Highland Chief returns for Resorts World Casino Manhattan

June 8, 2022

ELMONT, N.Y. – Mrs. Fitriani Hay’s Highland Chief, a 19-1 upset winner of the Grade 1 Man o’ War last out, returns to Belmont Park for Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Manhattan, a 10-furlong inner turf test for older horses.

The 5-year-old Gleneagles bay launched his career in England with conditioner Paul Cole, winning the Golden Gates Handicap in June 2020 at Ascot ahead of placings later that year at York in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur and the Group 3 Cumberland Lodge. He raced just once as a 4-year-old, finishing fifth in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom, before being transferred to the care of trainer Graham Motion.

Highland Chief finished a troubled ninth in his seasonal and stateside debut in a 1 1/16-mile optional-claiming event in April at Aqueduct Racetrack before making the grade as the longest shot in a field of five led by the reigning Champion Turf Male in Yibir and returning rival and multiple Grade 1-winner Gufo.

He stalked the early foot of Abaan from second position in the 11-furlong Man o’War before jockey Trevor McCarthy gave Highland Chief his cue three furlongs out, taking command at the top of the lane en route to a one-length score over Gufo, who was a neck better than Yibir.

Motion said he wasn’t completely surprised by the performance which provided McCarthy his first career Grade 1 win.

“I probably asked too much of him in that mile and a sixteenth race, but I really wanted to get him going and that race benefitted him to get him to the Grade 1,” Motion said. “If you go back through his form lines, it’s not that crazy he was able to pull that off based on his Ascot form. He was a solid enough horse before he came to me and then he had throat surgery before he came to me which probably helped.”

Motion credited McCarthy for taking the initiative in the compact Man o’ War field.

“I left it up to Trevor. He broke a step slow at Aqueduct and we talked about that, but we didn’t see a whole lot of pace in there. We felt he could be forwardly placed but that was really Trevor’s call,” Motion said. “I was glad we got the jump on those guys. Both Gufo and the Breeders’ Cup winner [Yibir] have a tremendous turn of foot and I thought it was important he got the jump on them.”

McCarthy retains the mount from post 8 as Motion looks to add to past Manhattan success with Ascend [2017] and Spring Quality [2018].

Otter Bend Stables’ Gufo will look to avenge his Man o’ War defeat and improve on last year’s third-place finish in this event when closing to finish four lengths back of the victorious Domestic Spending.

Trained by three-time Manhattan winner Christophe Clement, Gufo captured the 2020 Grade 1 Belmont Derby over 10 furlongs at Belmont and added the 12-furlong Grade 1 Sword Dancer to his ledger last summer at Saratoga Race Course.

The 5-year-old Declaration of War chestnut won the Grade 2 Pan American in his seasonal debut at Gulfstream Park ahead of the Manhattan.

Clement said Gufo is training well into Saturday’s test.

“I’m excited to see him again. It’s all good [with him],” Clement said. “I don’t think the cutback is a bother to him. A mile and a quarter to a mile and a half is good for him.”

Gufo will exit post 2 under returning rider Joel Rosario as he looks to improve on a record of 16-8-3-4 for purse earnings in excess of $1.4 million.

Godolphin’s Santin will look to double up in Grade 1 wins for trainer Brendan Walsh. The regally bred 4-year-old son of Distorted Humor, out of the multiple graded-stakes winning Medaglia d’Oro mare Sentiero Italia, enters from a hard-fought neck score over Mira Mission in the Grade 1 Turf Classic on May 7 at Churchill Downs.

The lightly-raced colt finished a close second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in November at Del Mar and opened his current campaign with a pair of starts at Fair Grounds, finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds in February ahead of a runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Classic in March.

Walsh said Santin’s effort from the outermost post 14 in the Hollywood Derby touted the horse’s talent.

“At Del Mar, we ran him in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in just his third start, so we obviously thought a lot of him,” Walsh said. “He had a next to impossible task from a very tough draw and was unlucky not to win it. I think he liked it out there on the firm turf.”

Walsh said the addition of blinkers last out in the Turf Classic proved beneficial for Santin.

“He had worked in blinkers at the Fair Grounds before his races there and I was always focused on waiting for the Turf Classic to be the first time we would use them. He’s very laid back and they just help him concentrate a little more,” Walsh said.

Santin has made his last four starts at nine furlongs and Walsh said the additional furlong on Saturday won’t be an issue.

