Belmont Stakes Previews: Mor Spirit one to catch in G1 Met Mile; Brown seeks fourth straight G1 Manhattan
NYRA Release —-
Mor Spirit one to catch in G1 Mohegan Sun Metropolitan
ELMONT, N.Y. – Led by Michael Lund Petersen’s Grade 1 winner Mor Spirit, nine graded-stakes winners are among a dozen older horses set to contest a competitive edition of the Grade 1, $1.2 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap Saturday at Belmont Park.
The 124th running of the Met Mile for 3-year-olds and up is one of nine graded stakes and the second-richest on a 13-race program highlighted by the 149th renewal of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
It is carded as Race 9 (4:41 p.m.) and will be part of the NBC Sports Network national broadcast from 3-5 p.m. NBC picks up the coverage from 5-7 p.m. capped by the 1 ½-mile ‘Test of the Champion,’ which has a post time of 6:37 p.m.
The Met Mile is also a “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile November 3 at Del Mar, and is the second leg of a $1.5 million guaranteed all-Grade 1 Pick 4 that also includes the $700,000 Just a Game in Race 8 and $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan in Race 9, and is anchored by the Belmont.
Mor Spirit, a 4-year-old Eskendereya ridgling making his New York debut, is a narrow 5-2 favorite in the Met Mile over fellow multiple graded stakes winner and 122-pound highweight Sharp Azteca (7-2). Mor Spirit will carry 120 pounds including Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith from post 9.
Though Bob Baffert is confident Mor Spirit can handle the distance and the company, the Hall of Fame trainer is concerned about the one-turn configuration of mile races at Belmont Park. His other one-turn races came in his fall 2015 unveiling and the Grade 1, seven-furlong Malibu last December – his first race since running 10th in the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
Last June, the Baffert-trained Cupid finished last of five as the favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard, a race also contested around one turn.
“You don’t know how they’re going to react going one turn. I ran him in the Malibu, but seven-eighths was a little too short for him,” Baffert said. “He has to ship well and run well. It’s a different group he’s got to run against. There’s a difference between speed going two turns and speed going one turn. Last year I brought Cupid there and he was just completely lost going one turn. Some horses are that way.”
Mor Spirit enters the Met Mile on a two-race win streak, most recently a front-running 5 ¾-length triumph in the Grade 3 Steve Sexton Mile May 7 at Lone Star Park. He won the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity and Grade 3 Bob Lewis while on the Triple Crown trail last winter.
“He’s got to run his last race back,” Baffert said. “He went off form a little bit. The Derby was a bad race for him. We freshened him up and now he’s doing really well. This has been the plan. It’s an important race. It’s a stallion-maker.”
Expected to give Mor Spirit company on the front end is Ivan Rodriguez’s Sharp Azteca, making his first start since finishing third by a length in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile March 25 at Meydan. He will have a new rider for the Met Mile in Paco Lopez, breaking from post 5.
Trainer Jorge Navarro gave Sharp Azteca plenty of time to recover from his trip to the Middle East. The 4-year-old son of Freud has finished in the money in nine of 11 career starts with five wins, four coming in five tries at the distance, including the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap February 11 and the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile last May.
“Sharp Azteca came out of the race in Dubai in great condition. We gave him some time and he recouped really fast,” Navarro said. “He’s had four workouts here at Monmouth Park and he’s worked super. He’s doing great for the race.
“I don’t want to brag but the horse up to right now is doing good,” he added. “A lot of people when they go to Dubai they always say that they’re not the same. The horse is doing the same as always. I haven’t seen anything different from him. He’s training really good. We’ll see how good on Saturday.”
Shadwell Stable’s multiple Grade 2 winner Mohaymen (20-1) enters the Met Mile looking to return to the form that had him as one of the leading Triple Crown contenders last spring. He returned from an 8 ½-month break between races to run fourth in the Grade 3, one-mile Westchester May 6 at Belmont.
Mohaymen, to be ridden for the first time by Jose Ortiz from post 6, is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, whose Frosted won last year’s Met Mile by 14 ¼ lengths in 1:32.73 – both records. McLaughlin also won in 2008 with Divine Park.
