A handful of graded stakes, including the Grade 1, $700,000 Man o’ War, are on tap this Saturday at Belmont Park.
Set for 1 3/8 miles on the turf, for 4-year-olds and up, this year’s edition of the Man o’ War has drawn an impressive field, including the well-travelled Ziyad, and the ultra-consistent Gufo.
Trained by Graham Motion for Wertheimer et Frere, Ziyad, a six-year-old son of Rock of Gibraltar (Ire), chases his first Grade 1 crown and second graded title.
“He had a very easy 5/8ths breeze (1:03) this morning,” said Motion, who won the 2005 Man o’ War with Better Talk Now. “He’s had a couple of good, stiff 7/8ths breezes the last few weeks, so I wanted to give him an easy week. It’s always a little ambitious coming back in a Grade 1, but I feel like he runs well fresh, and I’ve had this race in mind for a while.”
After making his 16 starts in France, Ziyad, then under the tutelage of Carlos Laffon-Parias, made his way to Woodbine for the 2019 Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International.
Sent off as the 6-5 choice, the dark bay gelding who won the 2019 edition of the Grade 2 Lucien Barriere Grand Prix de Deauville, finished third just over a half-length back of winner Desert Encounter.
Ziyad then returned to France for his next five engagements before coming back to North America, this time to the U.S., in the fall of 2020.
The British-bred arrives at the Man o’ War off a pair of third-place efforts in Grade 3 events, the Sycamore Stakes in October, and the Red Smith Stakes in November.
Motion likes the way Ziyad, sporting a 6-6-7 record from 24 starts, is heading into Saturday’s tilt.
“He’s a very consistent horse and he’s a very nice training horse. When we ran him last year, it was coming at the tail end of a long year, so I’d like to think there’s plenty left in the tank for this year. I don’t know why he wouldn’t like the course. He’s a big galloping horse.”
A horse who sports a rather unique personality.
“He’s a little bit of a nervous horse around the barn, but he loves his work. He’s a very kind horse. He does have his own little personality, for sure.”
Ziyad will face plenty of stiff competition in the quest for his first win on North American turf.
Gufo, a four-year-old son of Declaration of War, trained by Christophe Clement, finished third in his career debut in November 2019 and won second tome out by a nose in late December at Gulfstream Park. The Kentucky-bred remained at Gulfstream through the Florida oval’s winter meet and into the spring, notching two more triumphs.
The last of those two appearances came in the listed English Channel Stakes last May 2, prompting his connections to give the Grade 3 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park a shot on July 4.
Sent off as the 3-5 choice, Gufo endured an awkward break but recovered to stalk the pace before surging down the lane to secure a half-length victory, his fourth consecutive trip to the winner’s circle.
Gufo was runner-up, by a head, in the 2020 edition of the Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes. He was back to his winning ways in the Grade 1, $250,000 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes, as he rallied once again, this time to notch a length score.
In November, he was a hard-charging third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar, rallying from seventh at the stretch call to secure the show award, just missing top spot in what was the final race of his three-year-old campaign.
“In the Hollywood Derby, he ran very well,” said Clement. “Even though he just got beat, he ran a very good race. He finished stronger than anyone else. I was disappointed to get beat, but I thought his turn of foot and his will… he tried really, really hard. Two jumps after the wire, he was in front. I love the way he finished and he was very game.”
Clement, who won the 2009 and 2010 editions of the Man o’ War, both with Gio Ponti, is looking forward to seeing his charge return to action this Saturday.
“He’s training very well. I really like him. He was one of the best 3-year-olds last year. I think it’s a good race for him to come back. I know that it’s a mile-and-three-eighths, but he’s training well. If you look at who we were competing with last year, it was some of the best in the country, so it’s pretty exciting.
“This horse is a galloper and he comes from out of it. Belmont has that beautiful stretch. Belmont and Woodbine would be two of the top turf courses in North America. It will be fun to be run to him here.”
When did Clement realize Gufo had talent and potential?
“Right after his first race. He showed that even if he got beat, he would always run well. He kept on getting better and better, and he improved tremendously from 2 to 3. And he never stopped improving.”
A lifetime earner of $415,010, Gufo was bred by John Little and Stephen Cainelli, out of the Petionville mare Floy, who produced millionaire and multiple graded stakes winner Hogy.
Sovereign (Ire), trained by Chad Brown, is making his North American debut after competing in Europe for conditioner Aidan O’Brien. He was Group 1 placed last year when second in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot. Channel Cat began the year with a fifth in the Grade 3 W.L. McKnight in January and followed that effort up with a second in the Grade 2 Elkhorn.
The Peter Pan (G3), 1 1/8 miles, 3-year-olds, the Runhappy (G3), 6 furlongs, 4-year-olds and up, the Beaugay (G3) 1 1/16 miles (turf), fillies and mares, 4-year-olds and up, and the Vagrancy Handicap (G3) 6 1/2 furlongs, fillies and mares, 4-year-olds and up, complete the graded stakes quintet.
Racing fans can watch and wager on the Man o’ War, and all the Belmont races, through HPIbet.com.