Older turf males don’t get too many chances to run for $1 million purses, so it’s no surprise that the Manhattan has drawn such a star-studded cast of characters. Leading the list of contenders is the globe-trotting Flintshire, who would push his career earnings past $8 million with a win in this race.
However, despite Flintshire’s towering presence, this race does not figure to be a walk in the park. Also among this cast are the Chad Brown-trained pair of 8-year-olds, Big Blue Kitten and Slumber, who are, respectively, the 2015 Champion Turf Male and the defending champion in this race. Ironicus and Divisidero, two rising stars in this division, are also likely to attract plenty of support.
The Pace Projector is predicting that Take the Stand (#4), the only confirmed frontrunner in this race, will lead the field early. He is likely to be chased by World Approval (#1) and Grand Tito (#9). Flintshire (#10) is predicted to race towards the back of the pack, but we imagine that Javier Castellano will have him much closer to the pace than that, especially considering that he usually races prominently, if not on the lead, in his overseas starts.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the contenders:
#1, World Approval (12/1): This horse seems to just keep getting better. As a three-year-old, he was good enough to win a couple of Grade 3 stakes when he got lucky, but was probably a cut below the best of his division. However, he’s come back as a much-improved four-year-old, using his newfound tactical speed to impressively wire an allowance field at Gulfstream in his first start back from the layoff. He couldn’t quite catch Take the Stand in the Mervin Muniz, but he moved forward off that effort to deliver the performance of his life at Churchill last time. He was the only horse that was racing relatively close to that fast pace (color-coded in red) that was still around at the finish, and he was extremely game down to the wire, battling Divisidero every step of the way while matching that one’s 127 speed figure. Stretching out to ten furlongs is a new hurdle, but he’s drawn a great post position down towards the inside and figures to work out a fine trip just in behind the speedy Take the Stand. This horse will be prominently featured in our wagers if he’s going off at anything close to his morning line 12/1 odds.
#2, Slumber (10/1):
It’s been a long time between drinks for this 8-year-old, whose only win since 2013 came in this very race last year. That’s not to say that he’s been off form, or even inconsistent. Slumber often shows up with a hard-trying effort, but he’s a horse that needs everything to go right in order for him to come out on top. He’s been campaigned primarily at a mile and a half, but that distance has always been just a bit too far for him. His optimal distance is today’s ten furlongs (he’s actually 5-for-10 at this trip and 0-for-16 at all others). Irad Ortiz generally rides him well, but last time in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, he was not able to maneuver Slumber into the clear and was forced to rally up the rail, which is rarely ideal. He appears to be coming into this race in fine form and has every right to improve in his second start back from the layoff. However, this is undoubtedly a deeper field than the one he beat last year. Nevertheless, he’ll be a square price again and can still crack the trifecta.
#3, Wake Forest (10/1):
Of Chad Brown’s four entrants, this is the one that we’re least enthusiastic about. That Man O’ War was a Grade 1 race in name only. Money Multiplier and Can’thelpbelieving are Grade 3 types at best, and Wake Forest got very lucky to find a seam to run through in the stretch. He did unleash an eye-catching late burst of speed once clear, but he received only a 119 speed figure for the effort, which does not quite make the cut against this elite level of competition. He possesses an enviable record at the distance, but that was compiled in lesser races in Germany and France. We can’t use them all, so we’re taking a stand against him.
#4, Take the Stand (15/1): He loses Edgar Prado to Divisidero, but picks up an excellent replacement in Joel Rosario, who has stolen more than his fair share of races like this on the front end. This horse took a few starts to get acclimated to U.S. racing, but he’s been on a roll lately, nearly pulling off a gigantic upset at 61-1 at Tampa two back before wiring the Mervin Muniz. The major question for him is the distance, since his weapon is speed. He has not yet shown that he can relax up front and sprint home, which is likely what he would need to do to hold off the onslaught of stretch challenges that he is inevitably going to face. Furthermore, we doubt it was the plan to come into this race off a two and a half month layoff. We acknowledge his apparent pace advantage, but we still prefer others.
