highland chief takes control of the man o’war stakes

The main event on a big afternoon at Belmont Park produced a shock result, with 19-1 chance Highland Chief outrunning his better-fancied rivals to win Saturday’s G1 Man O’War. We The People put his name down for the Belmont Stakes when romping in the G3 Peter Pan, top-class distaffers Bella Sofia (G3 Vagrancy) and Rougir (G3 Beaugay) justified their odds-on billing, and Drafted surged late to continue his revival in the G3 Runhappy.

Highland Chief at Man O’War Stakes

Highland Chief takes control and wins the Man O’War Stakes

The race looked a sure thing for a European horse, but instead, it was an ex-European horse who came away with the Man O’War, the marquee event on a stakes-loaded card at Belmont Park on Saturday.
Breeders’ Cup Turf winner and hot favorite Yibir was disadvantaged by the rain-altered ground and could finish only third, as his former compatriot Highland Chief sprang a 19-1 upset with a sturdy stretch run that kept him a length clear of Gufo at the wire, with Yibir a neck further back. The clock showed 2:17 and changed.

The victory was a personal triumph for jockey Trevor McCarthy, his first G1 score of a long career. “It was pretty special. It’s a great feeling,” he said. “At the five-sixteenths pole I let him go, and it sure paid off.”

Highland Chief was a promising colt in his younger days and ran tenth in the Derby at Epsom, but he hadn’t found the winner’s circle in his last seven starts, and trainer Graham Motion has done wonders to bring him back to his best. He sat in behind the moderate fractions set by Abaan until quickening at the top of the lane and was always holding the challengers at arm’s length.

“He’s hard to read,” said Motion of the five-year-old. “He’s run against good horses but I can’t say I knew he was this good.”

The next stop for Highland Chief could be the G1 Manhattan back at Belmont on June 1 – also a likely target for Gufo – but Motion is also considering a quick trip to Royal Ascot next month, where the G1 Prince of Wales’s (ten furlongs) or the G2 Hardwicke at a mile and a half would be on the agenda.

Peter Pan Stakes

We The People is back

He’s back – and he might be back again next month. We The People rediscovered the winning thread when massacring the opposition in the Peter Pan, and could now return to the Big Sandy for the final leg of the Triple Crown.

It was a front-running tour de force from the 5-2 second-choice, who put the race away at the top of the stretch and just kept on rolling under Flavien Prat to beat the late-running Golden Glider by ten and a quarter lengths, stopping the clock in 1:48 and one-fifth. Electability has beaten a nose into third, while the favorite Set Sail was done before the stretch call.

“The Belmont Stakes is a consideration,” said Elliott Walden, CEO of owner WinStar Farm, about the Rodolphe Brisset-trained son of Constitution. “We’ve always been very high on this horse, he’s a big, imposing horse, and we’ll finalize plans next week.”

Vagrancy Handicap

Bella Sofia is a Beauty

The tote board said it would be easy, but it was anything but that for Bella Sofia, who had to dig very deep to justify those 2-5 odds in the Vagrancy.

The race was a thriller, with the pace-pressing Bella Sofia joined off the turn by Frank’s Rockette before the two duked it out all the way down the stretch, almost in lockstep through the final furlong. There was only a nose in it at the wire, and the pair drew nine and three-quarter lengths clear of longshot Assertive Style in third. The time was a tick over 1:16.

“I knew I had it,” said jockey Luis Saez, although he was probably the only one at the track with such confidence. “She did what she was supposed to do, she’s a great filly.”
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez will now work backward from the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, with the G1 Ballerina at Saratoga in late August a potential midseason target.

Runhappy Stakes

Drafted answers the call

It had been a long time between drinks for Drafted, but the eight-year-old is making up for lost time and scored for the second time in three starts when coming on late to win the Runhappy for trainer David Duggan.

Drafted had lost 12 straight before winning at Aqueduct in February, and although the 3-1 fourth-choice of five left his challenge late here he always looked as though he’d get the job done, running down long-time leader Chateau inside the last sixteenth to win by a length, stopping the clock in 1:10 and four-fifths. Officiating was three-quarters of a length away in third; Answer In was eased and didn’t finish after a rein broke around the turn.

“I was a little worried when the pace didn’t develop as I thought,” said jockey Jose Ortiz. “Chateau got an easy lead so I’m happy we were able to run him down.”

Beaugay Stakes

Rougir wraps it up

She cost her current owners almost $3.4m in December, and Rougir made the first repayment on that outlay when running out a dominant winner of the Beaugay.

A G1 winner in her native France, Rougir was a 3-5 favorite to make a successful first start for Chad Brown and she looked ready to return to the top level, sitting last early under Flavien Prat before moving through to assert in mid-stretch, rolling on to win by three lengths from longshot Our Flash Drive, with High Opinion a nose back in third. The time was 1:43 and two-fifths.

“She’s proven over further and I think she’ll stretch out again now,” said Brown, who has the ten-furlong G1 New York back here on June 10 on his mind. “I’m lucky to have these very nice fillies from Europe, and it looks like we’re off to a great season with them.”

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