Elmont, N.Y. – Chad Brown has dominated the proceedings in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan in recent years, winning three of the last four runnings. The trainer’s representation in this year’s edition of the Grade, $1 million race suggests his excellent streak could continue when the 1 1/4-mile turf race is run at Belmont Park Saturday.
The 115th running of the Manhattan, the race immediately preceding the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, drew an accomplished field of 11 older males. Brown entered four: Big Blue Kitten, Flintshire, Slumber and Wake Forest. Only Big Blue Kitten, the runner-up last year behind stablemate Slumber, and Flintshire, a $7 million earner making his first start for Brown, are his confirmed starters. Brown said it’s possible that either Slumber or Wake Forest, who share the same ownership group, would skip the Manhattan and point to the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park July 3.
Flintshire, a homebred for Juddmonte Farms, is the 8-5 morning-line favorite. Javier Castellano has the mount on the 6-year-old, who will break from post 10 on the inner turf course.
Last year while trained by Andre Fabre, Flintshire demonstrated a devastating turn of foot that propelled him to a 2 1/2-length victory in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Sword Dancer. He returned to France and finished second in the Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, his second consecutive runner-up finish in that race, and then concluded the season by finishing second in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase, a race he won in 2014.
Because Flintshire’s connections believed the son of Dansili would relish the firmer ground and faster pace associated with American turf racing, the horse was sent to Brown in March.
The original thought had been to kick off Flintshire’s 2016 season in the United Nations, but then came his June 4 work on the turf at Belmont Park – a five-furlong move in 1:00.60 – and Brown had a change of heart.
“The work was outstanding,” Brown said. “The horse looks fit and ready to go. It’s a great opportunity to run for a huge purse in a very prestigious race and run out of your own barn and not have to ship. So, when I saw that final piece of work, it convinced me to run.”
The 8-year-old Big Blue Kitten, last year’s champion turf male, has been in Brown’s care throughout his 31-race career. On the cusp of passing $3 million in earnings, Big Blue Kitten enters the Manhattan following a fifth-place finish in his 2016 debut, the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs May 7.
“He needed the race,” Brown said. “It was a little short for him. It was a difficult race off the layoff. He was a little far back and the race really didn’t set up for him. He seemed to get a lot out of that race, and has trained strong since then. I expect him to move forward off of that effort.”
Joe Bravo, Big Blue Kitten’s regular pilot, has the assignment from post 5 aboard the third choice at 6-1.
Brown said Wake Forest, the winner of the local prep for the Manhattan, the Grade 1 Man o’ War on May 14, has made great strides since being purchased privately last fall in Europe.
“It’s been impressive how this horse has developed all winter,” the trainer said. “When we got him in, he trained okay, not spectacular. Then with each race that went by, I saw the horse really improve and now I see the horse in top form in the mornings and afternoon.”
John Velazquez has been named to ride the 10-1 Wake Forest, who was assigned post 3.
Slumber, who won the Manhattan last year by 2 3/4 lengths for his first Grade 1 score, was third in Churchill Downs’ Turf Classic, a race which launched his 8-year-old campaign.
“He was a bit unlucky in his last race,” Brown said. “He encountered a bit of trouble late in the race inside of horses. I thought maybe if he could have gone to the outside, he would have made a closer race out of it.”
Slumber, 10-1 in the program, will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. and drew post 2.
Divisidero, the neck winner of the Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard, returns to Belmont Park, where he won last year’s Pennine Ridge Stakes before finishing seventh in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. A winner of four of eight starts, Divisidero possesses a potent late kick, and his trainer, Buff Bradley, wants to see his runner in a position where that style can be maximized.
“We’re going to need to pay attention to what is going on there with the pace, and maybe be a little closer because the pace figures to be a little bit slower than his last race.” Bradley said.
Hall of Famer Edgar Prado rides Divisidero, who has been assigned 8-1 odds and drew post 11.
The Shug McGaughey-trained Ironicus, the second choice at 4-1, looked strong in winning Belmont’s Grade 3 Fort Marcy over a yielding turf course five weeks ago. The 5-year-old will be asked to step it up in the Manhattan, his first start in a Grade 1.
World Approval, who owned the lead in the stretch of the Turf Classic before Divisidero’s bold run led that one to victory, has also been entered and is 12-1.
Trainer Bill Mott, who has won three prior editions of the Manhattan, has entered both Take the Stand (15-1) and Triple Threat (30-1). The latter lost his rider when he and another horse clipped heels at the five-sixteenths pole in the Turf Classic. Take the Stand, winner of the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Handicap at the Fair Grounds in March, is making his Grade 1 debut.
Grand Tito (20-1), who was uninjured but scratched from the Turf Classic after an incident in the paddock, and Oathkeeper (30-1), making his U.S. debut, complete the field.