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Queen's Plate runner-up Up With the Birds to chase Breeders' Stakes win

08/14/2013 05:58 EDT | Updated 10/14/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Questions exist if Up With the Birds can successfully handle the 1 1/2-mile distance of the $500,000 Breeders Stakes turf race Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack.

But the three-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic will certainly face his stiffest test on grass well rested. Up With the Birds hasn't run since his stirring second-place finish in the $1-million Queen's Plate on July 7 at Woodbine.

"He got the mile and a quarter so well in the Queen's Plate, he was still running through the wire," trainer Malcolm Pierce said Wednesday. "The mile and a half is kind of an unknown territory for everybody and I think my horse will get it as good as anybody else.

"That's my thought before the race anyways."

Up With the Birds, owned and bred by Sam-Son Farm, headlines the projected nine-horse field for the third leg of Canadian thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown. The other expected entrants include River Seven (10th in Plate, second in Prince of Wales), Pyrite Mountain (seventh in Plate) and Global Express, a Roger Attfield-trained horse coming off an impressive turf win.

Up With the Birds won't have to contend with the winners of the opening two legs as neither Midnight Aria nor Prince of Wales champion Uncaptured, will run Sunday.

Up With the Birds is expected to be the heavy early favourite when the race draw and odds are unveiled Thursday. A win Sunday would be Sam-Son's record sixth in this event.

The three-year old colt has finished in the money in all four of his 2013 starts (two wins, twice second). He's also posted a win and second-place finish in his two career turf starts as well.

After starting the 1 1/4-mile Plate well back, Up With the Birds made a brilliant stretch run on a wet Woodbine polytrack to finish just a half-length behind winner Midnight Aria.

"He's got no speed at all and that probably got us into a little trouble in the Plate," Pierce said. "It rained so hard that day it made the polytrack a speed-favouring track and sure helped (Midnight Aria) a lot and hindered our horse.

"He was trapped a little bit at the 3/8ths pole and had to wait to get a little running room. But when he did, he probably ran the fastest last quarter of anybody in the race."

However, that took its toll on Up With the Birds and Pierce decided to skip the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes on July 30 at Fort Erie Racetrack. Trainer Nick Gonzalez did the same with Midnight Aria, citing fatigue.

"(Up With the Birds) had had plenty of racing," Pierce said. "Maybe had he won the Plate then you've got a Triple Crown ahead of you and we might've given it a little more consideration.

"I don't think he's a dirt horse to start with, I think he's more turf and poly so it was an easy decision to just freshen him for this race."

Another factor was trainer Mark Casse entering Uncaptured, Canada's 2012 horse of the year, into the Prince of Wales. Uncaptured, who began 2013 a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender, didn't disappoint, making a late burst for a one-length victory over River Seven, the only horse that will run in all three Triple Crown races this year but makes his turf debut Sunday.

"I knew Mark had his good horse, Uncaptured, shipping up from Churchill Downs and he'd be very solid to beat on my horse's best day on the dirt," Pierce said. "That made it a little easier.

"If you're going down there thinking the best you can do is be second that's not the right attitude to go into a race with."

Up With the Birds has finished in the money in all seven career starts (four wins, two seconds, one third). He's also the field's leading moneywinner at $570,641.

But Pierce admits the Breeders' presents a formidable challenge for his horse.

"It will be his biggest test for the distance and I think everybody is thinking the same thing," he said.

Pierce said a horse to watch Sunday is Global Express. The three-year-old son of Street Sense has only three career starts — all this year — but comes off his first win, a 1 3/8-mile turf event July 26.

"Roger definitely knows what he's doing, he's been around the block," Pierce said. "He isn't putting (Global Express) in there just to be seen in the paddock.

"But anything can happen . . . there's so many ways to lose a horse race and so few to win."

Attfield knows what it takes to succeed in this event, having won it a record eight times. And there's the matter of Global Express coming off an impressive win on grass.

But it's been a long time coming as Global Express wasn't raced as a two-year-old.

"He was slow for me to get him the races with little things that were happening to him," Attfield said. "I always wanted to see if he was a Queen's Plate-type horse because I was responsible for buying him in the first place.

"That wasn't working out because I had too many setbacks with him but I kept him eligible for the Triple Crown races because I felt there was a chance I might get him ready for the Breeders' and it's worked out that way."

Unlike Pierce, Attfield has no questions whether Global Express can go the distance.

"That 1 3/8-mile race came just at the right time to enable me to do this (run in Breeders')," Attfield said. "Off of his last race you have to like him at the distance and obviously I wouldn't be putting him in there if I didn't think he'd be competitive.

"If I could pull it off, it would be even better."

However, Attfield feels Up With the Birds is the horse to beat.

"Absolutely, he has to be the favourite for sure," he said.

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