Last fall’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (G1) hero, Channel Maker, added another Belmont Park feature when swooping at just the right instant in Saturday’s $700,000 Man o’ War (G1). Under a well-judged ride by Joel Rosario, the 6-1 chance caught Aidan O’Brien’s pacesetter Hunting Horn, then held the belated thrusts of Arklow and O’Brien’s first-stringer, Magic Wand.
Channel Maker made it a second straight Grade 1 Saturday for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, after his Country House was awarded the Kentucky Derby (G1) via the disqualification of Maximum Security a week ago. Ironically, Channel Maker is co-owned by Gary Barber, whose Derby runner War of Will was arguably most affected by Maximum Security’s rightward drift. Channel Maker’s partnership includes Wachtel Stable, R.A. Hill Stable, and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing.
Mott had won the Man o’ War once before, courtesy of turf champion Theatrical (1987), when it was held in October at Aqueduct. Theatrical, fittingly enough, is an ancestor of Channel Maker. Appearing in the third generation of his pedigree, Theatrical is the broodmare sire of English Channel, sire of Channel Maker. In another pedigree fun fact, English Channel is by Smart Strike, who is also the paternal grandsire of Country House (by Lookin at Lucky).
Although Hunting Horn has served as the sidekick to better-fancied stablemates before, the Man o’ War marked the first time that he was sent to a lone lead, and jockey Michael Hussey almost nicked it for himself. The 12-1 shot took no prisoners as he sprinted clear from his rail post through splits of :22.98 and :47.47 on the firm inner turf.
Hussey eased back on the throttle at the six-furlong mark in 1:12.48, yet Hunting Horn still extended his advantage. So when he pressed the pedal again to reach the mile in 1:36.27, he built up an eight-length margin, and threatened to run away with it well into the stretch.
Channel Maker, who had been conserving energy in third, took off in pursuit. On the premises as Hunting Horn began to tire inside the final furlong, he picked up the baton before the deep closers arrived. The 3-1 Magic Wand gained, and the 6-1 Arklow steamed fastest of all from last, but Channel Maker kept his neck in front at the wire. The 124-pound highweight, spotting five pounds to Arklow and Hunting Horn and eight to Magic Wand, clocked 1 3/8 miles in 2:12.43.
Rosario commented on his view from Channel Maker.
“I thought the horse (Hunting Horn) around the last turn might keep going,” Rosario said, “but I thought he was going too fast for the distance and the last half-furlong would be tough to get. I felt confident, and he’s (Channel Maker) the kind of horse that has a good, strong stride. The more you ride him, the more he gives to you.”
Arklow was effectively going in without the benefit of a prep, having unseated Florent Geroux at the start of an April 5 Keeneland allowance. Thus his bang-up second was all the more meritorious.
“I’m heartbroken. He ran too good to lose,” Geroux said. “He closed strong and galloped out amazingly. We were worried about his fitness level since he hadn’t raced this year, but he was ready.”
Magic Wand was another half-length astern in third, as she nabbed the bold Hunting Horn by a neck. There was a 3 1/2-length gap back to Epical, Hunting Horn’s nearest pursuer for the first mile. Chad Brown’s 5-2 favorite, Focus Group, never factored in sixth. Zulu Alpha, Village King, and Kulin Rock rounded out the order of finish.
Channel Maker has bankrolled $1,917,108 from a 24-5-4-3 line. Canada’s champion three-year-old male of 2017, the chestnut gelding landed the Breeders’ S. and placed in the Hollywood Derby (G1) and Marine (G3). He was progressing from a useful juvenile campaign for trainer Danny Vella, highlighted by a win in the Vandal and a third in the Summer (G2).
Aside from his Grade 1 breakthrough in the 2018 Joe Hirsch, Channel Maker’s four-year-old season featured a dead-heat Bowling Green (G2) victory, and placings in the Sword Dancer (G1) and Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1). After an 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), he was fifth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and most recently fourth in the March 2 Mac Diarmida (G2).
The June 8 Manhattan H. (G1) on Belmont Day is likely next.
“I’ll leave that to Billy Mott,” co-owner Randy Hill said, “but I’m sure after the way he ran today that he’s got the Manhattan right on his radar.”
Channel Maker was bred by Tall Oaks Farm in Ontario and RNA’d for $57,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The five-year-old is a full brother to fellow Canadian champion Johnny Bear, winner of the past two editions of Woodbine’s Northern Dancer Turf (G1). Their dam, the stakes-winning Horse Chestnut mare In Return, hails from the family of Grade 1 star Auntie Mame.
Although Brown was out of luck in the feature, he earlier sent out the exacta in the $200,000 Beaugay (G3), where Homerique made a smashing U.S. debut for owner Peter Brant. The 4-5 favorite on the strength of her French Group 1 placings last season, the gray zoomed from last to first in her warm-up for the $600,000 New York (G2) on June 7.
Homerique was confidently handled by Irad Ortiz Jr., who bided his time at the back as Chipolata waltzed through fractions of :26.87, :52.86, and 1:16.92 on the firm inner turf. In deep stretch, Brown’s other runner, Competitionofideas, rallied on the inside to overtake Chipolata, but Homerique was revving up on the outside. Quickening best of all, the daughter of Exchange Rate collared Competitionofideas by a half-length.
The final time for 1 1/16 miles, 1:44.76, reflects the early dawdle. Trakus caught Homerique blitzing her last sixteenth in :5.57.
Chipolata, outkicked by the Brown pair, crossed the wire a further 2 1/2 lengths adrift in third. Next came Andina del Sur, followed by the longshots Matty’s Magnum and German shipper Binti al Nar.
Homerique advanced her record to 7-3-1-2, $392,821. Previously trained by Francis-Henri Graffard for Ecurie de Montlahuc, she romped in her Chantilly unveiling last spring, placed in the Prix Penelope (G3), and just missed when third in the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (G1). Homerique went on to capture the Prix de Psyche (G3) at Deauville and concluded her French career with a third in the Prix de l’Opera (G1) to Wild Illusion and the aforementioned Magic Wand on Arc Day.
“She ran against the best in Europe,” noted Brant, who purchased Homerique privately last fall. “Even when getting in trouble, she was always right there. She’s a classy kind of filly that you want to see run.
“We were concerned that she might have been one work shy of a race,” he added of this return from a seven-month layoff. “Chad didn’t want to go into the New York fresh going a mile and a quarter, so he decided to use this race and she overcame it and won. If she comes out of the race in good order and Chad keeps it in his plan, we’ll be there.”
Bred by Nicky Drion and Francois Drion in Kentucky, Homerique RNA’d in her first two trips through the sales ring, unsold for $34,000 as a Keeneland November weanling and 22,000 guineas ($28,288) as a Tattersalls October yearling. She brought €75,000 ($81,555) as a two-year-old in training at the Arqana May Breeze Up.
Homerique is the second registered foal from the Congaree mare Chiquita Picosa. Her dam is a half-sister to Music Chart, who placed in the 2013 UAE Oaks (G3) and UAE 1000 Guineas. Since Music Chart is by Exchange Rate, like Homerique, they count as three-quarter siblings. This is the further family of unbeaten Group 1 star White Moonstone and 1995 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) heroine Desert Stormer, whose descendants include multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Better Lucky.