As the distances get shorter, Hi Happy hopes to keep winning. The native Argentinean has hit his best stride this season for trainer Todd Pletcher, who will send the six-year-old in search of his third consecutive stakes triumph in Saturday’s $1 million Manhattan (G1), a 1 1/4-mile grass test which precedes Justify’s Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
A multiple Group 1 winner in South America, Hi Happy took time to acclimate when placing in only one of four starts in California. A strong third behind Heart to Heart in the Gulfstream Park Turf (G1) in February to kick off his tenure in the Pletcher barn, Hi Happy was an impressive 2 3/4-length winner of the Pan American (G2) over 1 1/2 miles, and followed-up last time with a half-length triumph over Sadler’s Joy in the Man o’ War (G1) at 1 3/8 miles.
“He’s a horse that performs well, very straightforward and easy to train,” Pletcher said. “When you are fortunate enough to get the opportunity to train a ready-made horse, it makes your job so easy. You just try to keep them sound and healthy and point them in the right direction.”
After a dull try in the Pan American, Sadler’s Joy was back to better form in the May 12 Man o’ War. Last year’s Sword Dancer (G1) hero seeks to improve on his third in the 2017 Manhattan.
“He’s been very consistent, just needed a little more ground to get up in time in the Man o’ War,” trainer Tom Albertrani said. “It’s important he gets a well-timed ride. He has tremendous turn of foot, and when he really starts to kick in he makes up a lot of ground.”
Beach Patrol, the top longer-distance turf horse in the country last season with wins in the Arlington Million (G1) and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1), should move forward off a narrow loss to Yoshida in the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. He’ll be joined in the gate by fellow Chad Brown trainee Robert Bruce, who captured his U.S. debut in last month’s Fort Marcy (G3).
“They’re both doing well,” trainer Chad Brown said. “Beach Patrol looks to be more forwardly placed, while Robert Bruce comes from off the pace.”
Helping to aid Sadler’s Joy, Robert Bruce, and others with the pace is One Go All Go, who has faced Hi Happy and Sadler’s Joy on multiple occasions already this year. While losing the Man o’ War, Pan American, and Mac Diarmida (G2) by a length or less, he did hold on to take the Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland two back.
Spring Quality upset the Red Smith H. (G3) last November and was a narrowly-beaten second in the Fort Marcy in his season debut. The lone overseas invader, Irish Group 3 winner Alexios Komnenos, exits a ninth-place run in the Lockinge (G1) at Newbury.
Chad Brown, not surprisingly, also has an imposing duo for the $700,000 Just a Game (G1), a one-mile grass test for fillies and mares. Matriarch (G1) winner Off Limits seeks her first score of the year after running third to stablemates Sistercharlie and Fourstar Crook in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland, while Group 1-placed A Raving Beauty looks to make it two-for-two in the U.S. following a three-length tally in last month’s Beaugay (G3).
The pace figures to be provided by multiple Grade 3 winner Lull, with a possible assist from Grade 1 veteran La Coronel, most recently sixth in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G1) won by frequent rival Proctor’s Ledge, with On Leave second.
“Her best distance, probably, is around six, seven furlongs on the grass, but I’m sure she is plenty good enough to go a mile, especially the one-turn mile at Belmont, which is rather speed-favoring,” trainer Christophe Clement said of Lull.
“I think she’ll like the big, sweeping turn,” trainer Brendan Walsh said of Proctor’s Ledge. “She has always been a good turn runner.”
Also in the strong lineup are graded veterans Dream Dancing and Cambodia.
A fascinating renewal of the $400,000 Jaipur (G2), a Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” Challenge Race over seven furlongs on the turf, pits homebred stablemates Disco Partner and Pure Sensation, the last two winners of the race, against each another once again.
Separated by a neck two years ago when Pure Sensation earned the nod by a neck, Disco Partner rallied well to win by a half-length a year ago when Pure Sensation weakened to fourth. On form, Disco Partner is the preferred of the two following a season-opening third in the Shakertown (G3).
“He ran a good race over softer ground,” trainer Christophe Clement said. “We would have loved to win, but he actually ran well and he’s been training well.
Winless in three starts since upsetting the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Del Mar, Stormy Liberal looms a danger after missing by a half-length in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) at Meydan on Dubai World Cup night on March 31.
Also exiting that race is Conquest Tsunami, who ran third in Dubai after taking Stormy Liberal’s by more than two lengths in the Daytona (G3) at Santa Anita. Holding Gold has yet to break through in the upper echelon of grass sprints, but is better than his seventh in the Al Quoz would suggest.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Blind Ambition enters with a two-for-two mark on the Belmont turf, including a two-length triumph in the $125,000 Elusive Quality, an April 28 course-and-distance prep for the Jaipur.