ARCADIA, Calif. – One of the top turf horses in the nation over the past three years, Richard Mandella’s United is back to defend his title in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship as he heads a strong field of 13 three-year-olds and up going a mile and one quarter.
Dating back to his win in the Grade II Eddie Read Stakes in July of 2020, United has settled into an eight-race pattern in which he’s won every other start. With a close fourth place finish in the Grade II Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 21 coming on the heels of a neck victory in the Eddie Read on July 24, Mandella is hoping for the win-lose-win pattern holds on Saturday.
Ridden by Flavien Prat in all but two of his 18 starts with Mandella, United will again be partnered with French-born superstar in the John Henry as he readies for a third try in the Grade I, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar Nov. 6.
In an old school move, Mandella had United blow out three furlongs this morning in a bullet 36.40. Owned by LNJ Foxwoods, United is a 6-year-old gelding by Giant’s Causeway. With five wins from 11 starts over the Santa Anita lawn, including a head defeat in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Turf, United is 21-9-4-1 overall with earnings of $1,693,549.
In what will be his fourth start for Peter Miller, Neptune’s Storm comes off a close fourth place finish in the Grade II Del Mar Mile and although he’s in good form, he’ll be trying a mile and one quarter for the first time. Second, beaten a half-length as the 4-5 favorite in the Grade III American Stakes at one mile on turf three races back on June 20, this 5-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding took the one-mile turf restricted Wickerr in gate to wire fashion two starts back on July 18.
Owned by CYBT, Saul Gervertz, Lynn Goetz, Michael Nentwig and David Weiner, Neptune’s Storm is a two-time graded stakes winner with earnings of $936,485 from an overall mark of 22-7-4-6.
In his first start for trainer Michael McCarthy, Chilean-bred Master Piece rallied from far off the pace to finish second, beaten a half-length in the Grade II Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on turf and would benefit greatly from some fast early fractions on Saturday.
Front-running California-bred Acclimate tired late to finish a close third in the Del Mar Handicap, his lone start since winning the marathon Grade III San Juan Capistrano Stakes at a mile and three quarters on turf here June 19. Trained by Phil D’Amato, this 7-year-old gelding by Acclamation, who was a close second in the 2019 John Henry, appears at the top of his game and could pose an elusive target with Ricky Gonzalez back aboard.
The Grade II John Henry with jockeys & weights in post position order
Race 11 of 11, Approximate post time 5:30 p.m. PT
1. Award Winner—Kyle Frey—126
2. Camino Del Paraiso—Abel Cedillo—124
3. Neptune’s Storm—Florent Geroux—124
4. United—Flavien Prat—126
5. Ready Soul—John Velazquez—122
6. Acclimate—Ricky Gonzalez—124
7. Master Piece—Drayden Van Dyke—122
8. Count of Amazonia—Victor Espinoza—122
9. Media Blitz—Juan Hernandez—122
10. Red King—Joe Bravo—122
11. Cupid’s Claws—Mike Smith—122
12. Friar’s Road—Umberto Rispoli—122
13. K P All Systems Go—Tyler Baze–122
The John Henry is one of five stakes on Saturday’s 11-race card with post time at 12:30 p.m. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.
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Mike Willman/Santa Anita Press Office
Photo: United won the Grade III San Luis Rey Stakes on the Downhill Turf at Santa Anita under Flavien Prat on March 20, 2021. He also just won the Eddie Reed July 24 with Prat up. (Benoit Photos)