English Channel came off the rail to grab the lead in mid-stretch, then stubbornly refused to give in to the determined Cacique in winning the $750,000 United Nations (gr. IT) on the sparkling new Monmouth Park turf course Saturday.Monmouth Park resumed racing on Saturday after a new budget agreement in New Jersey ended a state-ordered shutdown that had shuttered the track earlier in the week.Ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner James T. Scatuorchio, English Channel accelerated impressively through the lane to stamp himself as the leading distance turf horse in the country. He completed the 1 3/8-mile United Nations around three turns in 2:13 1/5 while winning by three-quarters of a length. English Channel was a handful early, throwing his head repeatedly as he pulled Velazquez through on the inside while chasing the expected pacesetter Shake the Bank. But he settled down into a nice ground-saving trip on the backstretch and held his position until angling out for his winning move at the top of the stretch."It worked out good," said Velazquez. "He gave me a little bit of a hard time early. I was a little concerned. Once he was able to settle, I had no doubt he'd kick on in the lane, and he did just that."Pletcher agreed, saying, "I was concerned on the first turn when he looked a little rank. But then he got it together and dropped his head, and I knew he was fine. "He has run well every start of his life," Pletcher said. "It was his first time around three turns today. He had run the distance before and was checking out new ground that way, but once he finally settled in after the first three-eighths of a mile, it was all good from that point. This is as good as it gets, at least on the East Coast. You won't run against many fields as tough as this."Both Cacique and English Channel carried top weight of 122 pounds in the United Nations.
The Irish-bred Cacique, who defeated English Channel in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) last time out, stalked the pacesetter Shake the Bank through fractions of :24 1/5, :47 3/5 and 1:11 4/5 while trailing by 3 1/2 lengths. He made up the ground quickly, however, under Edgar Prado and assumed the lead in upper stretch. English Channel soon kicked in and eventually got the advantage, but it wasn't easy to hold it as Cacique fought back. It was 1 3/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Relaxed Gesture, who went off as the slight 9-5 choice over English Channel. Silverfoot ran on for fourth, while the defending U.N. champion Better Talk Now could do no better than fifth.Better Talk Now, racing near the rear of the seven-horse field, swung out for the stretch run in good shape for Ramon Dominguez but never showed his usual late kick.The winning time set a track record on the new course but was three-fifths of a second slower than the old course's record clocking of 2:12 3/5 by Balto Star.English Channel, a 4-year-old son Smart Strike, earned his second grade I win of the year after also taking the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs in May. He has now won eight of 13 lifetime starts with earnings of $1,969,028."The turf was a little soft at Belmont (in the Manhattan last out), and maybe he needed a little more time after the Woodford Reserve," Pletcher said. "But he bounced out of the Manhattan in good shape, and we started immediately thinking about the United Nations."The second favorite, English Channel paid $6.80, $3.40, and $2.60. Juddmonte Farms' Cacique, trained by Bobby Frankel, returned $4.20 and $2.60 as the third choice. The late running Relaxed Gesture, who came up a head short while second to Cacique in the Manhattan, was $2.60 to show with Kent Desormeaux aboard.Shake the Bank and Ramazutti were the last two across the wire.(Chart, Equibase)