Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One mile, eight-furlongs, once around the track. Mile races are the cross-roads event in the thoroughbred world. The meeting of sprinters and distance runners.
The fifth edition of the $1 million Dirt Mile, and the second time at Churchill Downs, has a highly competitive field of nine. With the layout at the historic track the race will be a one-turn event. Last year at the Twin Spires, Dakota Phone went from last to first to post a head victory over pacesetter Morning Line in a time of 1:35.29 on a fast track.
This year's race has three fewer horses than last year with four-year-old Trappe Shot the 3-1 program favorite. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the chestnut colt drew the far outside post with John Velazquez riding.
Trappe Shot has won two of four starts this year, but is coming off a fourth in the Vosburgh at Belmont Park after losing by a nose in the Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga. His wins were in a pair of spring stakes at Belmont Park, True North Handicap and Waldoboro Stakes.
Despite his last two starts Trappe Shot got the favorite's role for the Dirt Mile due to his ability to stay just off the pace and fire at the right time.
"The Factor, Shackleford and Tapizar are 1, 2 and 3, so they're going to have to go, so we might get back further stalking them. We might be 10-lengths back if they go a half in 44 (seconds). You never know," McLaughlin said. "It's a great post position because we don't have to be involved in all of that. We're out in the clear."
The Factor and Shackleford, both three-year-olds, are co-second picks at 7-2.
The Factor is trained by Bob Baffert and will have Martin Garcia in the saddle and carry three pounds less than the favorite as will all three-year-olds.
The gray colt was sidelined after losing the Arkansas Derby as the 4-5 favorite. It was discovered that he had a hairline fracture following the race. He returned in August to win the Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar and was fourth in the Ancient Title at Santa Anita.
Preakness Stakes champ Shackleford will be ridden by Jesus Castanon for trainer Dale Romans. The chestnut colt was fifth in the Belmont Stakes with a strong second to Coil in the Haskell. He faded to eighth in the Travers, but came in second to Wilburn in the Indiana Derby.
"We hadn't done much with him since the Indiana Derby and wanted to give him a good work," the trainer noted after a workout. "I've never had a horse run bad after working in 58. You just can't make a horse work like that.
"I can't see anything happening other than The Factor going right for the lead and we'll sit just behind him. And, if Tapizar wants to join him, we'll be happy to sit third. He's not a horse that needs the lead. He'll listen to his rider."
The 4-1 fourth pick is Indiana Derby winner Wilburn owned by Stonestreet Stables and trained by Steve Asmussen. The three-year-old colt is working on a three-race win streak, which includes the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx Racing.
"Julien (jockey Leparoux) got a dream trip in the Indiana Derby," Asmussen said. "The door was open for him, but he definitely stormed through it. You can get a good trip, but he looked good with the good trip. I like the acceleration he showed.
"I think the trip is extremely important with him. He's a great big horse, bit, tall and leggy. His confidence is exactly where you'd want it to be coming into a race like this, so we feel good about it."
Wilburn will again have Leparoux in the saddle and break from post five.
Another three-year-old entered in the Dirt Mile is Caleb's Posse who ran down Uncle Mo to win the King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga. The colt is 5-1 in the program and will start from post eight with Rajiv Maragh.
Trained by Donnie Von Hemel, Caleb's Posse won the Amsterdam at Saratoga, but came in third in the Indiana Derby last time out.
"It's hard to say why he didn't run a little better, but it's not surprising that we ran third in a race like that," Von Hemel said. "I thought the winner ran a good race, he got through on the rail, but I don't think anyone was going to beat him (Wilburn) that day. Our horse just kind of ran even. It wasn't outstanding, but the main thing for us was the timing and straight three-year-olds. It was a way for us to get here.
"Because the Dirt Mile was the more likely spot for us, we decided to use the Indiana Derby as a prep," Von Hemel said. "We were stabled in Chicago (Arlington Park), so there wasn't a lot of travel for us. We figured we'd pop over to Indiana and then to Kentucky. We didn't want to have to make another trip back East."
At 12-1 is the well traveled Irrefutable. The five-year-old is trained by Baffert and will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano from post six. The gray horse has started on five different tracks this year, including Churchill Downs.
He won a six-furlong allowance race in Louisville on May 4 and two months later moved into stakes company with a second in the Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder.
"We put him in and we know he's a longshot, but he ran well here last spring, and he ran his best race Beyer-wise here as well," Baffert remarked.
The horse was sixth in a pair of stakes before running second in the Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita to put him into the Dirt Mile.
"In the Ancient Title we just let him break and come from off the pace and it worked out; he ran a big race," Baffert said. "He'll be coming at the end."
At 15-1 is 2010 Cigar Mile winner Jersey Town. The five-year-old has Cornelio Velasquez riding for trainer Barclay Tagg of Funny Cide fame. The chestnut horse will go for his initial win this year from post seven.
The speedy Tapizar, as mentioned earlier, has the three hole and is 20-1 in the program with Garrett Gomez up for Steve Asmussen. In January the three- year-old won the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita and is coming off an optional claiming victory.
At 30-1 San Diego Handicap winner Tres Borrachos is the longest shot in the morning-line. He followed his win at Del Mar with a sixth in the Pacific Classic and a fifth in the Goodwood. Trained by Marty Jones, the gelding will break from post four with Joel Rosario riding.
There's more than enough speed in the Dirt Mile to give the stalkers and late runners a chance to pounce down the stretch. A good price can be had by all.
Morning-line favorite Trappe Shot over Jersey Town and Irrefutable is the play for Saturday.