The first Grade 1 turf race on the New York calendar, the $400,000 Man O’ War has drawn an intriguing mix of seasoned veterans and newcomers. Up With the Birds and Kaigun have been staples of the Grade 1 turf scene for a couple of seasons now, whereas horses like Money Multiplier, Closing Bell, and Go Around are all trying to break through at this Grade 1 level as they launch into the spring of their four-year-old seasons.
Pace and trips figure to have a major influence in this race, given the lack of any confirmed frontrunners. The closest we get is Go Around (#5), who wired an optional claiming field two back, but has typically been most comfortable from a stalking position. The Pace Projector is indeed predicting that he will be on the early lead, tracked closely by his stablemate, Closing Bell (#4), who gets blinkers for the first time. Meanwhile, favorites Kaigun (#7) and Wake Forest (#9) are predicted to be rallying from well off the pace.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, Morandi (8/1): This horse’s last win came in November of 2012, at which time he earned his first and only Group 1 victory. He actually ran well as a three-year-old despite not winning, finishing second in the prestigious Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) to the then-well-regarded Intello. After failing to place in the Champion Stakes at the end of that year, he was put away and did not resurface for nearly two years. When he did finally show up again in the United States, now under the care of Chad Brown, he lost all chance when pushed into the rail around the far turn, forcing his rider to ease him late. It then took yet another nine months to get him back to the races at Keeneland last month. While he did encounter some stretch traffic, that was a weaker field than this one. We basically have no idea what this six-year-old has left in the tank, but it is somewhat encouraging that his connections are still keeping the faith. We’re skeptical.
#2, Money Multiplier (15/1): He had to work pretty hard to get past a seemingly inferior foe in his four-year-old debut at Aqueduct last time. Perhaps he needed that race off the layoff, but now he’s stepping into a Grade 1 race while stretching out two furlongs beyond the longest distance he’s ever contested. He did show potential when finishing second in the Saranac last year, albeit with a good trip. Overall, we feel that he might be a cut below Grade 1 quality and we prefer the other four-year-olds in this race.
#3, Can’thelpbelieving (15/1): The stretch-out to this 11-furlong distance should work to his advantage, since he’s won and placed at this trip in the past. That said, he’s finished off the board in both of his tries against Grade 3 company and now is being asked to step up into a Grade 1 race. Perhaps this is not the strongest field we’ve ever seen assembled for a race like the Man O’ War, but it’s still a significant step up in class. He’s a horse to consider for the superfecta, but we believe a win is just out of reach.
#4, Closing Bell (8/1):
It’s pretty remarkable that this horse will be making his fifth start in a Grade 1 race here in just his tenth lifetime start. His connections have obviously thought highly of him from the start, and he has delivered, to an extent, while always teasing more. Normal horses don’t run as well as he did in races like the Belmont Derby and Secretariat in just their third and fourth career starts. In terms of his more recent form, we felt that he ran better than it looks in the Hollywood Derby last fall, chasing a fast pace (color-coded in red) before coming up empty in the stretch. He didn’t take to dirt in the Donn, but he rebounded nicely at the Fair Grounds last time, finishing a fast-closing third just behind World Approval, who came back to improve his speed figure by 10 points when finishing second in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic last weekend. This distance should be within Closing Bell’s capabilities, and the added blinkers may have him sitting closer to the pace. Today could be the day for him to finally break through with a major win.
#5, Go Around (10/1):
The likely pacesetter should have no problem with the distance, having already gone a mile a quarter successfully, including a win at that distance in just his second career start. Though he was beaten by Money Multiplier in the Saranac last year, this horse ran the much stronger race, launching a wide bid from the back of the pack before flattening out in the final furlong. He has returned as a better horse now at age four, earning two speed figures in the mid-120s for a pair of wins down in Florida. He may have a significant pace advantage in this spot if Junior Alvarado can slow down the early tempo. We doubt we’ll get as high as his morning line price of 10/1, but he is a very logical contender for top honors.
#6, Up With the Birds (6/1): He has run well enough in some important races over the last year and a half, but it’s been quite a while since he’s found himself in the winner’s circle. He’s finished fourth in the last two runnings of the 10-furlong Arlington Million, and he has successfully gone a mile and a half in the past, so the distance should not be an issue. However, we wonder if he’s starting to lose a step at age six after subpar performances in both the Hollywood Turf Cup and Elkhorn. At his best he could win this race, but the race dynamics may work against his deep-closing style. We’ll use him in the trifecta.
#7, Kaigun (5/2):
Though the wins have been harder to come by for this gelding, he hasn’t finished out of the exacta in six straight starts, while earning speed figures of 120 or above in nearly every race dating back to last summer. He appears to be coming into this race in the best form of his life and the stretch-out to marathon distances seems to have only added consistency to his form. He did get the right pace setup (note the half-mile color-coded in red) two back when he won the Pan American, but he’s versatile enough to be placed closer to the pace if the early tempo is very slow. We prefer others on top, but will definitely feature him prominently in exacta and trifecta wagers.
#8, Biz the Nurse (20/1): His best result in this country was a fourth place finish in a weak edition of the 2015 Elkhorn. The layoff is a major concern for a horse that may just not be good enough to compete at this level anyway.
#9, Wake Forest (2/1):
This horse got a great trip in the Pan American last time, settling well off a fast pace (color-coded in red) that ultimately collapsed, before making a late run up the rail while never having to deal with significant traffic. It should be a different story today, since there is not much pace in this race and he’s stepping up to face a deeper field. He’s clearly talented, but his 2/1 morning line price seems awfully low given the hurdles he faces. If he’s going off at anything close to that price, we’d prefer others.
We want to focus primarily on the two Bill Mott-trained runners and will give slight preference to Closing Bell (#4) as long as he’s going off at odds of 9/2 or higher.
Exacta Box: 4,5
4,5 with 4,5 with 1,2,3,6,7,9
4,5 with 6,7,9 with 4,5