Grass Is Getting Greener
By Nicolle Neulist
In a country where so many people still call a mile and a half a “turf marathon”, Da Big Hoss has not only done well at twelve furlongs but become a star going even longer. His first stakes try came in the John’s Call last year, going a mile and five-eighths at Saratoga. He won by daylight over mile and a half specialist Holiday Star. In his last race before the American St. Leger, Da Big Hoss stayed two miles and looked good doing it. He beat a French shipper, Now We Can, who had some back class and some long-winded German breeding, but had yet to prove whether he was the horse he had been in 2013 or 2014.
Da Big Hoss got a class test in last Saturday’s American St. Leger (GIII). The public trusted him to the tune of 3/5, but Clondaw Warrior, Wasir, and Billabong had recent overseas staying form. Montclair had back form, and had been claimed specifically to try and recapture that stateside.
Da Big Hoss rose to the challenge. He took command into the final furlong, and Clondaw Warrior’s furious late rally fell almost two lengths short. Da Big Hoss’s win in the American St. Leger is one more positive sign in the slow but sure progress of turf marathons in America.
Turf marathons have not become bread and butter in the United States but are slowly becoming more than just curiosities. Think back to five years ago. In 2011, the American St. Leger did not exist. The Stars and Stripes Stakes (GIII) at Arlington, which had been a mile and five-eighths, was cut back to a mile and a half. The only graded turf race longer than a mile and a half was the San Juan Capistrano at a mile and three-quarters.
Now, there are more six-figure turf marathons than just the San Juan Capistrano. The ungraded thirteen-furlong John’s Call Stakes at Saratoga, just a $45,000 race in 2011, has seen its purse more than double, to $100,000. The American St. Leger, first run in 2012, carries a Grade III and a $300,000 purse. The listed Belmont Gold Cup, inaugurated in 2014, covers two miles. It started with a $200,000 purse and now offers $300,000. Gulfstream added the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes to its schedule in 2015. A $75,000 race in its first year, it offered a $100,000 purse this year.
We still have further to go on these shores, both literally and figuratively. American turf stayers have to be effective at a mile and a half or shorter to make a full season in the United States, as there is still not a whole year’s circuit at truer marathon distances. Modern American stayers also have much to prove internationally.
Just as with our stateside racing schedule, this is inching in the right direction as well. Da Big Hoss’s connections are entertaining offers to target the Melbourne Cup (GI – AUS), though such considerations remain preliminary at best. Charming Kitten, winner of both the 2014 Belmont Gold Cup and the 2016 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes, has begun an international campaign. He finished third last month in Her Majesty’s Plate, a listed race going a mile and three-quarters at Down Royal. He has entered this Saturday’s Irish St. Leger Trial (GIII – IRE) at The Curragh, and will face the likes of Order of St. George, Commissioned, and Wicklow Brave going a mile and three-quarters. Winning will be a tall order, particularly since Order of St. George has marked himself as one of the world’s best stayers. But, if Charming Kitten can show this Saturday that he belongs, it will be another significant step forward for stateside stayers.