Everything went Munning's way in the $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) at Belmont Park July 5. First, top sprinter Fabulous Strike, the heavy favorite, was scratched by trainer Todd Beattie. Then came a perfect trip for jockey John Velazquez, who drove the sharp 3-year-old colt through an inside gap at the top of the stretch on their way to a comfortable win.
The scratch of Fabulous Strike reduced the field for the seven-furlong Tom Fool to four. All Munnings , who likes to rate slightly off the pace, needed was a little speed duel. That's what Riley Tucker and Driven to Success provided for the 3-5 choice. Munnings, able to sit just behind the leaders a bit off the rail, gunned through an opening leaving the quarter pole created by Riley Tucker, who drifted out a bit to leave room. Munnings quickly took command and won under a strong hand ride by 2 1/4 lengths in a time of 1:21.08.
"I knew the horse on the outside (Driven by Success) was going to go, and I figured the other one (Riley Tucker) could be up close as well," Velazquez said. "When I asked my horse, he responded right away. He’s grown this year – he’s breaking better, and he has more confidence in himself.”
Riley Tucker, who held second by 3 1/4 lengths over Driven to Success, went :22.10 and :44.27 for the opening half-mile. The Last Wave trailed throughout.
Trained by Todd Pletcher for Michael Tabor and partners Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith, Munnings beat older horses in his first try. He has now won back-to-back grade II sprints at Belmont in impressive style. The $1.7 million son of 2004 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) champion Speightstown captured the Woody Stephens against 3-year-olds on Belmont Stakes day by 5 1/4 lengths.
Fabulous Strike, who would have given Munnings 12 pounds, was scratched for a better spot later.
“Anytime a horse that’s won 13 races (Fabulous Strike) scratches it’s good," Pletcher said, "But this horse is so good right now I think he’d make anybody run for their money going seven-eighths, or maybe ever further. He’s just in great form right now; he’s put it all together -- he’s always shown us that kind of ability, but it’s nice that he’s developed into a professional horse.
“He actually reminds me a lot, not only of his daddy, Speightstown, but of Left Bank a lot, too. Just the style of running, speed and then an explosive kick to go with it – it’s hard to find them like that. Johnny said he had so much horse down the backside – that he was close with a lot of horse. I was just watching it, deciding which way the jockey was going to go when the rail opened up.It’s nice when you have a horse than can go a :44 half and then kick into a hole like that."
Pletcher said the King’s Bishop (gr. I) at seven furlongs at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 29 is the next goal, adding, "But I don’t know that he needs seven weeks or whatever it is. He’s doing so good right now, I wish the King’s Bishop was the first week.”
Dan Tayloe and Glencrest Farm bred Munnings, who is out of the Holy Bull mare La Comete, in Kentucky. The chestnut colt was purchased by his owners at the Fasig-Tipton Florida select 2-year-olds in training sale last year.
Tenth in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Munnings won for the third time in seven starts and pushed his earnings to $422,240. All three of his starts this year have been at seven furlongs. He has won twice in stakes and finished second to Warrior's Reward in a first-level allowance at Churchill Downs.
Munnings, who carried 112 pounds, paid $3.30 and $2.10. Riley Tucker, returned $3.10 and completed a $2 exacta worth $8.30. There was no show wagering.