2012 Breeder's Cup Marathon: The Black Sheep of the Breeder's Cup

September 16, 2012 12:58pm


Despite being one of the newest and most unique Breeder’s Cup races, the Marathon carries a memory of what thoroughbred horse racing has seemingly forgotten in the United States.  The 1 ¾ distance on dirt makes the Marathon one of the rarest race types in the sport today.  To many racing fans, the Belmont Stakes is known to be one of the few tests of stamina remaining in dirt racing. The “Test of a Champion” has become modern US horse racing’s definition of endurance, and as we know, many horses that race the Belmont will never race that far again.


1975.  The last year that the Jockey Club Gold Cup was ever run at the distance of 2 miles.  The 2-mile JCGC was arguably the premier end-of-year-race of its time that saw many of the all time greats.  It established the legacy of a few we now consider to be the greatest horses to ever set foot on the track.  Completing 2 miles on dirt was the pinnacle of breeding, training, and durability that personified the thoroughbred. And now, in the finest form of irony, the current 1 ¼ mile Jockey Club Gold Cup is used as a prep race for some participants of the Breeder’s Cup Marathon.  That thought probably has Kelso rolling in his grave.


2008. The inaugural running of the Breeder’s Cup Marathon.  In true justification of the modern definition of dirt horses’ stamina, the race was created at the staying distance of 1 ½ miles.  Santa Anita hosted the Breeder’s Cup that year, and with it came the synthetic racing surface, and many European turf horses that would not have been quite as suited to the 1 ½ mile turf race.  Muhannak was the first horse to be crowned winner of the Marathon, stopping the clock in a respectable 2:28.24.


2009.  The Marathon extended to the current distance of 1 ¾ miles and was bumped up to Grade 3 status, however was still run on the synthetic surface of the hosting Santa Anita racetrack.  Synthetic dirt, typically plays forgiving to turf horses, which enticed the participation of many European stayers that wanted a piece of the $500,000 purse.  This was also the year that the stakes record of 2:54.11 was set in an extremely exciting finish with Man of Iron edging the long shot Cloudy’s Knight through a stretch long battle to the wire.


2010. The race was given an upgrade to a Grade 2 status, and was the first time it was run on a natural dirt surface.  With the change in racing surface came the races first non-euro based winner.  Eldaafer, who probably learned quite a bit from competing the previous year, edged out Gabriel’s Union in another exciting finish of the 1 ¾ mile contest.  It took over 5 seconds longer than the previous year, with Eldaafer stopping the clock in 2:59.62.  Perhaps it can be argued that the 5-second slowdown from the previous year was due to the lack of distance specializing European horses, or the cuppy Churchill Downs dirt.


2011. A second consecutive year at Churchill Downs resulted in the second consecutive year of minimal entries of European horses.  In this rendition, the 44-1 Afleet Again mimicked his sire’s late race rally and kicked 3 lengths clear to win in a pedestrian 3:00.39.  Is this time a sign of things to come, or was the unique texture of Churchill’s surface really taxing on the competitors?


2012. The race is coming back to Santa Anita, but the synthetic track surface of old has been replaced with speed favoring dirt.  The Marathon retains its Grade 2 status and continues to carry a purse of $500,000.  This year’s race could see the likes of up-and-coming distance specialists like Redeemed, and maybe even the 4th consecutive appearance of the 2010 winner, Eldaafer.


The Breeder’s Cup Marathon may not be the marquee event of the racing card, but it certainly has its place amongst the world championship races.  It represents a tradition that made the breed what it is today.  It serves as reminder that even amongst a sea of 6-8 furlong specialists, there are still a few that know how to stretch out.  In the coming weeks, I will highlight the hopefuls and try to handicap a race that may help someone find this year’s 44-1 Afleet Again.  But more than anything, I hope to bring a new sense of respect and excitement for having to wait 2 minutes for the most exciting minute to start.


Photo credit to The Breeder's Cup (breederscup.com) 


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Older Comments about 2012 Breeder's Cup Marathon: The Black Sheep of the Breeder's Cup...

The Marathon is my fave..Have always loved the longer races - the longer, the better. When does racing get more? Does Oaklawn still do The Trail's End?
  • furlongs · Yes Oaklawn runs the trails end as the last race of the meet. The BC should run the14f Marathon as the last BC race also. · 2508 days ago
Huge Yes. Such a list of what if's. Imagine many of them coming back next year. We'd get pictures to moon over of so'n so sleeping under a tree, get to visit another, feed him a carrot. And we'd pay for this honour. Such an exploitatable source we mushbowl fans are.
Exactly. If we bred for stamina and durability, we'd see less retirements in the 3-YO season, and fans could actually look forward to years of seeing their favorites rather than just a year and a half.
Agreed, it is a shame Floridaf, for so many reasons. Would alter the emphasis on so many things.
I agree with you wholeheartedly, Anna, but unfortunately, American breeders would rather breed for speedy youngsters than for durable marathoners. It's a shame really.
Upping the purse for 1.5+ races throughout the season? Running the fully mature proven stalwarts on both dirt and turf, make it really worth someone's while?
The race might get more attention then, but the winners still wouldn't be valued as "go-to" sires once they hit the breeding shed. I think a purse increase would be a great idea, though, Anna.
What happens if the purse is increased to 2-3 million?
It's just too bad that the winners of the Marathon aren't the "it" stallions when it comes to stud duty.
I remember KELSO. Two miles to him was like a stroll in the park!
Updated blog, barnabas, thanks for pointing out the missing info.
Muhannak won the inaugural race in fine form.
who won the 2008 marathon? you don't say here. thanks. talk about getting no respect!!!!
Imagine, the Grand National is 4 1/2 miles....Not that is stamina and the IRish breds do well there too
dstance races INCREASE the value of a rider quite a bit, but no horse, no rider
Great shot of Afleet Again!
If they're going to call it a marathon, then they should make it one
Sunset Handicap at Hollywood use to close out the season at 2 miles. At little Fort Erie the Tour de Fort closes the season each year at OVER 2 miles.
they should MAKE a stayers race then
I'm old enough to remember Group Plan in the '75 Gold Cup ... it was a different era to be sure.

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Meet Matt Scott 

My horseracing journey began when I was 16 years old and my mom took me to Hollywood Park. Although I did not fully appreciate it at the time, the experience stuck with me forever. 10 years later, during one of my many international business trips to Hong Kong, I visited Sha Tin racetrack to watch the races. This is where my true passion began. 


Holding a masters degree in mechanical engineering, the puzzle of handicapping intrigued me. I have made a career of making decisions based on trends, patterns, and formulas, which is why I think I was initially drawn to the sport. However, I have truly learned to appreciate the horses and how magnificent they are as athletes. 


I currently live in San Jose, CA, and when not following racing, I like to spend time with my wife, mountain bike, and design high-speed bicycles that I build and race For reference, 55,000 furlongs is the distance from Hong Kong to my home in San Jose. Also, I have 1-year-old dachshund (aka wiener dog) that I am training to race in the annual Wiener Nationals held at Golden Gate Fields.   


The purpose of this blog is to help give people the viewpoint of a fan that is newer to the sport and eager to learn. I like to respectfully speak my mind, and often the ideas come out of left field, which could give a fresh perspective on a sport rich with tradition and history. hope to represent the many future fans that I wish to follow my footsteps into the Sport of Kings. 

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