Although the Triple Crown trail didn’t pan out for Emmanuel, the well-bred son of More Than Ready looked tailor-made for turf. So it proved in Saturday’s $200,000 Pennine Ridge (G2) at Belmont Park, where the 1.90-1 favorite lorded it over his rivals as lone speed.
Trained by Todd Pletcher for WinStar Farm and Siena Farm, Emmanuel had things his own way through fractions of :25.19, :51.72, and 1:15.91. Irad Ortiz Jr. asked him to pick it up, and the blueblood responded to extend his advantage in midstretch. Napoleonic War rallied to trim the margin to one length, but Emmanuel remained in complete command through 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.11.
“He was the speed of the race,” summed up Ortiz, who was capping a four-win day. “He broke well and put me in a good position. I just kept it together and stayed out of his way. He was ready. He’s by More Than Ready so he had a great pedigree to run on turf. I expected that he would like it and he did like it.”
Pletcher noted that the inner turf wasn’t as firm as officially labeled, suggesting that Emmanuel is capable of more on a quicker surface:
“He’s bred for the turf, but he’s always trained really well on the dirt. He’s had some good dirt races, but we kind of wanted to experiment with this. We worked him twice on the turf. My biggest concern was two weeks ago we worked him and it had a little give to it like it does today, and I didn’t think he was as good as he was the following work when it was firm.
“It looked like we had a pace advantage and took advantage of that and he ran well. He quickened when Irad asked him to, but I do believe he’ll be even better once we get him a little firmer ground.”
Napoleonic War checked in a half-length ahead of an even deeper closer, Limited Liability, who did well to get up for third in the circumstances. Unanimous Consent was a one-paced fourth. Daunt, Emmanuel’s nearest pursuer early, retreated to fifth.
French import Elizar crossed the wire last, but this U.S. debut had more merit than the bare result. Last after leaping at the start, Elizar advanced on the inside as though poised to challenge, only to tire in deep stretch. Main-track-only entrant Gilded Age stayed in the barn.
Emmanuel’s scorecard now stands at 5-3-0-1, $272,100. An impressive debut winner at Gulfstream Park Dec. 11, the bay passed his two-turn test in a Jan. 30 allowance at Tampa Bay Downs. Emmanuel stepped up on the Road to the Kentucky Derby in the Fountain of Youth (G2), but a tough trip contributed to his fourth-place effort. He tried once more in the Blue Grass (G1), where he set the pace before succumbing in third behind Zandon and Smile Happy.
The top three in the Pennine Ridge all secured spots in the July 9 Belmont Derby (G1), so Emmanuel could renew rivalry with Napoleonic War and Limited Liability over an extra furlong.
“That’s what we’re thinking,” Pletcher said regarding the Belmont Derby. “We’ll see how he comes out.
“We haven’t ruled out going back to the dirt at some point. All our options are open.”
Surface versatility is encoded in his pedigree. Bred by the Helen K. Groves Revocable Trust in Kentucky, the $350,000 Keeneland September yearling is out of the Hard Spun mare Hard Cloth. She is herself a half-sister to multiple Group 1-winning highweight Hawkbill as well as to 2017 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) hero Free Drop Billy. They are out of Trensa, a turf Grade 3-placed daughter of Giant’s Causeway and 1992 Ballerina (G1) vixen Serape.