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Up to the Mark won the 2023 Coolmore Turf Mile Stakes (G1) at Keeneland, a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, by nailing Master of the Seas at the wire in a thrilling photo finish.
Off this successful return from a long layoff, should Up to the Mark target the Mile or the Turf at the World Championships? Watch the replay & get the Racing Dudes’ expert analysis, then tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Up to the Mark edged Godolphin’s Master of The Seas (IRE) by the narrowest of noses to win the 38th running of the $1 million Coolmore Turf Mile (G1) on opening Saturday of Keeneland’s Fall Meet.
The victory provided Up to the Mark with a fees-paid berth into the $2 million FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) to be run Nov. 4 at Santa Anita.
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In the Coolmore Turf Mile, Up to the Mark and favored Master of The Seas hooked up in deep stretch after coming from the back of the pack to be separated by a nose at the finish.
Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Jose Ortiz, Up to the Mark completed the mile over a firm turf course in 1:34.18. It is the third victory in the race for Pletcher, who has 70 career stakes wins at Keeneland. His other Turf Mile winners are Host (CHI) in 2005 and Annapolis in 2022.
Indestructible (IRE) led the field through fractions of :23.75 and :47.31 as Master of The Seas and Up to the Mark raced in a joint seventh place. As the field approached the final turn, James Doyle got first run with Master of The Seas and at the head of the lane swung three wide to go after Annapolis, who had assumed the lead.
Master of The Seas opened a clear advantage nearing the sixteenth pole, but Ortiz had Up to the Mark in the four path and closing rapidly to join the leader inside the sixteenth pole. He outdueled that rival to the finish.
A Keeneland sales graduate, Up to the Mark is a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Not This Time out of the Ghostzapper mare Belle’s Finale. In winning his third consecutive Grade 1 event, Up to the Mark improved his record to 11-6-0-2 and boosted his earnings to $1,831,050 with Saturday’s $589,000 check.
Up to the Mark returned $6.58, $3.20 and $2.72. Master of The Seas returned $2.92 and $2.34 and finished 3 lengths in front of Set Piece (GB), who paid $3.68 to show under Tyler Gaffalione.
It was another half-length back to Annapolis, who was followed in order by English Bee, Harlan Estate, Stitched, Atone and Indestructible.
Todd Pletcher (winning trainer of Up to the Mark)
On what he learned from Up to the Mark’s third-place finish in the Maker’s Mark Mile-G1 here in April:
“We probably made a mistake that day. (Runner-up) Modern Games (IRE) was a huge favorite, and I think we got caught up tactically in what Modern Games was doing instead of just focusing on how Up to the Mark wanted to run. He got a great trip today. (Jockey) Jose (Ortiz) made a very smart move in the middle of the turn when he decided to follow the 1 horse (Master of The Seas-IRE) and things split. But you gotta give the horse a ton of credit, to come back off a layoff since June and accelerate the way he did. He’s a serious horse.”
On which Breeders’ Cup race he might choose for Up to the Mark:
“He’s a horse that can probably do anything. He showed today that he’s a Grade 1 horse at a mile. He showed that he’s a Grade 1 horse at a mile-and-a-quarter (winning the Resorts World Casino Manhattan-G1 at Belmont Park June 10), so either race could work: the mile (FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1) or the mile-and-a-half (Breeders’ Cup Turf-G1). We’ll just see how he comes out of it, assess everything and make a decision, but it’s great to have a horse that versatile.”
Jose Ortiz (winning rider)
“I was next to (Master of The Seas) almost the entire race. James (Doyle on Master of The Seas) had a good opening at the three-eighths pole and he went to the rail, so I decided to follow him as long as I could, until the eighth pole. When I put (Up to the Mark) outside, he gave me a great run. It was a nice trip.”
Charlie Appleby (trainer of runner-up Master of The Seas-IRE)
“The winner’s a good horse, we know. We thought maybe (with) the (layoff for Up to the Mark, who had not raced since June) we might just have the edge there, but he got us on the line. We’ll get (Master of The Seas) back home and sort of review. We’ll see how it develops over the next 48 hours, really. He plans to go back probably Tuesday or Wednesday, but if he stays for Breeders’ Cup we’ll probably leave him here.”
James Doyle (rider of runner-up Master of The Seas-IRE)
“We had a lovely trip round. He was a little awkward in the stall but relaxed, lovely. Obviously very worried about the winner. He’s the best turf horse in America, isn’t he? Our only chance is that he was cutting back in trip. And he’s (not raced since June), but he’s trained to perfection. Very good horse.”
Tyler Gaffalione (rider of third-place finisher Set Piece-GB)
“Everything kind of went to plan. I got a nice setup in front of us, and our horse really came running down the stretch. He finished up really well for me, and I was really proud of his effort. He seems like a very versatile horse. He’s going to come with his run no matter the distance. As long as he gets a decent setup, he will come finishing.”
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