Saturday, September 19, 2009

What mission next for Midshipman?

Midshipman, the 2008 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and Eclipse 2-year-old champion, made a successful return to the races Friday after a lengthy layoff.

The 3-year-old by Unbridled's Song was an impressive winner in allowance/optional claiming company at Belmont Park, his first try on a conventional dirt surface and first race since that B.C. Juvenile win.

I have to admit I'm not sure what to think of this horse. Clearly he's talented, as are so many of the Unbridled's Song line. But it's disquieting that so many of them, including Midshipman, struggle with their soundness. Is he back for a good while, or will he unravel again sooner rather than later or never?

Midshipman was taken off the Kentucky Derby trail at the end of February after suffering a reportedly minor soft tissue injury while training at Godolphin's Al Quoz Stables in Dubai. Having missed the Derby -- which is tough enough to win by going wide to circle the field on the far turn and which Godolphin keeps trying to win by circling the globe -- the connections were obviously in no real hurry to push the horse on his return to the races. And that was no doubt in Midshipman's best interests.

So, what next for Midshipman?

It isn't impossible for the horse to be ready for the Breeders' Cup again in November. With a win on Sept. 18, he could race again in mid-October, and have three to four more weeks between that start and the big weekend. The Breeders' Cup would be his third race off the layoff, often viewed by handicappers as a horse finally primed to make his best effort.

If he emerges from this comeback win in stellar shape, I wouldn't rule out an appearance out west at Santa Anita in the Oct. 10 Goodwood Stakes, a Grade 1 race also targeted by this year's Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird. It's a huge step up from A/OC company to G1, but certainly Midshipman -- when "right" -- is a Grade 1 horse. His Del Mar Futurity win and the B.C. Juvenile last year proved that. If he were entered and ran well in the Goodwood, there should be little fear of trying to run back in four weeks over the same course in the Breeders' Cup Classic among an older handicap division that has been debated as suspect.

Another possibility, should Midshipman stay in the east and on conventional dirt, might be the G2 Meadowlands Cup in New Jersey, won last year by Arson Squad. That 9-furlong race in what could or should be lesser company might be an easier second-race-back for Midshipman.

If I were among the connections, either course would likely be fine with me; again, provided the horse is "right" and stays that way.

Any thoughts from my fellow members of the peanut gallery?

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