The Grade 2 Mac Diarmida drew a mix of up-and-coming turf marathoners and stalwarts of this division. And there are others, such as Grand Tito and All Included, who will be stretching out to a marathon distance for the first time. With no confirmed frontrunners signed on, and the Pace Projector placing the stretching-out Grand Tito on a clear early lead, trips will be of utmost importance, as they always are in these longer races.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, Kaigun (7/2): Though this six-year-old has been competitive at the highest level for quite some time now, only recently has his focus shifted to races at eleven furlongs and beyond. Though he’s given a good account of himself at those distances, finishing second in three straight Grade 3 races, he still hasn’t won a race since November of 2014. He was also soundly defeated by a couple of today’s rivals recently, which casts some doubt on his ability to turn the tables today.
#2, Grand Tito (10/1): He appreciated the class relief last time as he deviated from a steady diet of graded stakes races to collect an optional claiming win. If we throw out his non-effort over a yielding course in last fall’s Shadwell Turf Mile, he’s been in rather good form over the past year. However, he’s never raced beyond a mile and an eighth, which is a major concern, and his speed figures are a bit light compared to what the top contenders have been posting.
His early speed makes him dangerous, but this seems like a tough spot in which to stretch out for the first time.
#3, O’Prado Ole (20/1): He’s a bit of an enigma. Going back to 2014, he appeared to be on his way to bigger and better things after solid showings in the Stars N Stripes behind The Pizza Man and in the Sword Dancer behind Main Sequence and Twilight Eclipse. However, he tailed off later that year and has made only sporadic appearances since then. His last race was a step in the right direction, as he used his speed to earn an in-the-money finish against softer competition. The stretch-out in distance figures to bring out further improvement, but we wonder what’s still left in the tank after this passage of time.
#4, Da Big Hoss (3/1): Since being claimed for $50,000 last June, this horse has rewarded his connections with three stakes wins, including two in Grade 3 company. He even split the field in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last fall, finishing ahead of today’s rival Twilight Eclipse. His lone race over this turf course, in December, was somewhat disappointing, as he couldn’t keep pace with Kaigun in the late stages, but he easily turned the tables on that one next time out at Sam Houston. That said, he got an absolutely perfect rail-skimming trip on his way to that visually impressive win, which earned him the race’s highest last-out speed figure of 126. Da Big Hoss is obviously in great form right now, but we feel that he may be slightly overrated off that last triumph.
#5, Mr Maybe (4/1): Chad Brown worked his magic on this son of Ghostzapper last fall, plucking him out of starter allowance races to turn him into one of the most visually impressive turf stakes winners we saw on the New York circuit last year. His sweeping last-to-first move in the Red Smith Handicap was no optical illusion. His quick turn of foot made a talented performer like Kaigun seem merely ordinary by comparison. That said, pound for pound, this is a tougher spot, and he may need to take another step forward to get the job done. Mr Maybe is an easy horse to root for, but we get the feeling that he may be bet down to a much lower price than his 4/1 morning line, especially considering the presence of Chad Brown and leading rider Javier Castellano. We feel that he wouldn’t offer sufficient value at anything lower than 5/2.
#6, Twilight Eclipse (2/1):
The oldest runner in the field at seven years old, Twilight Eclipse has been running competitively at this level for the better part of three years. This will be his fourth time contesting the Mac Diarmida, having won in 2014 and finished second to Main Sequence last year. Though the victories have become less frequent in recent years, this gelding always shows up with an honest effort, as is evidenced by his string of speed figures between 119 and 127 dating back to the summer of 2014. Twilight Eclipse has always preferred a firm surface, so we can excuse his efforts in both the Breeders’ Cup and Manhattan last year, which came over turf courses that had taken some rain. He figures to get his preferred footing this time, and his versatile running style should allow him to adapt to whatever pace scenario develops. He showed that he still was capable of producing a Grade 1-winning effort last fall, when he certainly would have won the Grade 1 Turf Classic if not for a poor decision by his rider. Until proven otherwise, we expect him to come back at the same level in 2016, and that clearly makes him the horse to beat. He’s listed at 2/1 on the morning line, and that price would represent fair value in our eyes.
#7, All Included (10/1): He’s proven to be a cut below the best of his division in Grade 1 company at shorter distances, so Todd Pletcher is experimenting with a stretch-out in distance. However, we’ve always felt that this horse is more of a miler, so we doubt that added ground will be the answer.
Of those that can win this race, we expect TWILIGHT ECLIPSE (#6) to offer the best value as he gets his preferred firm ground for this race. We could bet him at odds of 2/1 or higher.
Win: #6, Twilight Eclipse
6 with 4,5 with 1,3,4,5
6 with 1,3 with 4,5