Reserved early, Meteor Storm and Jose Valdivia Jr. came flying down the outside of the course to win the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) Saturday on the Belmont Park turf.
The winner was shipped east by trainer Wally Dollase after a campaign in California and he responded in fine fashion. Not having raced since winning the San Juan Capistrano (gr. IIT) April 18 at Santa Anita, he notched his third straight graded stakes win and first grade I victory.
"I didn't know how good he was," said Dollase. "You don't know until you meet Eastern horses. He did dominate the West Coast horses. I was worried they might be faster than he is, but I new they wouldn't beat him on stamina."
The entire field had a shot to win at the top of the stretch, but Meteor Storm was the one who wanted it more. The time for the 10 furlongs was 1:59.34.
"He is a monster," said Valdivia. "We came to this national stage in New York on such a great day, and we got the job done."
King's Dream, Quest Star and favored Stroll set all the early fractions. They went a quarter in :23.98, a half in :48.48, and six furlongs in 1:12.30.
Valdivia had Meteor Storm in full flight as they ran a mile in 1:35.88. He swept by the pacesetters down the lane to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Millennium Dragon, who was ridden by Richard Migliore. A nose back in third was Mr. O'Brien and Ramon Dominguez, who rallied along the inside.
"It was just a matter of turning him loose when I had to," Valdivia Jr. said. "When we turned for home, he just kicked away hard and clear down the lane."
Favored Stroll was sixth without excuse.
"We had a perfect trip," rider Jerry Bailey said. "He relaxed just enough to where he wasn't trying to run off. It was a mild move instead of a punch, and that tells you it' the distance that gets them."
Meteor Storm was bred in England by Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farm. He races for the Horizon Stable. The 5-year-old, by Bigstone out of the Rainbow Quest mare Hunt the Sun, was bought privately by Dollase from Juddmonte.
He earned $240,000 and is now 6-3-3 from 14 starts with career earnings of $645,884.
Meteor Storm paid $14, $7.20, and $4.60, while Millennium Dragon returned $11.20 and $6.50. Mr. O'Brien was worth $4.80.