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2023 Birdstone Stakes Preview | At Saratoga, Next Looks To Double Up On Marathon Stakes Wins
Next (Sue Kawcyznski/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

2023 Birdstone Stakes Preview | At Saratoga, Next Looks To Double Up On Marathon Stakes Wins

Michael A. Foster’s dual graded stakes-winner Next will travel the farthest of his career in Thursday’s $150,000 Birdstone, a 1 3/4-mile main track marathon for older horses, at Saratoga Race Course.

The Birdstone, named in honor of the Nick Zito-trained winner of the 2004 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes and Grade 1 Travers, is slated as Race 8 on Thursday’s 10-race card. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern. 

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Trained by Doug Cowans, Next was last seen scoring a 2 1/4-length triumph in the Grade 2 Brooklyn on June 10 at Belmont Park where he led each step of the way in the 1 1/2-mile test and completed the course in 2:31.01. The effort garnered a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, the third triple-digit figure he has received in his last four outings.

“He’s doing good and everything went well out of the last race,” said Cowans, who earned the first graded wins of his career with Next. “He’s moved forward and we’re ready to go. The distance is always a concern since he never went that far, but he’s trained well. He’s run a mile and five eighths before with no problem and with the plan we’ve mapped out for the season, the Birdstone fits right in there.”

Next began his career mainly on turf for trainer Wesley Ward and won the one-mile War Chant at Churchill Downs as a sophomore. Last April, Cowans haltered him for $62,500 out of a distant ninth-place effort sprinting seven furlongs over the Keenland main track, and won first off the claim with the son of Not This Time when stretching him out to nine furlongs over the Churchill turf in a claiming tilt last May.

“The horse had run here at Turfway where I’m stabled and I had watched him run a couple times. He had a good turn of foot out of the gate and it seemed he was coming out of some tough races,” said Cowans. “When he showed up in a claiming race at Keeneland, I just decided to take a shot. I wasn’t sure if he was crazy about dirt, so I switched him to turf and he won off the claim. I realized the dirt was probably OK and felt he would be ready to try it again if a turf race came off, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Next stretched out to 1 1/2 miles in his next start in the Cape Henlopen at Delaware Park, originally slated for the turf but moved to a sloppy and sealed main track. He relished the off going and romped to an 18 1/4-length score that was awarded a 100 Beyer. He maintained his good form next out when capturing the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance by 6 1/4 lengths in May at Churchill. He was awarded a career-best 105 Beyer.

“Graded stakes were never the plan, but that’s how it transformed as we got more races into the horse,” said Cowans. “Surely after the first time he went the mile and a half at Delaware, we thought it wasn’t out of the question for him to win a graded stake at that point.”

Luan Machado, the pilot in his last four starts, retains the mount from post 7.

Flying P Stable, R.A. Hill Stable and Flying Partners’ multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Lone Rock will attempt to earn his first trip to the winner’s circle since last May’s Isaac Murphy Marathon at Churchill Downs. Trained by Robertino Diodoro, the 8-year-old son of Majestic Warrior captured this event in 2021 and finished a pacesetting third in last year’s running, which proved to be the final start of his 7-year-old campaign.

Lone Rock, who took the Grade 2 Brooklyn and Grade 2 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance in 2021, has made two starts this year led by a close second to Calibrate in the Temperance Hill going 1 1/2 miles in April at Oaklawn. He was last seen fading to last-of-6 in the Isaac Murphy Marathon on May 3 at Churchill.

Luis Saez rides for the first time from post 6.

Dual stakes-winner Dash Attack [post 4, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] stretches out on the heels of a tidy 1 1/4-length off-the-turf allowance coup going one mile on June 30 at Ellis Park. There, he dueled with Santos Dumont in the early stages before being met with a challenge from Big Blue Line and edging clear in the final furlong for trainer Kenny McPeek.

Owned by Catalyst Stable, Magdalena Racing, Kevin Pollard and Patty Slevin, the son of Munnings notched two stakes coups last year in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn and the Long Branch at Monmouth Park. He made four more outings after his Long Branch victory before landing his recent win at Ellis.

“It’s a test and we’re going to learn something,” said McPeek. “He’s never been that far, but he’s been a nice, solid horse and he grinds it out. I think that’s the type of race this is going to be. He’s a big, strong horse and he’s deep-chested. He gallops along and keeps going and going and going. I think it’s worth the experiment.”

Dash Attack is out of the Hard Spun mare Cerce Cay, whose lone win from nine starts came at nine furlongs on the turf. He was bred in Kentucky by co-owners Catalyst Stable and Magdalena Racing.

Trainer Jeff Hiles and Thorndale Stables’ Time for Trouble [post 5, Ricardo Santana, Jr.] switches to the main track after a pacesetting seventh in the Grade 3 Louisville in May over good Churchill turf. The 6-year-old English Channel chestnut has won two races at marathon distances, including a 1 5/16-mile allowance over graded stakes-winner Verstappen in October at Kentucky Downs, and a 1 3/8-mile starter allowance in July 2021 at Belterra Park.

Hiles said Time for Trouble, who is out of the multiple graded stakes-winning Galileo mare Starstruck, should relish more ground on Thursday.

“It’s a tough spot, but he’s gotten a mile and five sixteenths down at Kentucky Downs, went a mile and three eighths at Belterra Park,” said Hiles. “His breeding suggests he can go all day long.”

Completing the field are the multiple stakes-winning New York-bred Sea Foam [post 1, Joel Rosario] for conditioner Michelle Giangiulio; four-time winner The Skipper Too [post 2, Emisael Jaramillo] for trainer Juan Alvarado; and the Lynn Cash-trained veteran gelding Treasure Trove [post 3, Javier Castellano], an 11-time winner from 54 lifetime starts.