Cowboy Cal and Champs Elysees, both narrowly beaten by tough-as-nails Einstein in separate grade I races this year, will see if his absence will be enough to get them over the top this time, as they headline a strong field of 14, including five grade I winners, for the $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) June 6 at Belmont Park.
A 1 1/4-mile trek on the turf, the Manhattan is the fifth of six graded stakes on a stellar Belmont card that is capped by the $1 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Post time for the Manhattan is set for 5:34 p.m. EDT.
Robert and Janice McNair’s Cowboy Cal was a head away from recording his first grade I win in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs May 2. The 4-year-old son of Giant's Causeway battled down the stretch with Einstein after taking a short lead at the eighth pole, but was just bested by one of top horses in the country.
Earlier in the year, Cowboy Cal won the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. IIT) and Strub (gr. II) at Santa Anita. He then finished eighth in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) before shipping to Louisville. Overall, he has posted a record of 6-4-0 from 13 starts with earnings of $854,767.
Regular rider John Velazquez will have the mount on Cowboy Cal, who was bred in Kentucky by the McNair’s Stonerside Stable and is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Texas Tammy. They will break from post 13.
“A mile and a quarter is probably not his best distance, but he has been training well,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s been a very consistent horse for us.”
Also coming out of the Turf Classic are IEAH Stable and WinStar Farm’s Court Vision, and Juddmonte Farms’ Zambezi Sun, who finished third and fourth, respectively. Court Vision won the Jamaica Handicap (gr. IIT) and Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) in consecutive fashion to close out his 3-year-old campaign in 2008. Ramon Dominguez will ride for Bill Mott.
Zambezi Sun, a group I winner in France, will be making his fourth start in the U.S. Bobby Frankel trains the 5-year-old Dansili horse.
Juddmonte and Frankel will also send out in the coupled entry Champs Elysees, a 6-year-old millionaire son of Danehill who was beaten a length by Einstein in the Santa Anita Handicap two starts back. Champs Elysees won the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) in December. Most recently, he was seventh in the Elkhorn (gr. IIT) April 24 at Keeneland. Julien Leparoux will be in the irons.
Although Cowboy Cal beat him convincingly in the Feb. 7 Strub on the Pro-Ride, Castleton Lyons’ Gio Ponti came back to score in the Frank Kilroe Mile (gr. IT) a month later on the Santa Anita grass. A 4-year-old son of Tale of the Cat, Gio Ponti won three graded stakes on the turf as a sophomore, including the Hill Prince (gr. IIIT) over the Belmont lawn last summer. Garrett Gomez will ride for trainer Christophe Clement.
"He’s been a very consistent horse right from the beginning,” said Clement . "I expect him to be competitive. Probably a mile and an eighth is more suited to him, but with firm ground, I expect him to run well.”
Also coming off a graded stakes victory is Flying Zee Stable’s Cosmonaut. The 7-year-old Lemon Drop Kid horse won the Fort Marcy (gr. IIIT) by 1 1/2 lengths at Belmont May 2 for his fourth graded stakes score. A winner of eight of 33 lifetime starts and earnings of more than $1.3 million, Cosmonaut will be ridden by Jose Lezcano for Philip Serpe.
Bushwood Stables remarkable 10-year-old gelding Better Talk Now makes his third consecutive start in the Manhattan for Graham Motion. The son of Talkin Man won this race back in 2007 and was fifth, beaten less than three lengths a year ago. With more than $4 million in earnings, Better Talk Now has produced a 14-7-4 mark from 49 starts. He has nine graded stakes wins to his credit. Jeremy Rose will ride.
$400,000 Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT, Race 10, 5:34 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Marsh Side (KY), J Castellano, 117, N D Drysdale
2. Court Vision (KY), R A Dominguez, 120, W I Mott
3. Premium Gold (KY), E S Prado, 113, J C Kimmel
4. Gio Ponti (KY), G K Gomez, 120, C Clement
5. Champs Elysees (GB), J R Leparoux, 119, R J Frankel
6. Optimer (ARG), R Rodriguez, 110, S Dutrow
7. Wesley (KY), K J Desormeaux, 116, M A Hennig
8. Senior (KY), M J Luzzi, 112, J W Delozier, III
9. Better Talk Now (KY), J Rose, 117, H G Motion
10. Cosmonaut (KY), J Lezcano, 116, P M Serpe
11. Interpatation (KY), R Maragh, 114, R Barbara
12. Lauro (GER), A Starke, 117, A Wohler
13. Cowboy Cal (KY), J R Velazquez, 120, T A Pletcher
14. Zambezi Sun (GB), J R Leparoux, 116, R J Frankel