Appleby and Brown Square off in G1 Manhattan

June 3, 2024

Nations Pride wins the Canadian International (G1) Oct. 8, 2023, at Woodbine (Michael Burns)

By Michael Adolphson – NYRA Press Office

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— Let the summer stakes showdown commence. A proper clash of turf titans kicks off when the two most lethal yards this side of Ballydoyle – Chad Brown and Charlie Appleby – respectively put forth a pair of formidable contenders in the 122nd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Resorts World Casino Manhattan on Saturday, June 8, at Saratoga Race Course.

All in all, nine horses, including five Grade/Group 1 winners from three countries, entered the 1 3/16-miles Mellon turf test for older horses – a race won by such past superstars as Sky Classic, Paradise Creek and Bricks and Mortar.

For the better part of 16 years since successfully debuting what would become his 1st-of-19 Breeders’ Cup winners in Maram, Chad Brown’s barn – often and increasingly stocked full of current or soon-to-be graded stakes-level turf horses – has unleashed a deluge of dominance on The Spa.

Equally as supreme [since taking over head trainer duties in 2013] on the other side of the world has been the Godolphin yard of Charlie Appleby, smashing records in Dubai and the UK, while also winning seven-figure races in 11 nations. Over the past few years, Appleby has been testing the New York waters with a handful of top-class runners, proving successful on multiple Grade 1 occasions, including the 2022 Saratoga Derby with Nations Pride.

One would surmise that the test is officially over after Appleby hand-selected a team of what will likely peak at 20 runners based at Godolphin’s Greentree training center in Saratoga, essentially creating a satellite yard of solely graded stakes-level turf horses – many with Grade/Group 1 form. The master of Moulton Paddocks untethers the first phalanx this week, a septet dead-set on Belmont Stakes Racing Festival success.

Game: officially on.

“I respect him,” Brown said. “His horses are going to beat some of mine and mine are going to beat some of his. He’s a great trainer with great horses and a great team that travels with those horses. When they come into the paddock, you know it and you know they’re well-prepared. I like to think we do the same thing. Do I wish he wasn’t in the races? Yeah, it would be a lot easier, but I don’t react to what they’re doing and it doesn’t affect what I do. He brings good horses over here, so of course it’s nice to beat him.”

Appleby, himself a 10-time Breeders’ Cup winner [seven in the past three years], seems to relish the challenge of a new frontier.

“It’s a good race and there’s some good racing, full stop, as always at Saratoga,” he said. “As far as taking Chad and taking the team on—this is what racing wants. You want to see the best horses from around the world. With myself coming over and Joseph [O’Brien], as well, it’ll be a strong event. Likewise, on the dirt side of it, there’s plenty of great racing. Whether it’s Europeans or Americans—as long as there’s two good horses going at it, that’s great. If there’s more, that’s even better. I’m looking forward to it.”

Program Trading and Naval Power battled down to the centimeter in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic.(Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Naval Crown (outside) narrowly bests Program Trading in the Turf Classic (G1) May 4 at Churchill Downs (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Five weeks ago at Churchill Downs, fans got a little taste when Appleby’s Naval Crown sparred down the stretch in the Grade 1 Turf Classic with Brown’s Program Trading, putting on a show that ultimately went to the latter by a head. While Naval Power will be enjoying the shade at Greentree this weekend, Program Trading [Flavien Prat, post 5, 124 pounds] and stablemate I’m Very Busy [Irad Ortiz Jr., post 1, 122 pounds]—the beaten favorite in Kentucky—look to extend Brown’s record to nine Manhattans.

A son of Lope de Vega owned by Klaravich Stables, well-regarded Program Trading has won five of six, including last year’s Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Invitational over course and distance. He capped 2023 with a sharp tally in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, five months before his Kentucky Derby Day triumph.

“It was a very big effort off the layoff last time,” Brown said. “The only thing I thought would get him beat was that he was off for so long and the fact that he was able to save ground there really made the difference. He had been training very well. Obviously, his second race off a layoff – where he ran that big first up can be concerning from a handicapping angle – you could be worried about a soft bounce, but I haven’t seen anything in his training where I would be concerned. I’ve seen the horse really come out of his race in good shape.”

