Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile a Perfect Fit for Private Zone

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile a Perfect Fit for Private Zone

Private Zone winning the Forego Stakes. Photo by NYRA/Coglianese Photos

Private Zone (striped blinkers and red noseband) couldn't keep pace up with the fast pace in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Sprint
Private Zone (striped blinkers and red noseband) couldn’t keep up with the fast pace in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but could find the pace of the 2015 Dirt Mile more ideal. Breeders’ Cup Photo (c)

In the aftermath of Private Zone’s extremely easy win in the seven-furlong Forego Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga–his third win from five starts this year–it was announced on August 30th that his connections are thinking of giving the star sprinter a try in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I), rather than contest the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) for a third time.

The six-year-old son of Macho Uno finished tenth in the 2013 Sprint and third in 2014, each time entering off a win in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont. But while Private Zone has found success at six furlongs, his best distance is arguably seven furlongs, and after winning the Forego in such easy fashion, trainer Jorge Navarro feels that the Dirt Mile could be a logical target.

“The way he did that yesterday, why not the [Breeders’ Cup] Dirt Mile?” Navarro was quoted as saying in the Saratoga Race Course Notes for August 30th. “We have to see where Tonalist and Honor Code are going because those are two very nice horses, top horses. I think it is the Sprint we’re sitting on top right now… We’re going to the Breeders’ Cup, but I hate to say which one right now. I’ll get together with Rene [Douglas, manager of Good Friends Stable, which owns Private Zone] this week and we’ll make plans from there.”

“The horse is doing super today. I was pretty amazed at the way he came back from the race and how quick he cooled out. I can’t believe how he came back; it’s really good. He looked like he did everything so easy and he wasn’t used. I am very pleased and happy with him.”

What makes the Dirt Mile a particularly appealing option is that the race will be held at Keeneland this year, a track that can’t run one-mile races due to its 8.5-furlong circumference. As a result, the race will be held on Beard Course (a chute that extends off the backstretch) at a distance of 7 furlongs and 384 feet, which equates to about 7.58 furlongs–almost a half-furlong shorter than a true mile. Additionally, running the Dirt Mile on the Beard Course means that the race will be held around one turn rather than two, making it more of an extended sprint than a short route. A two-turn mile would be a question mark for Private Zone, but a one-turn race at 7.58 furlongs should be no problem at all–he won the Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct last year and has placed in three other one-turn miles in the U.S., including the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) earlier this year.

But perhaps the biggest advantage of all is that Private Zone is unlikely to face much pace pressure in the Dirt Mile, where his exceptional early speed will almost guarantee that he secures the early lead. In contrast, Private Zone has been run off his feet in the last two Breeders’ Cup Sprints, never making the lead as the pacesetters carved out incredible fractions of :21.34 and :43.72 in 2013 and :21.19 and :43.34 in 2014. Such a fast pace is highly unlikely to be found in the Dirt Mile, where Private Zone should be able to sprint clear of his rivals and get into his rhythm; the same rhythm that has garnered him four grade I wins in top company over the last two years. At this point, my guess is that if Private Zone runs in the Dirt Mile, he will be very, very difficult to beat.

UPDATE: Due to a change in plans that I had overlooked, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile will actually be contested around two turns this year, making it a true one-mile race and a much greater challenge for Private Zone. In 20 starts in the U.S., Private Zone has contested a two-turn mile only once, finishing fifth by eight lengths in the 2012 El Cajon Stakes at Del Mar. But that race was run over a synthetic track (he has been much more successful on dirt), and it was also three years ago, and Private Zone has improved substantially since then. But while the pace of the Dirt Mile will still be much slower than in the Sprint, a two-turn mile is a vastly different race than a one-turn mile, complicating the decision on which race would be best for Private Zone.

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the blog Unlocking Winners.

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