English Channel, a top turf horse last year as a 3-year-old, may be even better this year, now two-for-two in 2006 after a win Saturday at Churchill Downs in the $454,900 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT).
The 4-year-old Smart Strike
colt won four races in 2005 but not a grade I; now he has that distinction. He began the 2006 season with a victory in the Canadian Turf Handicap at Gulfstream Park in March.
Cool Distinction made an easy lead out of the gate Saturday under Cornelio Velasquez, with Einstein and Rafael Bejarano and English Channel and Garrett Gomez stalking within striking distance through a quarter in :24.66 and a half in :48.86. Favored Cacique was on the hedge but eager to run under Patrick Valenzuela.
English Channel was ready to pounce as the field cornered for home and, when he unleashed his run, no one was going to catch him. He swung wide and made the lead while Cacique followed him. Cacique was joined by Milk It Mick and Kent Desormeaux, and they did gain on English Channel but had to settle for second and third. English Channel won by a half-length, with Milk It Mick, who lacked room in deep stretch, finishing three-quarters of a length farther back, nosing a stubborn Einstein for third.
"I got banged around a little bit in the first turn and I was a little unhappy with that," the winning Gomez noted. "He's not very big and it takes a lot out of the horse. But then up the backside I was very happy with the way he was doing things.
"I was very confident just before I turned (for home) and when I asked him ... his heart makes three of him. He's a talented horse and he's got a huge heart."
Owned by James Scatuorchio and trained by Todd Pletcher, English Channel won three consecutive stakes last year and just missed winning a grade I when second in the Turf Classic at Belmont. He finished out the year by running fifth in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT).
"I was a little concerned, because on paper, it didn't look like there was very much speed in there," Pletcher said. "I was hoping that we could follow somebody and fortunately a couple went out there and we got the perfect trip."
Pletcher said the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at Belmont Park on June 10 is the next target for English Channel.
English Channel earned $267,937 as he improved to 7-2-0 in 11 starts. He has banked $1,499,028.
The victory was Pletcher's third stakes win in the previous two days, which included wins in the Louisville Breeders' Cup (gr. II) and Edgewood Stakes on Kentucky Oaks Day.
English Channel, bred in Kentucky by Keene Ridge Farm, ran the nine furlongs in 1:47.15. He paid $9, $4.20, and $3. Cacique returned $3.60 and $3 and Milk it Mick paid $4.40.
Einstein was followed by Gorella, Coll Conductor, Good Reward, Honor in War, Silver Tree and Perfect Drift.