Trainer Mary Hartmann, who has conditioned horses at Monmouth Park for more than a decade, got the biggest win of her career when she saddled Presious Passion for a dramatic front-running upset victory in the $750,000 United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) July 5 at the New Jersey track. The 5-year-old son of Royal Anthem, sent off at odds of 13-1, held off the hard-charging Strike a Deal by a neck to score his eighth victory in 29 career races and his first grade I win.
“I’m shaking,” Hartmann said. “This is the best feeling in the world.”
Champs Elysees, the 11-10 favorite trained by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, raced next-to-last in the field of eight for much of the way before finishing sixth.
The United Nations was a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” event, and Presious Passion earned an automatic berth in the $3-million Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT), which is part of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park Oct. 25, with his victory. The chestnut gelding has collected $935,028 in his career while carrying the colors of Patricia Generazio.
“I’m just enjoying the win today,” Hartmann said. “I’ll talk with the owners, Pat and Frank Generazio, to see what path we’ll take to get to the Breeders’ Cup, but that’s the plan for sure.”
According to Hartmann, Presious Passion is her “first graded stakes horse of any kind” and he was the first she had ever sent out in a grade I event. In his last race prior to the United Nations, the gelding finished second in the Battlefield Stakes at Monmouth, but earlier this year, he scored 1 ½ lengths in the Pan American Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park. In 2007, Presious Passion captured the W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) at Calder Race Course and the Cliff Hanger Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth. Two years ago, he won the Jersey Derby at Monmouth.
Eddie Castro, who hadn’t ridden Presious Passion in a race since his seventh-place finish in the Ocean Port Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth last August, was in the gelding’s saddle for the United Nations. Racing inside, they set a slow early pace. Ra Der Dean stalked Presious Passion through fractions of :24.44, :49.16, 1:14.31, and 1:38.76 before tiring and fading to seventh.
However, Presious Passion never lost his momentum, and when Castro asked for more in the United Nation’s closing stages, the gelding dug in and responded gamely as Strike a Deal mounted a challenge in the dash to the wire. Ridden by Jose Lezcano, Strike a Deal finished 1 1/14 lengths in front of Equitable, who took third from Independent George by a half length. Only a nose separated Independent George and the fifth finisher, Buddy’s Humor.
Presious Passion completed 1 3/8 miles over Monmouth’s yielding course in 2:13.88.
“It didn’t bother me at all when I saw the early fractions,” Hartmann said. “I thought he might sprint away a little bit from there and make them come and catch him, but it all worked out perfectly. I don’t think the mile and three-eighths is his best distance, I think a mile and a half is.”
Produced from the Marquetry mare Princesa’s Passion, Presious Passion was bred in Florida by Joseph Barbazon and Helen Barbazon. He returned $29.60, $8.80, and $5.50 for his United Nations win while Strike a Deal paid $4.00 and $3.00. Equitable returned $4.20. The exacta paid $109.20, and the trifecta returned $661.00.
“I got the lead pretty easily,” Castro said. “I didn’t have to use too much horse. I was able to relax on the front end and get soft early fractions. At the three-eighths pole, I just let him go and he kept on going.”
According to Monmouth officials, the on-track handle for the card, which included the Salvatore Mile Stakes (gr. III) won by Notional, was more than $1 million. The total handle was approximately $6.7 million. Both figures were the track's best, so far, for the 2008 season.
"It's the largest total handle outside of a Haskell (gr. I) Day in recent memory," said Dennis Dowd, senior vice president of racing for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates Monmouth. "It was a terrific card, and the wagering reflected just that."