Up to the Mark takes the Turf Classic May 6 at Churchill Downs (Daniella Ricci/Past The Wire)
By Michael Adolphson – NYRA Press Office
ELMONT, N.Y.— Recent Grade 1 winners Up to the Mark and Red Knight top a decade of contenders for Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Manhattan, a 10-furlong inner turf test for 4-year-olds and up.
First contested in 1867, the Manhattan has been won by such standouts as Chief Bearhart, Better Talk Now and Bricks and Mortar – all Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners – as well as Paradise Creek, who still owns the 10-furlong turf standard [1:57.79], a distance at which it has been contested since 1970.
Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Up to the Mark exits a breakout performance in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, dismissing rivals by a widening 3 3/4 lengths and earning an eye-catching 103 Beyer Speed Figure.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, who seeks his first Manhattan, moved the son of Not This Time to the grass in January after going 1-for-5 on the dirt to commence his career. Up to the Mark now boasts a 3-for-4 record on the turf, including a pair of Gulfstream Park allowance wins and a third in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile behind Chez Pierre and champion Modern Games. Saturday will be his first start beyond nine furlongs when he breaks from post 8 under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
“He gives us the impression that he’ll handle the stretch out in distance,” Pletcher said. “He relaxed very well last time going a mile and an eighth. He came with a good turn-of-foot. He’s got to go out there and prove it, but I love how he’s been doing since we got him on the grass. We just felt like he was underachieving on the dirt. We felt that his first turf race was a ‘wow’ race, and he figured out what he wanted.”
Trinity Farm’s hard-knocking New York homebred veteran Red Knight enters off a 12th career victory in the 11-furlong Grade 1 Man o’ War on May 13, his first top-level tally. The 9-year-old son of Pure Prize was a handy victor under Ortiz Jr., striding out by 1 1/2 lengths at the wire to land his second NYRA stakes, having also taken the 2019 Point of Entry. Since being transferred to Mike Maker prior to his 2022 season, the earner of $1,717,763 has won four of his seven starts, all in stakes company. Tyler Gaffalione picks up the mount from post 6, as Ortiz Jr. has opted for the aforementioned.
“He’s doing super,” Maker said. “He’s stronger than jailhouse coffee. I’d like him to get a ground-saving trip and fire home like he normally does.”
Maker also entered Three Diamonds Farm’s Ocean Atlantique, a dual stakes-winning son of American Pharoah who commenced his career in France with Andre Fabre and exits a troubled fourth in Up to the Mark’s Turf Classic. Three races back, the 6-year-old gelding was a gate-to-wire 5 1/4-length victor of Turfway Park’s Dust Commander over Tapeta. Luis Saez rides from post 9.
“He got further back [in the Turf Classic] than we would normally like to see, but he showed a new dimension and ran home,” Maker said. “He had some trouble at the top of the stretch, or he might have been second or third. I’m hoping the longer distance will get him in the race sooner.”
As often the case in a world-class turf race, Godolphin indeed looms large, entering the Charlie Appleby-trained pair of Warren Point (GB) [post 3, Richie Mullen] and Ottoman Fleet (GB) [post 4, William Buick].
Warren Point landed February’s Listed HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa Cup in Bahrain and exits a fifth in Red Knight’s Man o’ War as the 3-5 favorite. Beaten 1 3/4 lengths, he was a bit cantankerous behind the stalls and subsequently slow to break under Frankie Dettori. Rank throughout, the son of Dubawi made an early backstretch move into contention and was unable to sustain momentum in the stretch, getting the shortest straw of a four-horse place photo.
Prior to that run, Warren Point was second to Russian Emperor in the HH The Amir Trophy in Qatar, a local Group 1 race that has international Listed status. Russian Emperor returned to take the Group 1 Champions and Chater Cup in Hong Kong on May 28.
“It’s not that Warren Point is that difficult, I think he just likes to get on with it,” Appleby said. “We saw when Richie [Mullen] rode him in Bahrain that he broke well and got into a nice pitch and rhythm before putting the race to bed. Then he went to Doha and got shuffled back and it became a bit of hard work for him. Unfortunately, in the Man o’ War, it was a similar situation. He was always in a bad position, and they crawled, causing him to over-race and then he used too much gas pulling and moving too soon. Dropping back to 10 furlongs helps a lot and suits him better, as you’d hope they go more of a gallop. Richie rides him again and suits him well.”
Ottoman Fleet enters off a sharp victory in Belmont’s Grade 2 Fort Marcy on May 6 over nine furlongs. The son of Sea The Stars is in flying form, having also landed Newmarket’s Group 3 Earl of Sefton Stakes at the Craven Meeting on April 18.
