A resilient Imagining took the $400,000 Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) (VIDEO) field the entire 1 3/8 miles to hand trainer Shug McGaughey his third consecutive win in the prestigious turf race May 11 at Belmont Park.
The Hall of Fame conditioner also won the Man o' War in 2012 with Point of Entry and with Boisterous last year, both for Phipps Stable.
Imagining, also a Phipps Stable homebred, earned his first grade I win while defeating Real Solution and Grandeur with Joel Rosario riding. A regally bred 6-year-old son of Giant's Causeway out of the multiple graded stakes-winning mare Daydreaming, by A.P. Indy, Imagining was sent off the 3-1 second favorite in the field of six. He was timed in 2:14.93 over an inner turf course rated good.
The winner, carrying 121 pounds, paid $8.50, $4.50, and $2.90. Real Solution, who toted top weight of 124, returned $5 and $3.50 while completing a $35.60 exacta. Grandeur paid $4 to show.
Imagining was making his first appearance since finishing second, a length behind Lochte, in the Feb. 9 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. IT).
"Shug told me there wasn't probably going to be a lot of speed in the race and he was coming off a couple of months off, so he'd probably show some speed and he did," Rosario said. "He's a game horse. Every time a horse came to him, he's a fighter. I was really happy with him today."
Frac Daddy finished fourth, followed by Vertiformer and Amira's Prince , the 9-5 favorite who tired in the stretch after stalking Imagining and Frac Daddy through the first mile.
Imagining is not one to dictate the pace very often, but he used the tactic to great advantage in winning an allowance/optional claiming race over the course at 1 1/4 miles in June 2012, and once again in stealing a restricted overnight stakes at Saratoga Race Course last August. He is now 2-for-2 at the 11-furlong distance after capturing the Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIIT) Nov. 16 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Imagining, slow to develop over his career, has now won eight of 16 starts with four seconds, good for earnings of $813,114. Five of his victories, from eight tries, have come on the Belmont turf.
"He does like it here, but his race in Florida (last time out) was a good race, too," McGaughey said. "I'm happy for the horse, this is his first grade I. We've got a good, solid race into him now and hopefully he'll come back fine and we'll have a good summer with him."
Imagining carved honest fractions of :49.13 for the half mile, 1:13.75 for six furlongs, and 1:38.01 for the mile while opening up as much as a 1 1/2-length lead over Frac Daddy. Handled patiently to that point by Rosario, Imagining floated out a path straightening for home but held sway under urging when confronted by Grandeur at the rail and Real Solution on the far outside. Under pressure the final furlong, Imagining maintained his edge to the wire.
Real Solution made a bold move on the extreme outside for jockey Javier Castellano to reach contention but could not get on even terms with the winner while finishing a half-length ahead of Grandeur and Julien Leparoux.
"This was only his second race since November," McGaughey noted of Imagining. "He was sharp in the paddock and he was training sharp so we felt like if he broke well, he'd probably be right up there. He was able to hold off a couple of pretty nice horses running at him and Joel did a great job of riding him. I thought it all worked out really well."
McGaughey said he would like to bring Imagining back for the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at 1 1/4 miles on Belmont Day, June 7.
If so, he's likely to meet up again with Real Solution, said trainer Chad Brown, who was happy with the runner-up's effort while acknowledging that the lack of pace was a factor.
"I'm glad to see this horse round back into form," Brown said of Real Solution. "I was confident he would fire today. If all is well, I'll bring him back in the Manhattan."