OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Musket Man is headed to the Breeders' Cup Classic, even though he failed to complete his latest mission.
Prior to the Monmouth Cup on Oct. 9, trainer Derek Ryan said the 4-year-old Musket Man needed to win that race to earn a spot at Churchill Downs. But from Ryan's perspective, Musket Man turned in a winning effort while finishing second to Etched. Locked along the rail behind slow fractions, Musket Man angled out for clearance on the final turn and continued strongly to the wire with Eibar Coa aboard.
"He got blocked and he ran a winning race," Ryan said. "I can't ride him as well. I can only get him ready. He came out of it like he won the race. If he don't get blocked in, he wins the race easily. He was burning rubber coming home. It is nearly impossible to make up that kind of ground off those kind of fractions."
It's been an interesting year for Musket Man, who scored his only win of the season in an overnight stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. He has hit the board in the five stakes, including three Grade 1's, since then.
"It's been noses and heads and necks," Ryan said. "We're due for a little bit of luck somewhere along the line."
Ryan hopes the turn of fortune comes against Zenyatta and company in the Classic.
There have been suggestions that Musket Man would fit better in the Dirt Mile. Or even the Sprint.
"That's why they're writing about them and I'm training them," Ryan said.
The fact that the Dirt Mile is a one-turn race at Churchill Downs tilted Ryan in the direction of the Classic.
"If it was a two-turn mile, like at Monmouth, I would consider it," Ryan said. "The one-turn mile is like running at Belmont. It's a one-turn sprint. He likes to sit back and make a run. It's hard to do that in a one-turn race. He's better going long."
Ryan also hopes Musket Man finally scores a win at Churchill Downs. He was third in last year's roughly run stretch battle in the Kentucky Derby. He caught a wet track again Derby Day this year, overcoming a ton of traffic to get third in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs Stakes.
Musket Man will remain at Monmouth for his remaining training. Ryan plans to ship in the Sunday before Breeders' Cup weekend.
"The track has been nice and deep this year," Ryan said of Monmouth. "You don't have to go anywhere."