I’m Very Busy came into the Turf Classic on the heels of two eye-catching, late-running performances when finishing second in January’s Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park and dismantling March’s Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Classic at the Fair Grounds. Owned by Team Hanley, Richard Schermerhorn and Paul Braverman, he broke his maiden on debut at Saratoga in August 2022, but lost a pair of allowances last summer at The Spa. The son of Cloud Computing seeks a bit of redemption after things went pear-shaped in Kentucky.

“This horse did not give a good appearance of himself in the paddock or in the starting gate at Churchill,” Brown explained. “I think he blew his race. He will paddock school here and has been in the gate, so hopefully he’ll be fine this time. He hasn’t really been a [nervous] type, but Churchill Downs on Derby Day is not for every horse.”

Aforementioned dual Grade 1 winner Nations Pride [Frankie Dettori, post 7, 124 pounds], beaten favorite in the 2022 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf, makes his second start of the season after finishing third to stablemate Silver Knott in the Grade 2 Man o’ War on May 11 at The Big A. The highest internationally rated horse in the field at 120, he looks to bounce back to the form that saw him take October’s Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine.

“Nations Pride ran a good, solid race in his last start there in the Man o’ War,” Appleby said. “He will definitely come forward.”

Chris Connett, assistant and head traveling lad, has been pleased with how the homebred son of Teofilo has progressed in the flesh: “He has been off the track for a long time before his last start at Aqueduct and he’s come forward from that fitness-wise. Hopefully we can keep the freshness out of him. He’s matured and filled out. He’s not a massive horse, but he’s quality. He’s proven in America that he can handle the track and is of a very high standard.”

Appleby’s duo is completed by Measured Time [William Buick, post 9, 124 pounds], a regally bred Frankel 4-year-old who exits a 1 1/4-length fourth in the Group 1, $5 million Dubai Turf on March 30. Winner of the Group 1 Jebel Hatta over stablemate Ottoman Fleet—facile winner of Saturday’s Grade 3 Arlington at Churchill Downs – one race prior, he is a half-brother to 2022 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Rebel’s Romance, who is set to join his sibling later this summer at Greentree.

“It was a very good performance; a really solid run [in the Dubai Turf],” Appleby said. “He had two good wins in Dubai, including the Jebel Hatta being his Grade 1 win.”

Connett added: “He’s shipped over very well. The older and more mature he gets, he seems to take his travelling really well. His [work] rider Michael Metcalf has been happy with him since he settled in and the horse has taken in his surroundings very well. I think good, safe ground is what we prefer. Obviously, Charlie picks out the team to come and more often than not, you get quicker ground in America than we do back home. I think that says it all when you look at the team he’s sent over.”

One who will not mind a bit of cut in the ground is the Joseph O’Brien-trained Al Riffa, a lightly raced Group 1 winner who earned his top-level laurels in the National Stakes at The Curragh in the fall of 2022 over soft going. Owned by Al Riffa Syndicate, the 4-year-old son of Wootton Bassett has been first or second in 5-of-6 runs and exits a deceptively good fourth in the 10 1/2-furlong, Group 1 Prix Ganay at Paris-Longchamp. Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who teamed up with O’Brien to win the 2021 Saratoga Derby with State Of Rest, rides from post 6. Al Riffa will race with cheek pieces on.

“He had a bit of a layoff after last summer and had a very nice comeback run,” O’Brien said. “The conditions of the race suit him very well. He’s a big horse, so probably his biggest downfall is how he’ll go around the track, so hopefully he handles it. I’m hopeful he’ll run a good race, which he will if he handles the track.”

Kertez taking top honors in the Grade 2, Pan American at Gulfstream Park. (Coglianese/Lauren King)
Kertez takes top honors in the Pan American (G2) March 30 at Gulfstream Park (Coglianese)

Speaking of French form, former Andre Fabre pupil Kertez [Joel Rosario, post 3, 122 pounds] is one of two entered from the barn of three-time Manhattan winner Christophe Clement.

