Aided by the first truly hot pace in his career, More Than Looks was along in time to win his stakes debut Friday in the $250,000 Manila (G3) at Belmont Park under John Velazquez.
Needing to overcome modest fractions when breaking his maiden over the Tapeta at Gulfstream and again when taking an allowance over the turf at Ellis in his most recent start, More Than Looks received the perfect setup in the Manila, courtesy of pacesetter Talk of the Nation and 8-5 favorite Nagirroc.
Rating at or near the tail of the field as Talk of the Nation and Nagirroc threw up splits of :22.65, :45.53, and 1:08.85, More Than Looks proved the only real threat among the closers in the field of seven three-year-olds. More Than Looks caught the dueling pair inside the final sixteenth and drew off to score by 1 1/2 lengths. The time for one mile over the firm Widener turf was 1:33.19.
“I thought he would have broke a little better, but it didn’t really matter today,” Velazquez said. “He got into a good rhythm by the time we got to the five-eighths pole. I was pretty confident then. The way he broke I was a little concerned because that’s a lot to make up, but by the time he caught up to them, I was a little more at ease that he was in a good place.”
Owned by Victory Racing Partners and trained by Cherie DeVaux, More Than Looks paid $16.40. Talk of the Nation re-rallied to edge Nagirroc for second by a neck, with Major Dude 6 3/4 lengths back in fourth. The order of finish was rounded out by Dreaming of Kona, Belouni, and Armstrong.
The Manila was the third win in five starts for More Than Looks, who has now bankrolled $273,935. Anthony Bartolo, managing partner of Victory Racing, said the Aug. 4 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame at Saratoga over one mile on the turf would be a likely target for More Than Looks.
Sold for for $135,000 as a Keeneland September yearling., More Than Looks is by More Than Ready and out of Ladies’ Privilege, a stakes-winning full sister to multiple Grade 2 winner Takeover Target. Both were sired by Harlan’s Holiday.