There are no North American grade I victors among the nine entrants for the 55th running of the United Nations, which is contested at 1 3/8 miles.
The United Nations, along with the Salvator Mile, highlight the "NTRA Summer Racing" series this weekend. Both races also are part of Breeders' Cup Challenge Day at Monmouth, meaning the winners each will receive an automatic starting berth in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Oct. 25. The show will air over ESPN2 from 6 to 7 p.m. (EDT).
Trainer Mary Hartmann has been conditioning horses at Monmouth Park for more than a decade, and in multiple graded stakes winner Presious Passion, she could have a legitimate shot at the New Jersey track's top race for older horses.
“This is my first horse ever in a grade 1 race,” Hartmann said, “and it’s really exciting.”
Her 5-year-old Florida-bred Royal Anthem gelding has three graded wins over the past two years, all at outrageous prices.
Owned by Patricia A Generazio, Presious Passion most recently captured the 1 1/2-mile Pan American Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park April 5 at odds of 20-1. Presious Passion won Calder's W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT), also at 12 furlongs, at a shocking 67-1 in December, as well as the shorter Cliff Hanger (gr. IIIT) on the Monmouth course at 10-1 last September.
“He’s my first graded stakes horse of any kind,” Hartmann said. “It just shows you never know where a good horse will come from.”
Presious Passion has shown he's comfortable on the course. In addition to the Cliff Hanger, he won the Jersey Derby at Monmouth in 2006 and has fashioned a 2-3-1 mark in nine starts on the Monmouth lawn.
Eddie Castro, who piloted the chestnut to his Jersey Derby score, takes over the ride on Presious Passion, who was a distant second to Call My Buff in the off-the-turf Battlefield Stakes on a sloppy main track June 15.
“He needed to race,” Hartmann said of the decision to stay in the Battlefield. “If we wanted to make this race, he needed to run. I thought he did okay in the slop, especially since that was the first time he ever raced on an off track. And the best part is, he didn’t hurt himself. He came out of the race great and he’s trained well since.”
Presious Passion does his best work on the front-end -- he opened up a 12-length lead in the first six furlongs of the Pan American, for example -- but this time he will likely encounter the Irish-bred Sudan and a couple of others.
Juddmonte Farms' Champs Elysees owns the class edge for Frankel in this year's United Nations, though he is still in search of his first grade I victory. The 5-year-old son of Danehill was found to have been ill after his sixth-place finish as the 4-5 favorite in the Charles Whittingham Handicap (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park June 7. The late running Champs Elysees, who won the San Marcos (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita in January, is out of the top dam Hasili, who has produced four grade I winners on the turf: Banks Hill, Cacique, Heat Haze, and Intercontinental.
Winner of the Gran Premio di Milano (Ity-I) at San Siro more than a year ago, Sudan had been a little slow to come around to American racing. But the Gary Tanaka-owned 5-year-old put it all together with a dominating front-running four-length victory over a suspect field in the Golden Gate Fields Turf (gr. IIIT) in his third U.S. start May 31. Sudan previously ran third in the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park.
Also expected to be on the pace is Kingfield Stables' Buddy's Humor, who comes off a front-running half-length win in the Elkwood Stakes at one mile over the Monmouth course, where he is two-for-two for trainer Bruce Levine. Buddy's Humor also won the Jersey Derby last August.
Strike a Deal ran well in Belmont Park's Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at 10 furlongs June 7, threatening to take the lead at the top of the stretch before tiring to fourth in his second start following a 7 1/2-month layoff. The 4-year-old Smart Strike colt, trained by Alan Goldberg, broke his maiden over the Monmouth turf in his only start over the layout.
Three others in the United Nations field are coming off victories. Bushwood Stables' Independent George used a late charge to win the Sussex at Delaware Park May 28 for trainer Graham Motion; T M Racing Stables' 8-year-old gelding Ra Der Dean won a second-level allowance test easily at Philadelphia Park June 10; and Pin Oak Stable's Equitable, trained by Bill Mott, was victorious in an optional claiming event over Belmont's inner turf course June 1.
$750,000 United Nations Stakes (gr. 1T, Race 12, 6:47 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 3/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Champs Elysees (GB), 120, Ramon A. Dominguez
2. Equitable (KY), 118, Kent J. Desormeaux
3. Presious Passion (FL), 118, Eddie Castro
4. Buddy's Humor (KY), 118, Carlos H. Marquez, Jr.
5. Independent George (KY), 118, Joe Bravo
6. Sudan (IRE), 118, Ramon A. Dominguez
7. Ra Der Dean (KY), 118, A. R. Napravnik
8. Strike a Deal (KY), 118, Jose Lezcano
9. Crown Point (KY), 118, Stewart Elliott