“He’s had a nice length of time between races and I think he’ll like Belmont and that big galloping track,” Walsh said. “I have been pleased with him since Churchill and I don’t think the 10 furlongs will be an inconvenience for him.”

Tyler Gaffalione retains the mount from post 9.

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown has won the Manhattan a record seven times, including the last three in succession. He will send out L’Imperator [post 1, Eric Cancel], Rockemperor [post 6, Irad Ortiz, Jr.], Adhamo [post 4, Flavien Prat] and Tribhuvan [post 7, Manny Franco] as he looks to extend his record.

Madaket Stables, Wonder Stables and Robert V. LaPenta’s L’Imperator made the grade last out in the Grade 2 Fort Marcy with a front-running score under Eric Cancel.

Brown said L’Imperator is likely to follow stablemate Tribhuvan on Saturday.

“I think L’Imperator probably only made the lead last time because it was so slow, but he ran very well that day,” Brown said. “I don’t think he has more pace than Tribhuvan.”

The 5-year-old Holy Roman Emperor gelding won 2-of-5 starts last season, taking optional-claiming events at Saratoga and Aqueduct along with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch at the Spa.

Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, Wonder Stables, Michael Kisber and Michael Caruso’s graded-stakes winner Rockemperor will achieve millionaire status with a placing on Saturday. The 6-year-old Holy Roman Emperor bay makes his third Manhattan appearance following a second in 2020 and a fifth-place finish last year.

Rockemperor, who won the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational in October at Belmont, enters from a troubled fifth behind L’Imperator in the Grade 2 Fort Marcy on May 7 at Belmont. He posted a bullet five-eighths work in 1:01.80 Sunday over the Belmont inner turf.

“He worked well this week and he really didn’t like the soft turf last time,” Brown said. “He likes Belmont and hopefully the ground will suit him.”

Dubb, Madaket Stables and Louis Lazzinnaro’s Adhamo captured the Group 3 Prix la Force in April 2021 traveling nine furlongs over soft going at Longchamp for former conditioner Frederic Head.

The 4-year-old Intello colt finished second in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds in his stateside debut for Brown ahead of an even third last out in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill.

“He just didn’t like the turf that day and if they don’t like the ground, they’re not going to run. It was just that simple. I think he’s going to take to Belmont well and run well,” Brown said.

Dubb, Madaket Stables and Wonder Stables’ multiple graded stakes winner Tribhuvan finished second in last year’s Manhattan to stablemate Domestic Spending. Last year, the 6-year-old Toronado gelding pasted gate-to-wire scores in the Grade 2 Fort Marcy at Belmont and the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park. Tribhuvan finished off-the-board in both starts this year, including a distant fifth last out in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill.

“He didn’t like the soft turf last time. He likes to be on the lead and I expect he will be,” Brown said.

Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber, R.A. Hill Stable and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s multiple Grade 1-winner Channel Maker will be making his fourth appearance in the Manhattan after finishing eighth in 2018 and fourth in both 2019 and 2020.

The hard-knocking Ontario-bred earned Eclipse Award honors as Champion Turf Male in 2020 after posting Grade 1 wins in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont.

Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, a three-time Manhattan winner, the 8-year-old English Channel gelding opened his current campaign with a 1 1/4-length score in the 12-furlong Grade 2 Elkhorn on April 23 at Keeneland.

“I’ve had some nice older horses before, but he’s been a real warrior,” Mott said. “He’s made 3.5 million dollars. He’s a good old gelding and he’s run in a lot of stakes – it’s amazing.”

Luis Saez will pilot Channel Maker from post 10.

Rounding out the field is Grade 1-winner In Love [post 5, Alex Achard], who captured the Keeneland Turf Mile in October for trainer Paulo Lobo; and Group 2-winner Tokyo Gold [post 3, Cristian Demuro] for conditioner Satoshi Kobayashi.

The Manhattan is slated as Race 10 on Saturday’s 13-race card. First post is 11:20 a.m. Eastern with the Belmont Stakes slated as Race 11 with a post time of 6:44 p.m.

National television coverage of Belmont Stakes Day will begin on FS2, where America’s Day at the Races will air from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. before coverage shifts to CNBC from 3 to 5 p.m. and NBC from 5 to 7p.m. America’s Day at the Races will then return to FS2 from 7:15 to 8:30 p.m. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.

Belmont Park Press Release

Photo: Highland Chief (JL Photo)

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