By: David Grening
ELMONT, N.Y. – Making his third start of the year, back to a distance he prefers and over a rain-softened course he should relish, Amira’s Prince looks poised to become a Grade 1 winner in Sunday’s $400,000 Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont Park.
The Man o’ War, run at 1 3/8 miles over the inner turf course, anchors a 10-race card that includes the Grade 2 Ruffian Stakes, the Grade 3 Westchester Stakes, and the listed License Fee Stakes. It will be the focus of the 90-minute Jockey Club Tour telecast on Fox Sports 1 that begins at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
Seven horses are entered in the Man o’ War, including the Newmarket-based Grandeur and the French-bred Lucayan, the last two winners of the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup, and Real Solution, who was elevated to first by the stewards in last summer’s Grade 1 Arlington Million.
Amira’s Prince, a 5-year-old Irish-bred son of Teofilo, won his first four starts in the United States for trainer Bill Mott, including both starts he made at 1 3/8 miles. Arguably his best race came in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Handicap in 2013, a race he won by 3 3/4 lengths at 1 3/8 miles over “good” ground at Gulfstream.
In two starts this year, Amira’s Prince finished third in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and second, beaten a neck, in the Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds, both at 1 1/8 miles.
“His first race back was a Grade 1, and he ran creditable, and then he ran very well in New Orleans,” Mott said. “He’s proven at the distance, and I don’t think it’ll hurt him [that] there’ll be a little cut in the ground.”
Midweek rain forced races off the turf Thursday and only permitted two of five scheduled grass races to be run Friday. More rain was possible Saturday.
Amira’s Prince, owned by a partnership that includes Wachtel Stable and Eclipse Thoroughbreds, will be ridden by John Velazquez, who is 3 for 4 on the horse.
Grandeur, based at Newmarket with trainer Jeremy Noseda, is making his fifth start in the United States and his 21st career start. In 2012, he won the Twilight Derby at Santa Anita and the Hollywood Turf Cup and finished second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. Last year, he finished seventh in the Arlington Million over very firm ground.
Grandeur shipped in off a head victory in a stakes over the all-weather surface at Lingfield. He has been here a week and galloped Thursday over the Belmont turf.
“If we bring our ‘A’ game, we’ve got a chance,” said Wayne Tanner, assistant to Noseda.
Asked about the potential for soft ground, Tanner said, “We’ll probably handle it better than the Americans. He’s trained good, so I think we’re in good shape.”
Julien Leparoux rides Grandeur from the rail.
Real Solution handled yielding Belmont turf last spring when third to Point of Entry in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap. He did not, however, handle the soft ground in New Orleans when fourth in the Muniz, his first start of the year.
“The race down in New Orleans was yielding and very deep, a different turf course altogether than he’d ever been on,” said trainer Chad Brown. “Rosie [Napravnik] felt a quarter-mile into the race she had nothing under her. The horse wasn’t trying at all, so she didn’t abuse him, just got him around there. We’ll draw a line through it and try something else. He’s trained very well since, had a terrific breeze this past week at Belmont.”
Javier Castellano rides Real Solution from post 6.
Trainer Shug McGaughey and the Phipps Stable have won the last two runnings of this race with Boisterous (2013) and Point of Entry (2012). On Sunday, they team to send out Imagining, who was second in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, three-quarters of a length ahead of Amira’s Prince. Last November, he won the Grade 3 Red Smith going 1 3/8 miles.
Lucayan ships in for Neil Drysdale, but the turf might be softer than he prefers. Frac Daddy, trained by Ken McPeek, won the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes over Keeneland’s Polytrack last out. Vertiformer, trained by Christophe Clement, completes the field.