The intermediate mile distance brings together a number of form strands, with members of the field having run over distances ranging from sprint distances to the full ten furlongs of the Classic trip last time out. With so many races falling between these two trips, few races stand out as established and reliable trials for the Dirt Mile.
Likely favourite Mor Spirit enters the race off the back of a six-length romp in the Metropolitan Handicap. Although this race does not have much significance as a trial for the Dirt Mile, the Beyer figure of 117 was huge and Mor Spirit certainly has the running style and class for this. However, he's not run since June. He’s had some training setbacks along the way and seems a dodgy proposition at short odds, though he’s certainly a contender.
Bob Baffert has another runner in Cupid who notched a course and distance win this summer in the Brubaker, a race which logically takes on more significance as a prep this year. Last time he attacked a hot pace at ten panels and should be very fit for the cutback – six of the ten Mile winners to date have been cutting back in distance. He’s cross entered for the Classic but would be interesting here at current double-digit odds.
Sharp Azteca has a likeable profile, having won half of his lifetime starts and has produced his best numbers this year. He comes here off a career best in the Kelso, clocking a 112 Beyer and winning by four. Tamarkuz and Tapizar both suffered defeats in that race prior to their Dirt Mile wins, so for Sharp Azteca to score so comprehensively is encouraging. The main negative is that he was hammered by Mor Spirit in the Metropolitan, but he looks to have come on since then and has the benefit of a recent run: he should certainly close the gap.
Accelerate is another with a wide-margin recent win to his name, scoring by eight in the San Diego Handicap, the race in which Arrogate flopped at 1-20. Next time out he ran reasonably well when third in the Pacific Classic, looking as though the trip stretched him. Nonetheless, he ran a similar strong figure to the San Diego and appears to have improved for the application of blinkers. Dakota Phone had also taken the bronze medal in the Pacific Classic prior to his Dirt Mile win in 2010 and Accelerate is particularly effective at Del Mar (3 for 4), so he looks to have strong claims.
Practical Joke will look to match Goldencents by contesting the Kentucky Derby and cutting back in distance to land the Mile. He ran superbly at Churchill to finish fifth and has won two of his three starts since, with the most recent on those coming in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes. Previously known as the King's Bishop Stakes, Caleb's Posse did the double in 2011 and Practical Joke has fair prospects of matching that achievement. He has yet to win around two turns despite running well but is talented and tough. He’d be an appealing proposition around odds of 4-1 or higher.
Verdict: Practical Joke looks the bet in a race where there are too many questions about the favorite (Mor Spirit) at a short price. Practical Joke is an appealing proposition around odds of 4-1 or higher.