The 2014 renewal of the Knob Creek Manhattan Stakes (gr. IT) June 7, a race with a strong collection of past winners , features three trainers—Shug McGaughey, Bill Mott and Christophe Clement—who have won it three times each.
Hall of Fame conditioners Mott and McGaughey will be represented in Saturday's $1 million turf event by favorites Seek Again and Imagining, respectively, while Clement looks to strike again with outsider Chamois. The race is one of six grade I races on the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) card.
Ten older horses are entered in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan on Belmont's inner turf course, the race immediately preceding the Belmont.
Mott trains top pick Seek Again (3-1) for Juddmonte Farms, who bred the son of Speightstown in Kentucky out of the Danehill mare Light Jig, winner of the 2004 Yellow Ribbon Stakes (gr. IT) for Bobby Frankel. The 4-year-old colt has done most of his racing in England, where he won a minor stakes at York last October.
The chestnut has been extremely effective in two starts stateside, winning the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) last December before beginning his 2014 campaign with a head-bobbing second to two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT)at nine furlongs May 3 at Churchill Downs. Seek Again, who drew post 6 with Joel Rosario to ride, stands with four wins and three seconds from nine lifetime starts and earnings of $325,259.
"He seems to be coming into this race as good as he was going into the (Turf Classic)," said Mott. "I thought he ran a winning race last time and couldn't have been happier with his performance. I just hope his level of fitness is the same and he feels like running (on Saturday)."
It has been awhle since Mott has struck in the Manhattan, his last winner coming in 1999 with Allen Paulson's Yagli. He also tallied with Paradise Creek, who established the course record in the 1994 race (1:57.79), and in 1990 with Phantom Breeze.
Phipps Stable's 6-year-old Imagining has been red hot of late for McGaughey, winning three of his past four starts dating back to last fall. He comes off a front-running three-quarter-length win in the 1 3/8-mile Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) May 11 on the Belmont turf, where he has won five of eight over his career. Under the patient guidance of McGaughey, the son of Sightseeing out of the multiple graded stakes-winning mare Daydreaming, by A.P. Indy, has won 8 of 16 overall while banking $813,114.
"He's doing great," said McGaughey, who is hoping for firm ground Saturday. "He came out of his last race good and has had two decent works since then."
"He won the Man o' War on a turf that had some give in it, but I think he's a little better on (firm ground)," said McGaughey. Since adding blinkers six starts ago, Imagining has won four times, including the Red Smith (gr. IIIT) from off the pace. John Velazquez has the call.
Imagining, the 7-2 second choice on the early line, drew the rail for McGaughey. The trainer previously won the Manhattan last year with Point of Entry , Dancing Forever (2008), and Good Reward (2005), all for Phipps family. Imagining will be facing two rivals he beat in the Man o' War, runner-up Real Solution and third-place finisher Grandeur.
Seeking his first graded stakes win for Clement, Jon and Sarah Kelly's Chamois, pegged at 15-1, is coming off a close third-place finish in the Longines Dixie Stakes (gr IIT) on the Preakness card May 17. That was the first start of the year for the 4-year-old Smart Strike colt seeking his first win in five tries on the Belmont turf.
"He's a nice horse, but I'm probably running him back a little quick, which I don't like to do," said Clement of Chamois. "He ran great the other day and it's a grade I, so I thought we would take a shot."
Trainer Chad Brown, who won the 2012 Manhattan with Desert Blanc (GB), enters Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred Real Solution (5-1) after his big effort in the Man o'War. The 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy made a big run at Imagining in the stretch but was repulsed late.
"He's coming into the race great," said Brown. "He drew the outsid (post 8)e, which is unfortunate, but hopefully we can work out a trip from there."
Seven-year-old Boisterous , the 2013 Man o' War winner previously trained by McGaughey for the Phipps operation, now runs for owner Gary Barber. The dark bay son of Distorted Humor is now trained by Todd Pletcher, who is yet to win the Manhattan. Boisterous was third in the Woodford Reserve last time and has won once in three tries for his new connections.
Barber is also part of the ownership group for Kaigun, most recently fourth in the Woodford Reserve and searching for his first stakes victory for trainer Mark Casse.
Completing the field are Rontos Racing Stable's Hey Leroy, second in the Dixie last time; Stronach Stable's Rookie Sensation, third by a neck in the Last Tycoon (gr. IIIT) at Santa Anita Park April 25; and dual grade III winner Five Iron, coming off a one-length tally in the Fort Marcy (gr. IIIT) over the inner Belmont sod May 3.
$1 Million Knob Creek Manhattan Stakes (gr. IT, Race 10, 5:42 p.m.), 1 1/4 Miles (Inner Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Imagining (KY), J R Velazquez, 122, C R McGaughey III, 7/2
2. Hey Leroy (KY), A O Solis, 116, M J Azpurua, 12/1
3. Rookie Sensation (KY), M E Smith, 116, J A Shirreffs, 12/1
4. Grandeur (IRE), G L Stevens, 122, J Noseda, 5/1
5. Boisterous (KY), C S Nakatani, 122, T A Pletcher, 8/1
6. Seek Again (KY), J Rosario, 118, W I Mott, 3/1
7. Five Iron (KY), L Saez, 118, B A Lynch, 15/1
8. Real Solution (PA), J Castellano, 122, C C Brown, 5/1
9. Kaigun (ON), A Garcia, 114, M E Casse, 15/1
10 Chamois (KY), J Bravo, 114, C Clement, 15/1