“We hope that he was just rusty and needed his last race, but he looks fabulous and he’s so happy and doing great,” McLaughlin said. “If he runs his ‘A’ race he belongs with these horses. Obviously, his last race or two weren’t great so we’re hoping he gets back on an ‘A’ race cycle. I’d love to have another Frosted race. You never know.”
Two-time Met Mile-winning trainer Todd Pletcher has a pair of Paul Pompa Jr.-owned contenders in multiple Grade 3 winner Tommy Macho and Rally Cry, making his graded stakes debut. Tommy Macho was third in the Grade 1 Carter on April 8 at Aqueduct following a troubled trip, while Rally Cry is coming off a 1 ½-length allowance triumph going 1 1/16 miles April 30 at Belmont.
Rally Cry (5-1) will break from post 2 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez, while Luis Saez has the call from post 11 aboard Tommy Macho (10-1).
“Historically the Met Mile is a terrific race, it’s a difficult one to win and it’s one that the breeders hold in high regard, so anytime you can compete with the best horses going a mile it’s usually a sign of a lot of quality,” Pletcher said. “Hopefully these horses can step up into that league.”
GMB Racing’s Tom’s Ready (15-1) returns to Belmont for the Met Mile one year after his 7-1 upset of the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on the 2016 Belmont Stakes undercard. The 4-year-old More Than Ready colt won the Grade 3 Ack Ack at a mile last fall and was third by less than a length in his only start this year, the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes May 6. The winner of that race came back to take the Grade 3 Aristides June 3.
Javier Castellano will ride Tom’s Ready from post 8 for trainer Dallas Stewart Castellano won the first of his two Met Miles in 2005 with Ghostzapper, who he will join in the Hall of Fame this summer.
“He came off that long layoff and ran well at Churchill in the mud. He fought hard, ran a good race and the horse that beat him came back and won,” Stewart said. “The positives are he’s a very nice horse, he’s won over that Belmont track and he’s fresh. He worked good the other day so he’ll be fit and ready to go.”
Completing the Met Mile field are multiple graded stakes winner Awesome Slew (6-1), second by a head in the Churchill Downs last out; Denman’s Call (15-1), winner of the Grade 1 Triple Bend March 11 at Santa Anita; Economic Model (15-1), winless since a victory in last June’s Easy Goer at Belmont; Grade 1 Oaklawn Handicap winner Inside Straight (15-1); 2016 Grade 3 Midnight Lute winner Solid Wager (15-1); and Westchester runner-up Virtual Machine (30-1).
Cover Photo: Mor Spirit; Coady Photography
By Sean Morris —-
Chad Brown; Albany Business Review
Brown seeks fourth straight G1 Manhattan victory
Trainer Chad Brown will look to further bolster his impressive turf resume on Saturday at Belmont Park when he sends out three horses in the Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan, a race he will attempt to win for the fourth consecutive year.
The Manhattan, run at 1 ¼ miles on the inner turf course at Belmont, will maintain its customary position as the prelude to the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, and will be part of an NBC telecast that starts at 5 p.m. ET.
Brown’s formidable trio is led by Beach Patrol, who will look to improve upon a recent string of second-place finishes dating back to last year’s Grade 3 Hill Prince at Belmont. The son of Lemon Drop Kid was purchased privately last year by James Covello, Sheep Pond Partners, and Head of Plains Partners and rewarded his new connections with a win in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park, as well as a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby, before ending his sophomore campaign with runner-up performances in the Hill Prince and Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.
As a 4-year-old the bay colt returned better than ever, carving out an honest pace in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap before yielding late to his stablemate Almanaar, though Beach Patrol was ultimately disqualified and placed fourth. After a brief hiatus, the star-crossed Brown trainee returned a few months later to contest the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs, but again had to settle for second behind fellow Manhattan entrant Divisidero after setting the pace.
“He’s a very consistent horse,” said Brown, who has won four of the past five editions of the Manhattan. “He ran well last time setting an easy pace on softer turf, but I do think he prefers firmer turf, which he should get on Saturday given the forecast. I’ll leave it up to the jockey but he should be forwardly placed again and he’s been training well.”
