Matthew Schera's Petit Fils already has run long distances on turf in his first four starts in North America since arriving from his native France in 2019. On Friday, the 5-year-old will attempt a new challenge, making his first main track appearance on U.S. soil as part of a five-horse field in the marathon 1 1/2-mile $80,000 Miner's Mark on the opening day card of Belmont Park's fall meet.
Schera claimed Petit Fils out of a seventh-place finish going 1 3/16 miles on the turf on Aug. 14 at Saratoga. James Lawrence took over the training duties from Christophe Clement, with Petit Fils working twice at Fair Hill for his new conditioner, including a 5-furlong work in 1:03.20 on Sept. 8 over the Fair Hill dirt track.
Petit Fils had been training at Saratoga during the summer, with four consecutive works over the Oklahoma dirt training track through July and August before his previous start.
"He's been training very well, and we'd thought we'd take a chance with the dirt," Lawrence said. "He had some impressive workouts from Saratoga, from what I heard, and down here at Fair Hill, he has worked very nicely on the dirt. So we thought we'd take a shot."
Lawrence said the Miner's Mark distance — once around the famed Big Sandy track — could open options, though he said finding spots with potential softer turf later in the campaign also could be an option.
"He cherishes the distance. It just looked like a good spot to try," Lawrence said. "We did this while keeping in mind finding longer races and hopefully softer turf this fall. He ran really well in France on a softer turf and the races over here, it's been really firm. So, that was our angle."
Petit Fils, who went 6-4-0 in 13 starts in France (with one win and two seconds in four starts on synthetic surfaces) made his North American debut in November, running ninth in the Grade 3 Red Smith, going 1 3/8 miles at Aqueduct Racetrack. After a six-month break, he returned to run 11th in the Tiller on June 4 at Belmont, going 1 3/8 miles over firm turf before his Saratoga bow. Lawrence said he's seen the attributes of what made him successful in Europe during his training in Maryland.
"He's got a really unique personality, and he's always shown another gear in his workouts," Lawrence said. "We made some changes at Fair Hill where we've been able to turn him out and made him a happy horse. Hopefully, just a change of venue works."
Breaking from the outside post in a five-horse field with jockey Kendrick Carmouche aboard, Lawrence said he expects Petit Fils to be close to the front near expected pacesetter Rocketry, trained by Jimmy Jerkens.
"We'll see if he actually likes the dirt or not," Lawrence said. "I prefer the outside post compared to the one or two hole. He can break out of there and do what he wants to do. I would anticipate him being forwardly placed. I think Rocketry will probably be the speed of the race, and I would imagine we'd sit there with him and see what unfolds."
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