For the connections of the seven horses entered in the $500,000 Man o' War (gr. IT) at Belmont Park Sept. 8, decision time is drawing near for the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). With two of the big Eastern turf stars, English Channel and Better Talk Now, not taking part in the 1 3/8-mile event, the opportunity for a top performance could not be better.
Aaron and Marie Jones’ Sunriver, fourth-place finisher in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) one month ago, is one of those on the bubble. Trainer Todd Pletcher said the 4-year-old Saint Ballado colt "could be" bound for the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Monmouth Park on Oct. 26-27 with a big effort in the Man o' War.
Sunriver hooked a field without much speed in the 10-furlong Million and set a slow pace before being overtaken in the stretch, finishing one length behind the victorious Jambalaya.
“I thought he ran well in the Million,” Pletcher said of Sunriver. “We were a little unfortunate to catch a soft turf course, which (jockey Garrett Gomez) felt he didn’t handle as well as firm ground. He ran hard and wasn’t beaten far.”
With no rain in the forecast through Saturday, Sunriver will likely get the firm course he likes.
Before his trip to Chicago, Sunriver put in a couple of sterling efforts on Belmont’s lawn. He impressively won a third-level allowance, then dominated the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) at the 11-furlong distance.
"He’s 2-for-2 at Belmont and he’s won at the distance, so we’re optimistic he’ll run well,” Pletcher said.
Doctor Dino, a 5-year-old horse based in France for trainer Richard Gibson, finished third in the Arlington Million last time out, beating Sunriver by a neck. He placed in a pair of group I races earlier in the year, finishing third behind Dylan Thomas in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp and third in the $1.9-million Singapore Airlines International Cup.
Doctor Dino, who will be ridden by Olivier Peslier, shipped to Belmont following his run in the Arlington Million.
There are two European 3-year-olds entered in the Man o 'War: Shamdinan and Yellowstone.
The French-bred Shamdinan won his first start in the U.S., the 10-furlong Secretariat (gr. IT) for 3-year-olds two races before the Arlington Million. He did it in 2:04 on the soft going, three-fifths of a second faster than the Million was run. That was Shamdinan’s first start for Southern California trainer Doug O’Neill. Earlier this year, he was third in the 20-horse French Derby (Fr-I).
Yellowstone will make his U.S. debut for trainer Aidan O’Brien in the Man o’ War. John Murtagh journeys from the U.K. to ride.
An Irish-bred son of Rock of Gibraltar owned by Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mrs. John Magnier, Yellowstone comes off a one-length loss in the Great Voltigeur (Eng-II) at York. His lone win of 2007 was in the Gordon Stakes (Eng-III) at Goodwood, while his best showing in group I company this year was a fourth in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.
Grand Couturier, upset winner of the Sword Dancer (gr. IT) Aug. 11 at Saratoga, and Trippi’s Storm, third-place finisher in the same race, are back for the Man o’ War.
Grand Couturier got the distance he was looking for in the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer, skimming the rails for jockey Calvin Borel to win by three lengths at odds of 15-1. Borel will be in town to ride the 4-year-old colt for trainer Robby Ribaudo in the Man o’ War.
Ribaudo noted that Grand Couturier thrived at Saratoga this summer. He said said he decided to run in the Man o’ War after realizing that English Channel and Better Talk Now would not show up.
“This race will tell us what route to take,” Ribaudo said, referring to a possible run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. “We realized there would be a couple of good Europeans in this race, but we’re going to have to meet them sooner or later.”
Trippi’s Storm will race without blinkers.
$500,000 Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT, Race 9, 5:12 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 3/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Doctor Dino (FR), 126, Olivier Peslier
2. Sunriver (KY), 126, Garrett K. Gomez
3. Grand Couturier (GB), 126, Calvin H. Borel
4. Trippi's Storm (FL), 126, Javier Castellano
5. Shamdinan (FR), 121, Julien R. Leparoux
6. Marsh Side (KY), 126, Kent J. Desormeaux
7. Yellowstone (IRE), 121, John P. Murtagh