Consistent throughout his career, Ottoman Fleet has won or placed in 10 of 11 starts, including four victories—all stakes. After contesting five graded/Group races thus far in 2023, including a good third to multiple graded/Group-winner Nations Pride in Meydan’s Group 3 Dubai Millennium on February 17, Ottoman Fleet makes his Grade 1 bow in the Manhattan.
“Ottoman Fleet is loving everything about being at Belmont and is in top form,” Appleby said. “One thing about him is that he’s done it at the Group level, whereas Warren Point, at the end of the day, still has to prove it at that level and is just a Listed winner. [Ottoman Fleet] has been busy, yes, but it’s been a rather easy campaign. We train a 30-minute van ride from Meydan in Dubai, and he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on him, in general, if you look at his career.”
Chad Brown leads all trainers with eight Manhattan trophies, including its past four editions. New York’s leading conditioner sends out Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, Wonder Stables, Michael Kisber and Michael Caruso’s Grade 1-winning Rockemperor (IRE), as well as William S. Farish’s Grade 2-placed Highest Honors. The pair worked in company on June 4 over the inner turf, going five furlongs in 1:01.58.
Rockemperor [post 7, Flavien Prat] exits a fourth in Ottoman Fleet’s Fort Marcy and was fourth in last year’s Manhattan. Winner of last season’s Grade 2 Bowling Green at Saratoga, the son of Holy Roman Emperor broke through at the top level in Belmont’s Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in October 2021.
“Rockemperor normally needs a run and the one thing with him is he wasn’t really gaining at the end of the [Fort Marcy],” Brown said. “I was a bit worried that he lost a step, but then I got the number back and it was actually pretty good for a starting figure, so I think if he just moves forward a couple points, it puts him right there. He’s not that far away and the Fort Marcy turned out to be a fast race. He’s come back and trained well, but definitely prefers firm turf.”
Highest Honors [post 10, Joel Rosario], a four-time winner from 17 starts, has finished fourth or better in his last 10 starts, including five graded affairs. A stakes winner on dirt in Saratoga’s 2019 Curlin, the 7-year-old entire son of Tapit exits a fourth in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Mac Diarmida on March 4 and was withdrawn during the prelims of Keeneland’s Grade 2 Elkhorn on April 22.
“He scratched in the post parade of the Elkhorn last out,” Brown explained. “For whatever reason—maybe he saw something he didn’t like—but the horse is fine and I understand this is a sensitive time, so we just took it, got him off the list over here and he’s just trained brilliantly toward the Manhattan. He breezed with Rockemperor and they had a basic maintenance move. I really liked how both went and I feel like the 10 furlongs will be really good for both of them. They both really like Belmont Park and I think it’s a wide-open race.”
Gary Barber and Kinsman Stable’s Strong Quality [post 2, Florent Geroux] will dive into the proverbial deep end for Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse and exits a gate-to-wire win in Keeneland allowance company. The son of Quality Road is 2-for-2 on grass and appears on the improve for this considerable ascent in class and stakes debut.
“He’s a horse who has done really well since getting to the turf,” Casse said. “We think the further, the better for him, but obviously the Manhattan is a big step forward. He keeps stepping up his game. We’ll see if he can go to the next level, or not. I do think he’ll like the distance, going a mile and a quarter.”
Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, Morris Bailey, Wonder Stables and Michael Caruso’s multiple graded stakes-placed Soldier Rising (GB) [post 5, Jose Ortiz] enters off a second in the Man o’ War. The Christophe Clement-trained son of Frankel has finished fourth or better in all four of his Grade 1 tries but has yet to break through at the top level. Clement won back-to-back Manhattans with Gio Ponti  and Winchester .
Completing the lineup is the Naipaul Chatterpaul-owned and trained So High (GB) [post 1, Javier Castellano], who has failed to place in his three starts thus far in 2023, all in allowance company. The son of Nathaniel was fifth in both the Grade 1 Man o’ War and Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup in 2021 and has not won since an Aqueduct claiming race in November 2020.
The FOX Sports family of networks will present expansive coverage and analysis of Belmont Stakes Day beginning with America’s Day at the Races on FS1 at 11 a.m. Coverage then shifts to FOX, where America’s Day at the Belmont and Belmont Day on FOX will air from 3-7:30 p.m.
America’s Day at the Belmont Stakes will complement the FOX broadcast with parallel coverage geared to the avid and experienced horseplayer from 4-7:30 p.m. on FS1. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.