#5, Big Blue Kitten (6/1):
The 2015 Champion Turf Male may have needed a race when making his seasonal debut in the Churchill Turf Classic last time. He’s accustomed to slower paces in longer marathon-type races, so he just did not possesses the speed to attend that fast pace and the race really got away from him. He made a strong rally into contention around the far turn, but lost a ton of ground and understandably flattened out late. He’s come close to winning at this distance, having finished second in both this race and the Arlington Million last year, but he’s better suited to 12 furlongs. The best Europe had to offer were too much for him to handle in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last year when he failed to run down Golden Horn and Found, and we expect it may be the same story once again with Flintshire. We’ll look for him late, but a win may be slightly out of reach this time.
#6, Ironicus (4/1):
He’s never run a bad race on turf, having finished first or second in 10 of 11 starts on this surface. He always hinted that great things could be coming, but he didn’t finally start to put it together until last spring in the Dixie, when he exploded through a hole in the stretch to win impressively. Since then, he’s just a neck shy of having reeled off five consecutive victories. Injury kept him out of last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, but he returned in good form last month, winning the Fort Marcy over a yielding turf course. He’s much better on firm ground, and he should get that by Saturday. The main question that he has to answer is that of stamina, since he’s never gone father than nine furlongs. It would be quite a feat to successfully stretch out while facing the toughest field of his life, but this may be a pretty special horse. He doesn’t offer much value as the likely second choice in this race, but we cannot leave him out.
#7, Oathkeeper (30/1): He’s had trouble making much of an impact in lower-tier allowance and handicap races in France. This is an awfully ambitious spot.
#8, Triple Threat (30/1): He obviously deserves a pass for the Turf Classic, in which he nearly went down on the turn after running into a fallen horse. He’s generally been overmatched in Grade 1 company since coming to the United States, and his speed figures don’t stack up with those of the top contenders in this race. He needs a drop in class.
#9, Grand Tito (20/1): He was a late scratch from the Turf Classic on Derby week, so he’s now coming into this race off a two-month layoff. He served notice that a breakthrough might be on the horizon when he finished a strong second to Ironicus at large odds in the Bernard Baruch last summer. A poor showing in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile ended his 2015 campaign, but he’s returned with a vengeance this year, winning two of three starts while successfully stretching out to marathon distances. His recent pair of 124 speed figures would certainly put him in the mix for superfecta consideration if he can duplicate those performances at this shorter distance. He’s not impossible, but we still think he’s a little out of his depth in true Grade 1 company.
#10, Flintshire (8/5):
He’s often been regarded as a bridesmaid in Europe, but he showed no signs of hesitation when totally dominating last year’s Sword Dancer, earning him a field-best 130 speed figure. His accomplishments overseas speak for themselves. Ordinary horses don’t finish second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in consecutive years, and he did so behind champions Golden Horn and Treve. His running lines contain a who’s who of the best horses in the world during the past couple of years. He’s now in the barn of Chad Brown and has reportedly been thriving, which is the reason he’s running a month earlier than originally planned. The only minor question that nags at the back of our minds is whether this 10-furlong distance might be just short of his best. After all, he’s coming into this race having made 17 consecutive starts at a mile and a half. It’s a minor concern, but re-watching the last quarter mile of his Sword Dancer, which he ran in 22 2/5 seconds while under a light hand ride, should put to rest any doubts about his quickness. He is far and away the most likely winner.
#11, Divisidero (8/1): He’ll attempt to lock up back-to-back Grade 1 victories, but he’s going to have to overcome a disadvantageous draw in order to do so. He couldn’t get a mile and a quarter last summer over this course in the Belmont Derby, but the pace and a wide trip may have been his undoing that day. Like World Approval, he’s returned as an improved four-year-old, and we think these two are very close in terms of overall ability. Divisidero may have run the slightly better race considering ground loss in the Turf Classic, but we wonder if he’ll be able to overcome another wide trip while stretching out against a tougher field today. This is the kind of horse that you wanted to have last time, and we believe he may be an underlay coming off that win.
We’re not typically ones to settle on short-priced favorites, but Flintshire (#10) deserves to be every bit of the overwhelming choice. As far as the others are concerned, World Approval (#1) and Slumber (#2) figure to offer the best value, but they’ll be hard-pressed to take down the top selection.
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