To Kentucky-based trainer Kenny McPeek, running Atigun in the $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon (gr. II) just makes sense.
“This is a good, logical spot for him,” he said of the 1 3/4-mile event that is scheduled for Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park. “He’s steadily improved as the year has gone on and it seems that the distance is what he relishes. You could hint that he could have been in the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic (gr. I), but he probably would have been a real long price, so we opted for what we call an easier spot.”
Atigun is the 9-2 morning line favorite for the World Championships’ longest race. The 3-year-old son of Istan has been competitive against some of the best during his 2012 campaign after his career got off to a slow start. Last year at 2, he didn’t break his maiden until his fourth race, then he finished fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II).
“He struggled a little bit at first,” McPeek said. “He was a horse that the light bulb didn’t go on for until later in the year.”
Owned by John Ed Anthony’s Shortleaf Stable, Atigun kicked off his sophomore season with three races at Oaklawn Park. The efforts included a victory by a head in an allowance/optional claiming event and a fifth-place performance in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I).
“I think that the track at Oaklawn didn’t really suit him and the distances were a little too short,” McPeek said. “We were asking him (in the Arkansas Derby) to see if he fit (for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, gr. I), but it was a little premature.”
Atigun ended up in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (gr. I) instead and “that was an ideal race for him,” McPeek said. “The distance was right and the timing was right.”
After an injury prevented I'll Have Another from attempting a Triple Crown sweep, Union Rags captured the series’ third jewel while Atigun finished two lengths behind in third after looming boldly as the field came out of the final bend.
“If he didn’t get hung wide, you might even have could have made a case that he could have won the Belmont,” McPeek said.
A sixth-place showing in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) followed. Then Atigun ran fourth in both the Travers Stakes (gr. I) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I). In the Travers, when stablemate Golden Ticket dead-heated with Alpha for the win, Atigun was beaten only 1 1/4 lengths.
“He ran respectable in the Travers and he ran respectable in the Gold Cup against older horses,” McPeek said.
The trainer described Atigun as a horse that will “go all day long.” That makes him a perfect candidate, in McPeek’s mind, to try at 14 furlongs for the first time in the Breeders Cup.
Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, who has ridden Atigun in his three most recent races, will be aboard for the Marathon.
Atigun was bred in Kentucky by Brereton C. Jones. The bay colt is out of the Dynaformer mare Rimini Road. Jones owns Airdrie Stud, near Midway, Ky., the home of Istan.