Doctor Dino had not won since last October, but reuniting with jockey Olivier Peslier may have been the key to getting him over the top, as the 5-year-old French-bred courageously outfought Sunriver on the turf to win by a head in the $500,000 Man o’ War Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Park Sept. 8.
Making only his second start in America, Doctor Dino had won three consecutive races with Peslier aboard in 2006. But after taking third in a pair of races under jockey John Murtagh, including the Aug. 11 Arlington Million (gr. I), the son of Muhtathir (GB) got Peslier once again in the Man o' War. It may have been the difference.
In tight for most of the backstretch, Peslier moved fourth-placed Doctor Dino to the outside as the field of seven turned for home, splitting pacesetter Yellowstone (Ire) and Trippi’s Storm along the final turn. Still four-and-a-half lengths off the lead at the top of the stretch, but now second, Peslier made his move for the leader.
A determined Sunriver, under jockey Garrett Gomez, still held a length advantage at the 16th pole, but Doctor Dino gained with every stride. The pair dueled the rest of the way, head-bobbing to the finish. Just to the outside of Sunriver, Doctor Dino barely got up at the wire.
“He’s been our flag-bearer all year,” said trainer Richard Gibson. “He’s been on two big podiums this year, and he really did get to the top of the podium today. He’s a model of consistency. It gets your guts going a bit, when you see how many good horses have won this race. It’s a privilege to be associated with this race.
“The Breeders’ Cup is very unlikely; he’s not Breeders’ Cup nominated. We’ll speak to the owners, but before the race it was never an option."
Going off as the 4-1 third choice, Javier Martinez’ Doctor Dino paid $9.70 to win. The exacta (1-2) with Aaron and Marie Jones’ Sunriver paid $31.20. The 1 3/8-mile was run in a final time of 2:12.26. Sword Dancer (gr. I) winner Grand Couturier rallied from last to get third.
It was the sixth win in 21 tries for Doctor Dino, who was bred in France by Ecurie Pelder and is out of Irish mare Logica. A win in the Prix Andre Baboin (Fr-III) in October was Doctor Dino’s biggest previous score.
The betting favorite at odds of 2-1, Yellowstone, with Murtagh aboard, tired to finish sixth.
Sunriver, who won the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont on July 15, was a tough-luck loser. “Johnny (Murtagh) tried to quicken the pace at the five-eighths pole,” Gomez said. “When I asked my horse to make his move and put his body into it, he did. He is a really nice horse. He pretty much had to sprint five-eighths of a mile.”