Owned by Michael Dubb, Morris Bailey and West Point Thoroughbreds, the 6-year-old gelded son of Intello faced Group 1 winners Simca Mille and Place de Carrousel with credit in 2023 before heading stateside. He won his American bow in the 12-furlong, Grade 2 Pan American at Gulfstream Park before a fifth in the Man o’ War.

“I think he is better from a mile and a quarter to a mile and a half, but he can handle the mile and three-sixteenths,” Clement said. “The main reason I entered him was there’s quite a lot of rain in the forecast. He can handle any ground well, but he will be better than many of the others on soft ground. If we don’t get soft ground, I will not run him. He would be a nice horse just to save ground and make one run and see what happens. He was a very consistent Group horse in France and his main attribute is that he’s extremely athletic.”

LSU Stable’s Far Bridge [Jose Ortiz, post 8, 124 pounds], winner of last summer’s Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational when in the care of Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, re-joined the Clement yard at the end of last year and rewarded them with a first-up win in Gulfstream allowance company on March 31. The son of 2007 Manhattan runner-up English Channel returned five weeks later to finish fifth in Program Trading’s Turf Classic after a slow break and wide trip – his lone off-the-board effort from nine runs.

“Far Bridge has been training forwardly,” said Miguel Clement, assistant to his father. “We are all delighted with his last piece of work on the turf here in Saratoga [five furlongs in 1:00.25 on May 31]. We have been based here in preparation for this race. Even if it’s a little bit ambitious, we are expecting a big performance in this competitive renewal of the Manhattan.”

Another trainer seeking his fourth Manhattan is Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who sends out Ohana Honor [post 2, Kendrick Carmouche, 118 pounds], a long-winded and improving son of 2017 Grade 1 Whitney winner Honor Code who was second in the aforementioned Man o’ War. Owned by West Point, Woodford Racing and Edward and Lynne Hudson, the three-time winner from 13 runs seeks his first stakes victory. In April, he flexed his talent when winning a 12-furlong turf allowance at Keeneland in gate-to-wire fashion.

“He’s been doing really well and all his races in Florida were good,” McGaughey said. “We got him stretched out at Keeneland, which we had always wanted to do and he ran really well there and then ran really well here in the Man o’ War. Just a better horse beat him. He came out of it really well and had a good work on [Saturday] and we’re looking forward to running him next Saturday. These longer grass races are going to be in his wheelhouse, but we’ll have to wait and see how it all pans out.”

Strong Quality. (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)
Strong Quality wires the Knicks Go May 4 at Churchill Downs (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

Rounding out the quality-laden field is, appropriately, Strong Quality [Florent Geroux, post 4, 118 pounds], a last-out winner of the Listed Knicks Go on the Churchill dirt for trainer Mark Casse. Owned by Gary Barber and Kinsman Stable, he was fifth in I’m Very Busy’s Muniz two starts back and filled the same finish-position in last year’s Manhattan astern subsequently crowned Eclipse Award Champion Male Turf Horse Up to the Mark.

“He went fast early and ran one of his better races,” Casse said of the Knicks Go effort. “He came out of the race well. He’s an extremely versatile horse. He can run on grass and on dirt. He’s just an honest horse. It’s all about the setup of the race, which determines how far he can go. It’s about pace.”

It may be Upstate, but this Manhattan shan’t be upstaged.

The Manhattan is slated as Race 11 on Saturday’s 14-race program headlined by the Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets in Race X. The card will also feature seven additional graded events in the Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap; the Grade 1, $500,000 Ogden Phipps presented by Ford; the Grade 1, $500,000 Jaipur presented by Resolute Racing; the Grade 1, $500,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun; the Grade 2, $350,000 Suburban; the Grade 2, $350,000 True North presented by F.W. Webb; and the Grade 3, $350,000 Poker. First post is 10:45 a.m. Eastern.

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