Beach Patrol was tabbed at 4-1 on the morning line and will be ridden by regular rider Florent Geroux.
The Brown-trained Wake Forest will look to rebound after finishing fifth, beaten 13 ¼ lengths on May 13 at Belmont in the Grade 1 Man o’ War, a race he won last year. Earlier this year, the son of British sire Sir Percy won the Grade 2, 1 ⅜-mile Mac Diarmida by a head on March 4 at Gulfstream.
“He caught very, very heavy ground [in the Man o’ War] and I think you can draw a line through it,” said Brown. “He’s come back and trained well, and like Beach Patrol he should appreciate the firmer ground on Saturday.”
Owned by Michael Dubb, Sheep Pond Partners, and Bethlehem Stables LLC, Wake Forest will break from post 2 with Irad Ortiz, Jr. and is listed at 8-1 on the morning line.
Though he is the least accomplished of the three, Time Test made a favorable impression in his first start with Brown, just missing by a nose in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy on May 6 at Belmont. The bay 5-year-old has raced predominantly in England, though he made one prior foray to America in 2015 when he finished a distant 10th in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile, and is a multiple group stakes winner running overseas.
“He caught heavy ground and didn’t run quite as well as I thought he would [in the Fort Marcy],” said Brown. “He’s trained exceptionally well on firm ground and he hadn’t run in a long time, so I’m definitely expecting a better performance from him.”
The Juddmonte Farms color-bearer will enlist the services of jockey Javier Castellano, and the duo will depart from post 4. Time Test is 5-1 on the morning line.
Trained by Buff Bradley for Gunpowder Farms LLC, Divisdero is likely to prove the main danger to Brown’s triumvirate after taking his second straight Turf Classic a month ago. The 5-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy has made a steady progression to the top of the turf ranks after debuting a winner in February 2015 at Gulfstream Park, notching scores in the Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill and the Pennine Ridge Stakes at Belmont along the way. But despite multiple Grade 1 victories to his credit, Bradley believes Divisdero’s ascension is not over yet.
“This is his year; I’m expecting a lot from his next [few] starts,” said the Kentucky-based trainer. “As good as he was winning it last year, he came into the Woodford better than ever this year. He’s just a little more mature. His owners have been patient with him and it’s allowed him to mature the way he needed.”
Though he was at his best last out, Divisidero has had a bit of an up and down 2017 campaign thus far. He began the year with a fast-closing third-place finish in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale at Gulfstream Park before an uncharacteristically dull performance in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, in which he faded to finish sixth.
“I just think it’s a tough course for him [at Gulfstream],” said Bradley. “I know he won his debut there but I think he has a tough time with the sharp turns, and we probably had him up a little too close to the pace in the [Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap].”
Divisidero, who will look to improve upon a fifth-place finish behind Flintshire in last year’s Manhattan, will break from post 7 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard for the first time. He sits at 4-1 on the morning line.
Listed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite, World Approval enters the Manhattan off a decisive victory in the Grade 2 Dixie on Preakness Day at Pimlico. The gray gelding had failed to earn a triple digit Beyer Speed Figure in four prior outings, but proved he was back in top form in the Dixie, in which he contested a moderate early pace before sprinting away from the field in the stretch to win by 2 ¼ lengths, earning him a field-best Beyer of 106.
Trained by Mark Casse for Live Oak Plantation, World Approval finished third in last year’s Manhattan, and followed up that performance by earning his first Grade 1 victory in the United Nations at Monmouth Park. Regular rider Julien Leparoux will be aboard from post 3.
Ascend (20-1), who won the Henry S. Clark in his stakes debut last out; Applicator (30-1), runner-up in April’s Grade 3 Miami Mile at Gulfstream Park; Potemkin (8-1), a lightly-raced 6-year-old and group stakes winner based primarily in Germany for trainer Andreas Wohler; and Sadler’s Joy, a burgeoning turf star who finished third in the Man o’ War in his most recent start, complete the field.