Juddmonte Farms' homebred Cacique, who just missed by a half-length in his last start in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT), held off a hard-charging Relaxed Gesture to earn a head-bobbing nose victory in the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) Saturday at Belmont Park.
Favored at 2-1, Cacique, who carried 120 pounds with Edgar Prado aboard, got the 10 furlongs over the yielding going in 2:04.10. The winning margin was a head. Grey Swallow ran third, another neck behind.
Prado said he could feel Cacique getting weary in the final yards.
"I had to bounce him around a little, but once he did, he had another gear," Prado said. "He didn't see (Relaxed Gesture) way outside."
Cacique got the early lead in the seven-horse field and, along with favorite English Channel, ran through cold early splits of :24.71, :51.30, and 1:16.66.
Those two had an open lead over a three-horse pack of Sabre d'Argent, Silver Whistle, and Dreadnaught. Further back was the duo of Relaxed Gesture and Grey Swallow.
As the pace quickened when the horses came out of the final bend, Cacique kicked clear of English Channel, but he was met in deep stretch by a surging Relaxed Gesture, ridden by Kent Desormeaux on the far outside, with Grey Swallow and Alex Solis closing in behind them.
In deep stretch, Desormeaux dropped his whip aboard the runner-up.
"It sure looked like I had it," Desormeaux said. "I just saw the replay, and obviously, I missed the head bob. I was in front before the wire and after it. He handled the yielding turf okay. We just got beat."
The winner paid $6.40, $3.60, and $3. Relaxed Gesture paid $4.30 and $3.40, and Grey Swallow returned $4. The 4-2 exacta paid $31.60.
Cacique is a 5-year-old son of the late Danehill, out of Hasili (by Kahyasi). He was bred in Ireland. A multiple graded winner in Europe in 2004 and 2005, he was making his third start in the U.S. for trainer Bobby Frankel. Prior to the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby day, Cacique was fourth, beaten just a neck in the Frank Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) at Santa Anita March 4.
"He's a real fighter," Frankel said. "I don't know that he ever saw Relaxed Gesture. I was okay with him on the lead. If you look at his form, he went wire to wire with some good horses in Europe."
Frankel said the Arlington Million (gr. IT) Aug. 12 is a likely target for Cacique, who is a full brother to Banks Hill, Intercontinental and Dansilli.
In France, Cacique won the Prix Daphnis (Fr-III) at nine furlongs and the one-mile Prix Daniel Wildenstein (Fr-II) as a 3-year-old, and won the Prix du Chemin de Fer du Nord (Fr-III) at 4. He was trained in France by Andre Fabre. His sixth win 14 lifetime starts pushed Cacique's earnings to $812,331.
English Channel was just a head behind the first three in fourth, followed by Silver Whistle, Sabre, d'Argent and Dreadnaught.
"In a perfect world, there would be a little bit of pace, but it was the same for everyone," said English Channel's trainer, Todd Pletcher. "We got beat a half-length."
Good Reward and Interpatation scratched.