(Edited Monmouth Park report)
Jim Scatuorchio’s English Channel broke his own course record at Monmouth Park Saturday as he powered his way to a one-length victory in the 54th running of the $750,000 United Nations Stakes Presented by TVG (gr. IT) (VIDEO).
Sent off the 3-5 favorite in the field of five, English Channel tracked the pace-setting Fri Guy for most of the mile and three-eighths on firm turf. When jockey John Velazquez gave the signal, the favorite cruised to the lead in the stretch, and had no trouble holding Honey Ryder safe. The 5-year-old son of Smart Strike stopped the timer in 2:12.89 to better his record of 2:13.24 in winning last year’s United Nations.
Todd Pletcher, the nation’s leading trainer, conditions both English Channel and Honey Ryder, a 6-year-old mare who went off third choice at 3-1.
Better Talk Now, the 2005 U.N. winner and second choice at 5-2, closed belatedly after falling well off a tepid pace and had to settle for third, two lengths behind Honey Ryder.
English Channel paid $3.20, $2.10, and $2.10 across the board and topped a $9.40 exacta with Honey Ryder, who paid $2.40 to place and $2.10 to show. Better Talk Now paid the minimum $2.10 to show.
In winning his fourth grade I, English Channel appeared a bit rank right after the break, but settled down nicely for Velazquez and was content to sit off the pace set by Joe Bravo aboard Fri Guy.
English Channel maintained his forward position around the far turn and moved briskly to take the lead when the rider asked. Honey Ryder made a threatening move in midstretch, but never got closer than a length to her stablemate.
Pletcher, watching on television, said, “The way they showed the break it was head-on, and it looked like he veered out a bit after the break. But Johnny (Velazquez) knows this horse well and, once he got him to relax, it was fine.
“I thought he got a little off track in Dubai,” Pletcher said, referring to English Channel’s poor run in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) in March. “Other than that, he’s never really run a bad one. He ran a good race in the Manhattan, but it was good to get him back to three turns, and he’s shown that he likes the Monmouth Park turf course.
“From here, we’ll go to the Sword Dancer (Aug. 11 at Saratoga) and then either the Man o’ War (Sept. 8) or the Turf Classic (Sept. 30) at Belmont, with the idea of bringing him back to Monmouth for the Breeders’ Cup (Oct. 27).”
Velazquez said, “It wasn’t so much that he was rank, he just threw his head up when he jumped from the gate. He was a little uncomfortable after that, so I was trying to get him to see that other horse (Fri Guy) in front of him so that he’d settle down; and once he saw him he was fine. Once he relaxed, he was fine the whole way.”
English Channel became the first back-to-back winner of the United Nations since Sandpit at Atlantic City Racecourse in 1995 and 1996.