LEXINGTON, Ky. — Leading U.S.-based older turf male Up to the Mark and the improving European miler Master of the Seas raced together near the back of the field for the opening six furlongs of Saturday’s $1 million Coolmore Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland. It was altogether fitting, then, that the pair were also virtually inseparable at the finish.
There had to be a winner, though, and that proved to be Up to the Mark, who got the head bob after following Master of the Seas through traffic and into contention in the final quarter-mile. Unraced since June, when he added the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan (G1) at Belmont Park to an earlier victory in the 1 1/8-mile Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs, Up to the Mark proved his credentials at the shorter distance while earning a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
“I was next to (Master of the Seas) almost the entire race,” winning jockey Jose Ortiz said. “James (Doyle on Master of the Seas) had a good opening at the three-eighths pole and he went to the rail, so I decided to follow him as long as I could, until the eighth pole. When I put (Up to the Mark) outside, he gave me a great run. It was a nice trip.”
Master of the Seas, the 6-5 favorite off dominating wins in the Woodbine Mile (G1) and Summer Mile (G2) at Ascot, ran a terrific in race what was officially his first U.S. start. He had been scratched at the gate in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Del Mar, and had already earned a berth in this year’s Mile via his last-out victory at Woodbine.
“We’ll get (Master of the Seas) back home and sort of review. We’ll see how it develops over the next 48 hours, really,” trainer Charlie Appleby said. “He plans to go back probably Tuesday or Wednesday, but if he stays for the Breeders’ Cup we’ll probably leave him here.”
Owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, Up to the Mark covered the firm-course test in 1:34.18 and paid $6.58 to win. Master of the Seas finished three lengths clear of Arlington Million (G1) winner Set Piece, who was followed by 2022 Coolmore Turf Mile hero Annapolis. Completing the order of finish were English Bee, Harlan Estate, Stitched, Atone, and Indestructible.
Although Up to the Mark has that berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Pletcher said the 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) is still a potential option, though Up to the Mark has yet to run that far.
“He’s a horse that can probably do anything,” Pletcher said. “We’ll just see how he comes out of it, assess everything and make a decision, but it’s great to have a horse that versatile.”
Up to the Mark has won six of 11 starts overall and all but one of his six attempts on turf. Switched to the turf last January at Gulfstream, Up to the Mark impressively captured two allowances. He then tackled Grade 1 company in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) and finished a credible third behind Chez Pierre and Modern Games, the latter last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and champion turf male.
“We probably made a mistake that day. Modern Games was a huge favorite, and I think we got caught up tactically in what Modern Games was doing instead of just focusing on how Up to the Mark wanted to run,” Pletcher said.
Bred in Kentucky by Ramspring Farm, Up to the Mark was a $450,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland September. By Not This Time, the four-year-old was reared by Belle’s Finale, a daughter of Ghostzapper and the Grade 1-winning Capote Belle.