Mission Approved, claimed for $35,000 two starts back and making his first start in 11 months, went wire-to-wire to pull a 21-1 shocker in the $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) June 11 at Belmont Park (VIDEO). Champion Gio Ponti finished third.
With Jose Espinoza aboard for owner/trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul, Mission Approved led every step in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan to score by 1 1/4 lengths. The 7-year-old son of With Approval was allowed to get away with soft fractions of :24.92, :51.47, 1:17.75, and 1:42.44 for a mile and opened up a commanding lead in the stretch. Bim Bam and Gio Ponto closed willingly in the final sixteenth, but it was not enough to stop Mission Approved from pulling the major upset.
The final time on the yielding turf course was 2:06.32. Bim Bam, a 31-1- shot with David Cohen in the irons, nipped the closing Gio Ponti and Ramon Dominguez by a head for second. Gio Ponti, the two-time reigning champion turf male, was trying to win the Manhattan for the second time. He was victorious in 2009 and finished second a year ago.
Chatterpaul plucked Mission Approved from an optional claiming race at Belmont exactly a year ago. Second in that race, he then missed by a neck to Gio Ponti in the Man o’ War (gr. IT) at 53-1. That was his last start until Saturday’s Manhattan.
In May 2010, one start before being claimed by Chatterpaul and Terikchand Chatterpaul, the bay horse won a $40,000 claimer at Delaware Park for previous trainer Gary Contessa. This was his third graded stakes win, the others coming in the 2007 Saranac (gr. IIIT) at Saratoga when 34-1, and 2008 Singspiel (Can-IIIT) at Woodbine.
The winner was bred in New York by Dr. William F. Coyro Jr.
Mission Approved’s speedy stablemate, Wishful Tomcat
, was entered but scratched out of the Manhattan, leaving only Straight Story
to pressure him on the front end. But Mission Approved's lead was uncontested and he was allowed to go slow enough up front that he had plenty left when they came off the final turn.
Bim Bam, who saved ground throughout, found room along the hedge and was doing his best to mount a rally when they straightened away. Gio Ponti had to make up a ton of ground after racing second from last in a field of nine for six furlongs. He entered the stretch four-wide under Dominguez and was gaining ground in the final furlong.
But neither of the closers could catch Mission Approved, whose front-running tactics through soft fractions proved to be the difference.
“The trainer did a very good job with him and he told me he was fit coming into the race," Espinoza said. "He loves this kind of track too. Coming for home, I had plenty of horse because he was just galloping easily on the lead. I was very proud of him today.”
Mission Approved had won once in nine previous tries over the Belmont turf course, with three seconds. Overall, he improved to 8-5-1 from 23 starts and earnings of $760,830. He is out of the Fortunate Prospect mare Fortunate Find.
“(He was off) because he had a quarter crack, nothing major," Chatterpaul said. "I thought it was best to put him up and wait for this race. (I claimed him because) I liked the horse; a lot of back class. As long as he's in front, he's not going to give it up. It's awesome. It's the greatest feeling in the world.”
Mission Approved paid $44, $18.40, and $7.50. Bim Bam, $27.40 and $9.10, filled out a $1,108 exacta (1-8), while the trifecta (1-8-4) was worth $3,840.
Gio Ponti was racing for the first time since finishing fifth in the March 26 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I).
“I had a great trip and my horse ran an awesome race," Dominguez said. "It's very soft out there and I feel that in the last sixteenth or so the ground may have gotten to him. Overall, I was very happy with his race.”