said there were no problems with Bright Horizon running on dirt.
“He likes it,” he said. “He is moving well on the dirt.”
Giant Oak – Virginia Tarra Trust’s Breeders’ Cup Marathon contender Giant Oak has won just once from his last 19 starts, but trainer Chris Block is proud of the way he’s competed.
“The results have been frustrating, but the more I look back, the more I realize the horse has given us all he could possibly give,” Block said. “He’s had his chances. He’s had good trips and good rides. The horses he’s faced, no matter the surface or distance, have just been a little better than him.”
Following a close second behind the highly regarded Beethoven in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill in the final start of his 2yo season, Giant Oak was hyped by many as a potential Triple Crown contender. He hasn’t lived up to those lofty expectations, and his only win since his 2yo season came as a 3yo in the Arlington Classic on grass.
“He got a lot of press early on,” Block said. “I think a lot of reporters and such thought he was better than I did.”
Block added blinkers four starts ago, but says the equipment change “really hasn’t made any difference.”
“I was just tinkering to try to get him over the hump,” Block admitted. “I do think they will help in the Marathon. His mind tends to wander.”
Million Seller – The 4yo daughter of A.P. Indy galloped 1 5/8 m under Heather Craig Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs, where she will take on the boys in the 1 3/4 m Marathon Friday.
“To me, this filly is all about the farther she goes, the better. That’s the reason she’s in there,” trainer Graham Motion said. “I think it’s always tough for fillies running against the boys. But look, there are plenty of fillies out there this year doing it and are going to do very well. But the reason she’s in there is because of the mile-and-three-quarters, absolutely. It’s just a distance you rarely get to do, and it seems right up her alley.”
Million Seller, who finished second against males in a two-mile allowance last year at Saratoga, will be ridden by Jeremy Rose.
Prince Will I Am – Nine years ago, trainer Michelle Nihei, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, was a member of the junior faculty at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. On Friday she will lead over her first Breeders’ Cup starter in Marathon contender Prince Will I Am.
“I reached a point where I needed to decide how much deeper I was going to commit to Hopkins,” Nihei said. “Some people were just going through the motions, waiting to retire so they could do what they really wanted. I didn’t want to be that person.
“Sometimes it’s not clear why something or someone is not making you happy, but you need to move on, otherwise you could live the rest of your life wishing you had done something else. I didn’t want that to be me.”
Nihei left Johns Hopkins behind and began working as an exercise rider.
“I was always a horse fanatic and stayed in contact with it, but it was scary,” Nihei said of the career change. “People who aim high and work hard at least come close. I’ve never put any barriers in front of myself, but I’m also a realist. I didn’t try to play basketball. I’m not going to go for things I’m not good at.”
Nihei galloped horses for several trainers, and worked as an assistant to Rebecca Maker, Christopher Speckert and Todd Pletcher. In 2007, she went out on her own.
“One year of experience with Todd counts for four,” Nihei said. “He has so many good horses in the same barn with different abilities.”
Now Nihei has her own good horse in Prince Will I Am.
“When you train horses like ‘Prince,’ and thinking back to a lot of the better long distance horses I’ve been around, once you get them fit and they’re running the way he’s running, you just have to maintain and keep them happy and sound,” Nihei said. “Getting there is the tough part. Every little step is easier now because he is what he is.”