Like many stakes on opening weekend at Keeneland, Saturday’s $1 million Coolmore Turf Mile (G1) has come up a blockbuster.
A field of nine has been assembled for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) prep, led by Master of the Seas, a dazzling winner of last month’s Woodbine Mile (G1), and Up to the Mark, who developed into the top domestic older turf male after back-to-back wins in the Turf Classic (G1) and Manhattan (G1) last spring.
Enhancing the lineup are Arlington Million (G1) winner Set Piece and Annapolis, who faces a formidable group in an attempt to win the Coolmore Turf Mile for the second year in a row.
A Godolphin homebred who was classic-placed in England before being gelded, Master of the Seas didn’t beat the strongest field in the Woodbine Mile, but was as convincing as he had been in mid-July when taking the Summer Mile (G2) at Ascot by four lengths.
Up to the Mark, third behind Chez Pierre and now-retired champion Modern Games in his stakes debut in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) last April, stretched out successfully to take the aforementioned Grade 1s at Churchill and Belmont. Infirmities prevented a summer campaign, but the Todd Pletcher trainee has the class to be competitive here despite the layoff.
Set Piece delivered one his more powerful stretch kicks to land the Million at Colonial Downs last time and will look to improve on his rallying fourth-place run in last year’s Turf Mile. Annapolis, meanwhile, can fare better over a more conventional surface after finishing fifth in the Mint Millions (G3) at Kentucky Downs last time.
Other notables in the field include Mint Millions runner-up Stitched, a 46-1 winner of the Wise Dan (G2) two back, and Atone, unplaced four times since taking the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) in January. The three-year-old Indestructible has also been unplaced in his last four, over in Europe, but the Craven (G3) winner is not necessarily taking a significant class drop in his U.S. debut.
The $750,000 First Lady (G1), for fillies and mares at one mile on the turf, will serve as an intramural rematch between the Chad Brown-trained Whitebeam and In Italian.
Whitebeam, who had finished second to Evvie Jets in the Plenty of Grace S. at Aqueduct before taking the Gallorette (G3) at Pimlico, needed every yard of the 1 1/8-mile Diana (G1) to pip her more decorated stablemate by a nose.
In Italian, however, remains the horse to beat in the First Lady, a race she won in wire-to-wire fashion last year. She used the same tactics to win the Jenny Wiley (G1) and Just a Game (G1) last spring by wide margins.
Brown also sends out Gina Romantica, who captured the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) over the course last year but who appears a cut or two below her stablemates. Jumbly invades from Ireland for a second time this season, having finished a half-length third to Evvie Jets in the Ballston Spa (G2) at Saratoga two back.
The $350,000 Woodford (G2), a 5 1/2-furlong turf dash, is likely to yield a starter or more for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). It is led by Live in the Dream, who posted a 28-1 upset of the Nunthorpe (G1) at York in late August, in which he defeated the acclaimed mare Highfield Princess, winner of last weekend’s Prix de l’Abbaye (G1).
The domestic contingent is led by Bad Beat Brian, a neck third in the Turf Sprint (G2) at Kentucky Downs last month; California invader Beer Can Man; the Wesley Ward-trained Kaufymaker; and the multiple stakes-placed Our Shot.