Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mafaaz earns Derby berth in blanket finish

Alan Shuback, Daily Racing Form

Wearing blinkers for the first time in his brief career, Mafaaz barely outlasted Spring of Fame in a desperate finish to the $115,000 Kentucky Derby Challenge at Kempton Park on Wednesday night to earn himself a place in the Run for the Roses, but he could go first in the Blue Grass Stakes on a Polytrack surface similar to that at Kempton.

Placed just behind the slow pace of eventual third-place finisher Sohcahtoa in the early going, the 11-2 Mafaaz led under Richard Hills at the sixteenth pole, running as if he were late for the flight to Louisville. Spring of Fame, however, was flying on the outside, but his run fell a neck short with Sohcahtoa finishing a head in front of fourth-place Mastery. Haashed, the 9-4 favorite, prompted the early pace but weakened to finish last of 14. Both Mafaaz and Haashed are owned by Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum's Shadwell Stud.

Students of American form will have noted that Mafaaz finished just two lengths fifth in the Tattersalls Million in his last start, on Oct. 4, behind subsequent Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Donativum. Trained by John Gosden - like Donativum was at that time - Mafaaz had previously won a seven-furlong maiden over the same Kempton Polytrack as the Derby Challenge. He covered the 1 1/8 miles on the right-handed oval on Wednesday night in a pedestrian 1:55.17.

The Derby Challenge throws up a number of questions 45 days before the Kentucky Derby. With less than three-quarters of a length separating the first four, doubt can be cast on the quality of Mafaaz's victory. There is, however, evidence that he will stay 1 1/4 miles, as his sire, Medicean, won the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes at that distance on turf. He is also out of a mare by the great Danehill, whose offsrping get anything between six furlongs and 1 1/2 miles. The Derby, however, would be Mafaaz's first start on dirt.

"I've got an eye on the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, which would provide him with a big opportunity ahead of the Derby," Gosden told The Sporting Life website. "If we don't get in that race, he'll go straight to Churchill. The blinkers have helped - he's always lacked a bit of focus - and he's a tough cookie. He's not a pussycat but has got the right attitude."

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