The likely favorite in this international Man o’ War field is Focus Group (#6). This 5-year-old is finally delivering on the potential he displayed as a younger horse, showing a true affinity for these marathon distances. He put forth a superb effort to take the John’s Call at Saratoga last summer, but that was going 1 5/8 miles. I’m a little concerned that the 11-furlong distance of this race will be slightly short of his best trip. He won his return at Gulfstream in the Pan American, but he had to work hard to do so with a very good trip going 1 1/2 miles. I think he’s the horse to beat, but I worry that he’s going to be an underlay.
Magic Wand (#5) is another short price I would use since she clearly has the class to compete against this group, based on her good efforts in the Breeders’ Cup and Pegasus Turf. I just wasn’t thrilled with her race in Dubai last time, and Aidan O’Brien has poor numbers with females in U.S. turf races (just 2 for 39 over the past five years). There are a couple of viable alternatives at better prices.
Channel Maker (#8) deserves a look as he gets back to the NYRA circuit. He got the wrong trip in the Pegasus Turf two back and then was far too keen in the early stages of the Mac Diarmida. Joel Rosario rides him well, and he would be formidable if Bill Mott can get him back into the form that he displayed last summer. The 131 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he achieved in the Turf Classic last fall remains the highest number in this field.
My top pick is ARKLOW (#4), who may be the best price of the runners I’m mentioning. This horse took a step forward during the latter half of 2018. He actually ran very well in the Sycamore behind today’s rival Zulu Alpha after refusing to settle and making a premature move to the lead. He was hardly disgraced in the Breeders’ Cup Turf to finish off his campaign, and you can throw out his return race, where he lost the rider. I believe this distance is perfect for him, since I sometimes get the sense that 1 1/2 miles is a bit too far. He clearly handles turf courses with some give to them, and we’re not yet dealing with the rock-hard courses Belmont course that we typically see in June and July. Brad Cox’s runners have been performing very well over the last few weeks in New York and I believe Arklow’s best effort can get the job done.
Exacta Key Box: 4 with 2,5,6,8
Trifecta: 4 with 6,8 with 1,2,5,6,8