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Red Knight won the 2023 Man O’ War Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, marking the 1st Grade 1 score for the New York-bred Mike Maker trainee. The 9-year-old Trinity Farm homebred gelding by Pure Prize was a clear winner, while the heavy favorite Warren Point was in a blanket photo finish that saw the Charlie Appleby trainee cross the wire 5th. Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Trinity Farm’s New York homebred Red Knight attained Grade 1 glory at the age of 9 when posting a rallying 1 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s $600,000 Man o’ War, a 1 3/8-mile inner turf test for older horses, at Belmont Park.
The evergreen gelding, trained by Mike Maker, entered with three graded victories on his resume, but finished a distant 11th in his lone start at the Grade 1 level in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Keeneland. Red Knight entered with a consistent 10-4-1-1 Belmont turf record and put it all together in the twilight years of his career for owner Tom Egan, who said “Red” has taken him on the journey of a lifetime.
“We’ve been to Colonial Downs with Red, to Kentucky Downs, Keeneland, Gulfstream Park, back to Keeneland. But here, Belmont Park, seems like home to me,” said Egan. “And I know Red has raced here 10 times himself so it’s like home to him also. I like New York racing the best. I think the grass course here is very fair. It’s not a speedball thing and you don’t have to come from 40 lengths out of it. There’s a lot of [good] things about New York racing.”
Ridden to victory by Irad Ortiz, Jr., Red Knight broke well from the inside post as post-time favorite Warren Point broke a step slow to his inside. Ortiz, Jr. settled Red Knight near the rear of the eight-horse field while preserving his inside position as fellow 9-year-old Channel Maker took command past the stands for the first time through an opening quarter-mile in 23.54 seconds over the firm footing.
Strong Tide stayed close in second behind Channel Maker down the backstretch as Howe Street and the Maker-trained Value Engineering held third and fourth position. Channel Maker slowed the tempo a bit to mark the half-mile in 49.18 as Warren Point quickly made up ground when asked by Frankie Dettori and placed himself within 4 3/4 lengths of the pacesetters. Meanwhile, Red Knight trailed in last-of-8 entering the turn but steadily progressed when moved to the outside under a confident Ortiz, Jr. to follow the run of Warren Point.
Warren Point came to even terms with Howe Street and Channel Maker after one mile in 1:38.69 and it appeared to be anyone’s race as a persistent Channel Maker fought on bravely along the rail and Strong Tide refused to yield to an all-out Warren Point to his outside. But Red Knight went widest of all and swept past his foes at the sixteenth pole under right-handed encouragement from Ortiz, Jr. to draw clear and post the win in a final time of 2:13.74 as a dramatic five-way photo finish for second played out behind him.
Soldier Rising, who rallied from four lengths off the pace under Jose Ortiz, got his head down in time for place honors over 50-1 shot Strong Tide, who held show by a nose over Howe Street. Warren Point finished fifth a nose back of Howe Street while a head better than Channel Maker. Verstappen and Value Engineering completed the order of finish.
Ortiz, Jr., who rode Red Knight to an off-the-pace victory in the January 28 Grade 3 William L. McKnight in his seasonal debut at Gulfstream Park, said he used Red Knight’s large frame to his advantage.
“I was hoping he would move a little earlier than usual,” said Ortiz, Jr. “He’s a big horse and has a huge stride and it was in my mind I wanted to let him go a little earlier, but I was stuck there. I think by the five-eighths pole, Frankie’s horse started to pick it up a little bit, so I tried to follow him and my horse was doing it easy so I don’t get in his way. By the quarter pole, he was already in stride. I just bided my time and tipped him out and he did the rest.”
Red Knight has seen rejuvenated form since joining the Maker barn last summer after starting his career with Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott. Maker has enjoyed a record of 6-3-1-0 with Red Knight, including graded scores in the aforementioned McKnight and the Grade 2 Kentucky Turf Cup in September at Kentucky Downs.
“I was very impressed, as always,” said Maker. “He’s just a hard-knocking horse who loves his job. He got to the outside, which he prefers. He had a clear view once Irad got him out.”
Maker noted that Red Knight, who raced off three week’s rest in the Man o’ War, could target the 10-furlong Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Manhattan on June 10 if he shows he is ready for another race in four weeks.
“It’s too early to say. We wheeled him back a little quicker than we would have liked to today, but it paid off,” said Maker. “Having said that, if he tells us he wants to run then we’ll be there.”
Red Knight, who became just the fifth horse aged 8 or older to win a Grade 1 flat race on the NYRA circuit since 1976 according to Equibase, returned $12.80 for a $2 win ticket. He earned $330,000 in victory and increased his lifetime earnings to $1,717,763 through a record of 34-12-9-1.
Soldier Rising, trained by Christophe Clement, earned the third Grade 1 placing of his career and posted his best result since finishing third to stablemate Gufo in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer in August at Saratoga Race Course. Ortiz said Soldier Rising gave his all in defeat.
“He always breaks kind of slow, so I wanted to hustle him out of the gate today to make sure I was close enough,” said Ortiz. “I knew the pace was going to be slow, so I hustled him out of there. I took a position that I was content with on the backside. Frankie’s horse was a little rank going into the second turn. I was behind him and just followed him. He looked like he was traveling well around the three-eighths pole. I’m glad we got up for second, the winner was much the best.”
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