Up to the Mark will look to enhance his credentials as America’s leading turf male over a distance in Saturday’s $750,000 Manhattan (G1) at Belmont Park. The Todd Pletcher trainee stretches out to 1 1/4 miles in the Manhattan following a decisive 3 3/4-length score going nine panels in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, his third win in four starts on grass.
“He gives us the impression that he’ll handle the stretch out in distance,” Pletcher said. “He relaxed very well last time going a mile and an eighth. He came with a good turn of foot. He’s got to go out there and prove it, but I love how he’s been doing since we got him on the grass.”
Ottoman Fleet appears the stronger of the two representatives for Godolphin and trainer Charlie Appleby. The Sea the Stars gelding enters on a two-race winning streak, having notching the Earl of Sefton (G3) at Newmarket in April and the Fort Marcy (G2) at Belmont on May 6.
Warren Point, the other Godolphin entrant, looks to rebound from a dull showing as a 3-5 choice in the May 13 Man o’ War (G1), won by returning rival Red Knight. The latter is a head away from being undefeated in three graded attempts so far this term.
“He’s stronger than jailhouse coffee,” trainer Mike Maker said of the nine-year-old Red Knight. “I’d like him to get a ground-saving trip and fire home like he normally does.”
The field also includes top-level mainstays Soldier Rising and Rockemperor.
Chez Pierre has been nothing but flattered since his decisive 3 1/2-length win in the April 14 Maker’s Mark Mile (G1), which will make him an overwhelming favorite in the $200,000 Poker (G3) over one mile on the Widener turf.
The Maker’s Mark was the sixth win seven career starts for the five-year-old gelding, who toppled reigning turf champion Modern Games, who went on to win the Lockinge (G1) at Newbury, and the aforementioned Up to the Mark.
“Modern Games might not have been on his best game or needed the race coming back, but that race was very solid and everyone who ran in that race came back to run solid races,” trainer Arnaud Delacour said.
“The Belmont mile is a little different and it’s almost like an extended sprint. He’s tactical enough to hopefully run well on that kind of track. I think at this stage, he can do both two turns or one turn.”
The opposition includes Filo Di Arianna, who captured the Connaught Cup (G2) and King Edward (G2) at Woodbine around one turn last summer; Anaconda, last-out winner of the Elusive Quality S.; Emaraaty, last seen taking the Bernard Baruch H. (G3) in September; and multiple graded stakes winner Emmanuel.
The $400,000 Jaipur (G1) is one of the more intriguing races on the Belmont Stakes card as Casa Creed will attempt to win the six-furlong turf dash for the third consecutive year. But he’ll have to defeat Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1)-winning mare Caravel and a dozen others to do it.
Although Casa Creed proved no match for Caravel at Keeneland last fall, the Jaipur course and distance is far more up his alley. However, Caravel is no stranger to it either, having won the Intercontinental (G3) on this weekend last year.
Casa Creed has had one outing this season, a head loss in the 1351 Turf Sprint (G3) in Saudi Arabia in late February, while Caravel enters off back-to-back wins in the Shakertown (G2) and Unbridled Sidney S. in Kentucky.
Arrest Me Red ran below par in the two races won by Caravel this spring, but was only beaten a half-length by Casa Creed in last year’s Jaipur. Multiple Group winner Go Bears Go was third behind a lone-speed longshot in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G2) last out, while Dr Zempf might appreciate turning back in distance after fading to sixth in the Maker’s Mark Mile.
Other potential contenders include Big Invasion, Nothing Better, Mid Day Image, and Air Force Red.
The Jaipur is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” prep for the Turf Sprint, which will be held at Santa Anita on Nov. 4.