They always knew he had it in him.
La Providencia's homebred Argentinian Triple Crown winner Hi Happy, a four-time group 1 winner and 2015 Horse of the Year in his native country, first raced in the United States in November of 2016 and was never started outside graded company.
Eighteen months later, he continued his steady improvement for trainer Todd Pletcher, notching his first top-level North American win when he held off fellow grade 1 winner Sadler's Joy May 12 to take the $700,000 Man o' War Stakes (G1T) at Belmont Park.
Off a 2 3/4-length victory in the March 31 Pan American Stakes (G2T) at Gulfstream Park, the 6-year-old Pure Prize runner tracked One Go All Go through most of the 1 3/8-mile test on the inner turf, as that rival set opening fractions of :23.95, :49.50, and 1:15.15.
Angled out into the stretch by Luis Saez, Hi Happy chipped away at One Go All Go's lead as Sadler's Joy, last through the early going, put in a late run in the middle of the track. Hi Happy ran down the pacesetter in deep stretch, then stayed clear of Sadler's Joy to win by a half-length in a final time of 2:14.79 on good turf.
"It was just a perfect trip, exactly what we were hoping for," Pletcher said. "He delivered a big performance. We're very proud of him."
Hi Happy won six straight races in his native country, topped by the 2015 Carlos Pellegrini (G1) over older horses. But after he was sent to the West Coast, he failed to win in four starts in graded company for trainer Felipe Souza, including a fourth on dirt in the 2017 Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino (G1). He was away from the races from April of 2017 until Feb. 10, when he made his first start for Pletcher and finished third in the 1 1/8-mile Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes (G1T). He has since rattled off two in a row in similar fashion, both times tracking One Go All Go before making his winning move.
"He was perfect. He broke pretty good, pretty clean, sharp," Saez said. "He was right there in the perfect position. We had a feeling we would be right there, but everything came so well. When we came to the three-eighths, he was ready to run. I felt the other horses coming, but he never gave up. He was always trying, so I just kept going with him and he finished very strongly."
Sent off as the 9-5 favorite in an eight-horse field, Hi Happy returned $5.90 on a $2 win wager. One Go All Go held for third, a half-length behind Sadler's Joy. Call Provision, Catcho En Die, Postulation, Bigger Picture, and Wake Forest completed the order of finish. Money Multiplier and Scholar Athlete were scratched.
Hi Happy achieved millionaire status with the win, pushing his record to eight wins and two thirds from 13 starts for earnings of $1,092,961. Pletcher said the $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (G1T) June 9 at Belmont is a possible next target, which would set up a rematch with the Tom Albertrani-trained Sadler's Joy.
"He ran well," Albertrani said of the runner-up. "He finished strong, and he had a good trip. Nothing to be ashamed of. The horse comes running every time, just a matter of getting in front by a half or losing by half. We're still looking forward to running in the Manhattan."