BC Internationals: Turf Sprint contender Marsha

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

October 28th, 2017

Marsha’s upset of Lady Aurelia in the Nunthorpe (G1) was unexpected in the betting market, but not a total shock if judged by her absolute top-drawer talent. Hence international racing fans can be grateful that these two dynamos get a rubber match in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1).

A homebred success story for the 10,000-strong Elite Racing Club, Marsha is related to a past Elite homebred star, Soviet Song. Marsha’s dam, French stakes winner Marlinka, is a three-quarter sister to Soviet Song, a European champion whose five Group 1 trophies include a victory over males in the 2004 Sussex (G1).

Marsha showed talent early on for her crafty trainer, Sir Mark Prescott, who pitched her into a stakes versus older males in the fall of her juvenile season. The Acclamation filly actually went off as the 9-4 favorite in that 2015 Mercury S. at Dundalk, (click link for replay), where she was receiving gobs of weight (23 pounds). Even allowing for her light impost, she did very well at such a tender age to finish third to divisional veterans Take Cover and Speed Hawk, and beat the likes of Gordon Lord Byron, Jamesie, and Russian Soul. Indeed, Marsha over-raced early and got tightened up on the rail rounding the turn, and still kept finding in the lane.

At three in 2016, Marsha dropped her first two over six furlongs, but reverting to five furlongs for the Land O’Burns Fillies’ S. at Ayr proved a revelation. She overwhelmed them in hand, ears pricked, and announced herself a five-furlong whirlwind ready for better company.

Marsha found it next time in the City Walls at York. Near the back early, she rallied strongly in deep stretch and forced her neck in front of Easton Angel, a vague foreshadowing of what she’d do to Lady Aurelia a year later over the same track and trip. Easton Angel had been runner-up to another Wesley Ward flyer, Acapulco, in the previous summer’s Queen Mary (G2) at Royal Ascot. Marsha claimed a few other notables in the City Walls, including smart (if frustrating) older male Muthmir in third.

Up to Group level for the King George (G2) at Glorious Goodwood, Marsha swung out for room a fraction too late in a cavalry-charge finish. She was gaining but beaten all of three-quarters of a length in fifth by her old pal Take Cover. Fellow sophomores Washington DC and Easton Angel were second and fourth, respectively. The fact that she’d previously collared Easton Angel suggests Marsha may not have run quite up to her York form.

Favored at 2-1 in her first French foray for the Prix du Petit-Couvert (G3), Marsha was game in pursuit but had to settle for second to loose-on-the-lead 16-1 shot Just Glamorous.

That was just a prep for the main objective, the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day, and Marsha was primed to deliver a new career high. By sweeping past 6-4 favorite Mecca’s Angel, Marsha effected a changing of the guard from one superior female sprinter to another. She also got the jump on a belatedly closing Washington DC.

Marsha returned to action in the May 6 Palace House (G3) at Newmarket, and her “penalty” as a Group 1 winner meant that she had to give Washington DC four pounds as the 133-pound highweight. Considering that Washington DC had been giving the filly four pounds in their l’Abbaye clash, surely an eight-pound shift in his favor would be decisive. After all, he also had the benefit of a couple of runs, and Marsha was just resuming from her winter holiday.

But Marsha was having none of that nonsense, and she went out and beat him again, weight and all. This victory elevated her historic stature, for she reportedly became the first female since the dazzling Lochsong (1994) to defy her penalty in the Palace House.

Perhaps the Lochsong angle made Marsha a match for Lady Aurelia? The older filly was accordingly dispatched as the 11-4 favorite in their clash in Royal Ascot’s King’s Stand (G1), but Lady Aurelia’s imperious speed carried the day, and Marsha was a staying-on third.

Hopping over to the Curragh for the July 15 Sapphire (G2), Marsha loomed as the 1-2 favorite, only to go down in a photo with the eight-year-old Caspian Prince. Maybe she traveled too keenly for her own good tracking the front-running Caspian Prince, leaving her less potent in the final yards as the early leader came again.

Marsha tried to regroup with another tilt at Glorious Goodwood’s King George. Again having to angle out from behind horses, she made some late headway, but budding star Battaash was already gone.  The soft going wouldn’t have been in her favor in any event.

Off those three losses, Marsha was let go at 8-1 in her rematch with Lady Aurelia (and Battaash) in the Nunthorpe. The change of venue to York may have brought out the best in Marsha. Regular rider Luke Morris commented that she felt more at her peak form than in her recent races.

Sectionals guru Simon Rowlands, in his Timeform column, also observed that Frankie Dettori didn’t commit Lady Aurelia’s turbo speed as early as usual. That wasn’t meant as a criticism, since it’s a game of decimals, but it’s worth bearing in mind. Whatever the root causes, Marsha produced a superlative effort, and Lady Aurelia was denied by a whisker – so close that Dettori famously celebrated thinking they’d won.

Marsha’s principal autumn goal was a title defense in the l’Abbaye. If she caught Battaash on a mentally off day at York, the young gelding was back with a bang at Chantilly, and he bolted up. Marsha lost her crown, but not her honor, in second.

For some time, Marsha appeared very unlikely to make the trip to Del Mar. First, Sir Mark rarely sends one across the pond. According to Equibase, he’s had just three North American starters over the past 14 years, and two of those stayed stateside to join new trainers. Since he recently condescended to ship St Michel for the June 9 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational (G3), where he finished a terrific second, it was remote that the yard would have another a few months later.

Moreover, Marsha has the Tattersalls December Sale in her datebook. It was thought that the Elite Racing Club was wrapping her up in the proverbial cotton wool and awaiting the windfall at auction.

But with the Nunthorpe being a “Win & You’re In” for the Turf Sprint, connections were prevailed upon to give her a final spin around Del Mar. And spin is the operative word, since the straight-course specialist will have to speed around a turn for the first time in ages, since her juvenile days.

Sir Mark was his delightfully blunt self about it:

We've been to Chelmsford today (Wednesday) to go around a left-hand bend. She went OK, but she didn't go around there like a greyhound.

She was going so quick when she got to the turn. I would have liked her to have gone around tighter. It wasn't by any means bad, but it is not going to be to her advantage.

It is her last race and the Americans were unbelievably kind and generous in getting her to go over.

She goes to the sales at the end of November. We have really got nothing to lose and everything to gain. They felt they wanted her to be there to make the race more interesting.

She has experience of going left-handed. She has won at Catterick and at Dundalk, but they were when she wasn't going nearly as fast. Now she goes quicker I'm not sure how she will go around the turn.

The fast pace and fast ground she will love. Lady Aurelia will just whizz around those turns in her own back yard. I can't imagine from everyone's description of Del Mar that there will be enough time for Marsha to make up the ground.

In a trainers’ repartee about whose horse is advantaged in the circumstances, Wesley Ward responded that Del Mar wouldn’t necessarily play to Lady Aurelia’s strengths – but to Marsha’s.

“I think Marsha has some benefits, perhaps more so than us,” Ward told Racing Post’s Mark Scully. “Del Mar is a closing track. Horses often come from behind for whatever reason. I have been sending horses there from the East Coast over the years and they have won from ten lengths behind – although those horses were not running against Lady Aurelia.”

Aside from how Marsha will corner, I can’t help but wonder if Del Mar will produce traffic reminiscent of her experience at Goodwood. But the decision to go is such a sporting one that it would be great to see another fighting finish between the grand dames. Still, Sir Mark is probably right about the difficulty of beating Lady Aurelia on her American turf.

Marsha photo courtesy of Ayr Racecourse via Twitter