Winchester registered his first stakes win since taking the 2008 Secretariat (gr. IT) (VIDEO) when he posted a 21-1 stunner by a half-length in the $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) on the inner turf course at Belmont Park June 5.
Christophe Clement trains the 5-year-old son of Theatrical for owner/breeders Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone who defeated an unlucky even-money favorite, Gio Ponti , Winchester's stablemate, making his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) March 27.
The field assembled for the Manhattan was likely the strongest for any turf race in the country this year, with six millionaires and seven grade I winners in the field of 11.
Cornelio Velasquez guided Winchester to victory, avoiding a traffic jam along the inside that had pinned Gio Ponti in the stretch.
“He ran a great race, and I am delighted," Clement said. "Gio Ponti was pinned inside. I’m very happy with the two horses."
Winchester had just one horse beaten at the mile point of the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan. But Velasquez swung the bay out six-wide at the quarter pole, and Winchester charged down the center of the course to get the lead 20 yards from the wire.
"I saw there was traffic on the inside, so I decided to go outside," Velasquez said. "He probably had the best trip in the race."
Gio Ponti, who was steadied sharply in traffic on the final turn by jockey Ramon Dominguez, split horses in upper stretch and advanced strongly near the furlong pole to gain a brief, narrow advantage before yielding in the final strides.
Dominguez said Interpatation, racing in front of Gio Ponti, was squeezed at the three-eighths pole, "and we had to check sharply since we were right behind him. I had to take a hold of him and drift out, then get back inside. I’m not going to make any excuses. He ran well and he ran hard. The winner had a jump on us at the end.”
The final time for the 10 furlongs on a firm course was a solid 1:59.46.
"Winchester comes from far out of it; I thought softer ground would serve him well, but for some reason horses are coming from out of it today," Clement noted.
Jet Propulsion set the pace for a mile along the inside and gave way. He led through quarter-mile fractions of :23.95, :48.94, 1:12.98, and 1:36.46.
Lightly-raced Winchester had lost eight straight races after upsetting the 1 1/4-mile Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park in August 2008. He returned to the winner's circle with a half-length triumph in a 1 1/2-mile allowance race on the Keeneland turf April 21.
Winchester began the year at Gulfstream Park, finishing second to Presious Passion in the Mac Diarmida (gr. IIT) Feb. 28 and fourth in the Pan American (gr. IIIT) one month later.
He earned $240,000 for the Manhattan win, boosting his career earnings to $672,243. The victory was Winchester's fourth in 16 starts after beginning his career in Europe for trainer Dermot Weld. He has won three of four starts at the 10-furlong distance. The Virgina-bred Winchester is out of Rum Charger, by the Irish stallion Spectrum.
The 5-year-old Gio Ponti, who won a pair of Eclipse Awards in 2009 after reeling off four consecutive grade I triumphs, ran a winning race in his return to turf following his World Cup effort. He finished one length behind the victorious Gloria de Campeao as the favorite on Meydan's Tapeta main track.
Winchester paid $44.80, $14.20, and $9 for the win, keying a $147 exacta with Gio Ponti, who returned $3.50 and $2.80. Expansion, off at 33-1, paid $10.80 to show.
Take the Points, who grabbed the lead on the final turn and was in front by 1 1/4 lengths before being overtaken, finished one length in front of Just as Well. They were followed by Court Vision , Grand Couturier, Pinckney Hill, Interpatation, Strike a Deal, and Jet Propulsion.