ARCADIA, Calif. - The complexion of the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile changed dramatically since pre-entries were announced Oct. 28, with six horses that originally made it into the body of the race opting for other races or electing not to come.
The most significant offshoot of those defections is that Midshipman, the front-running winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile over this same Santa Anita track, has the look of being the lone speed in this year's Dirt Mile, which only drew a field of 10 from 21 pre-entrants. Midshipman, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum's Godolphin Racing, drew post 3 and will be ridden by Garrett Gomez.
"Let's face it, from a pace scenario, this is the right spot for this horse," said Rick Mettee, the North American-based assistant trainer for Godolphin Racing.
Midshipman, last year's 2-year-old champion, has only raced once this year, that being an allowance win going 6 1/2 furlongs at Belmont Park, his first start on dirt. He demonstrated last year an affinity for synthetic surfaces, winning the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and the BC Juvenile, the latter from post 10.
"He's not the average horse that's run five times, he's got a lot going for him," Mettee said.
Godolphin also will be represented by Pyro, who became a Grade 1 winner in the Forego last out at Saratoga. He is 0 for 2 on synthetic tracks, including a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic last year. Pyro will break from post 7 under John Velazquez.
"What we have to hope is maybe he was at the end of a long year and maybe he wasn't quite as good a horse as he is now," Mettee said. "If this was a one-turn mile at Churchill or Belmont, you'd give this horse a big chance."
Mastercraftsman, the Irish-bred colt who has won 7 of 11 starts, drew the rail and was installed as the 6-5 favorite, the strongest morning-line choice in any of the 14 Breeders' Cup races. A son of Danehill Dancer, Mastercraftsman is coming off a five-length victory in the Diamond Stakes at Dundalk on Oct. 2, his only start over a synthetic surface. John Murtagh rides for trainer Aidan O'Brien.
Outside of Mastercraftsman, in post position order, are: Furthest Land, Midshipman, Bullsbay, Neko Bay, Mambo Meister, Pyro, Mr. Sidney, Chocolate Candy, and Ready's Echo.
Neko Bay rested for Dirt Mile
While all the focus on John Shirreffs's stable will center on Zenyatta in the $5 million Classic, the trainer was quite happy to get Neko Bay into the $1 million Dirt Mile.
Neko Bay was one of six horses to draw into the Mile off the preference list. A 6-year-old son of Giant's Causeway, Neko Bay has just one race this year, a classified allowance win over several stakes winners here on Oct. 9. It was his first start since last December.
Shirreffs said Neko Bay was "a real tired horse" following the December race and was turned out for several months. Shirreffs said it took longer than expected to get the horse fit, so he didn't make it back to the races until October. Neko Bay came out of the race in good order and came back last Sunday with a strong five-furlong work in 59 seconds at Hollywood Park.
"He's a horse that's always done well fresh," Shirreffs said. "I think he'd run very much the same way he ran last time. When he's feeling good, he's a serious horse."