Michael B. Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith’s Group 1-winner Sovereign (IRE) will make his first start in North America against a competitive field which includes fellow top-level winner Gufo in the 63rd running of the Grade 1, $700,000 Man o’ War Stakes going 1 3/8 miles over the inner turf for older horses at Belmont Park on May 8.
Sovereign will make his United States debut for trainer Chad Brown after being formerly campaigned by Irish champion trainer Aidan O’Brien. The son of international champion sire Galileo (IRE) led from gate-to-wire to capture the Group 1 Irish Derby at The Curragh in 2019 by six lengths.
Winless in five starts since the Irish Derby, Sovereign finished second to dual Cartier Horse of the Year Enable (GB) in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in July 2020 at Ascot. Not short on mileage, he arrives at the Man o’ War off a close third in the Bahrain International Trophy on November 20.
Sovereign has been in a consistent work pattern since first breezing under Brown’s care in late February. He most recently went five furlongs over the Belmont inner turf in 1:02.54 on Sunday.
“We received him over the winter at Payson Park and he’s settled into a nice work pattern,” said Brown, who trained 2016 Man o’ War hero Wake Forest. “He came over very sound, and in great shape from Aidan. He sure trains like a horse with a lot of quality. I’ve seen him train on firm ground in Florida and he’s fine with it. He can handle some cut in the ground.”
Sovereign, who will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., typically showed early speed in his races in Europe, and Brown said he expects the horse to be forwardly placed on Saturday as well.
“I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel with him, so if he has speed, I wouldn’t take that away from him,” Brown said. “He’s pretty forward in his breezes. He grabs the bit and goes on. If he breaks well and Irad wants to put him on the front, I would be happy with that.”
Brown is closing in on 100 graded stakes wins at Belmont Park, currently boasting a total of 97 graded stakes wins at the historic track. On Saturday, he also will also saddle Nay Lady Nay and Lemista in the Grade 3, $150,000 Beaugay, as well as Risk Taking in the Grade 3, $200,000 Peter Pan.
“I’m extremely grateful and humbled to be at this point in my career already. I’m extremely happy to share this with my team,” Brown said. “It’s been extremely rewarding to watch over the last almost 15 years, to see all of the teamwork, and great horses come through the barn, and all the sacrifices that people have made.”
Bred in Ireland by Barronstown Stud, Sovereign is out of the Danehill Dancer mare Devoted To You. The lone millionaire in the field, Sovereign boasts lifetime earnings of $1,149,940.
Never worse than third in eight lifetime starts, Otter Bend Stables’ Gufo will look to put his best foot forward in his 2021 debut for trainer Christophe Clement, while bragging a consistent 8-5-1-2 record.
The son of Declaration of War was a late-closing third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, where he came from last-of-11 and made a surging move in the stretch to finish a neck to next-out winners Domestic Spending and Smooth Like Strait.
Gufo returns to Belmont Park for his first start since capturing the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational at ten furlongs on October 3. Prior to his breakthrough win, he made deep-closing winning moves in the English Channel last May at Gulfstream Park and the Grade 3 Kent on July 4 at Delaware Park.
Gufo, who had been training at Payson Park in Indiantown, Florida, shipped into Belmont and recorded a five-furlong work in 1:00.76 on the inner turf on Sunday.
“He had a nice work on Sunday morning and we’re looking forward to running him in the Man o’ War,” said Clement, who saddled Gio Ponti to back-to-back Man o’ War scores in 2009-10. “He came out of it very well and I was very pleased with it.”
Gufo will be piloted by Joel Rosario, a two-time winner of the Man o’ War, from post 8.
Wertheimer and Frere’s Ziyad (GB) has been third in a trio of North American starts but seeks his first Grade 1 victory in his third start for trainer Graham Motion.
He made his debut for his current trainer in the Grade 3 Sycamore on October 15 at Keeneland, finishing two lengths to Red Knight before coming ten lengths off the pace to finish a half-length shy of North Dakota in the Grade 3 Red Smith on November 21 at Aqueduct.
The 6-year-old son previously raced in France for Carlos Laffon-Parias, for whom he ran third in the Grade 1 Canadian International in October 2019 at Woodbine after setting an easy pace, only to get outkicked by Desert Encounter (IRE).
When racing in France, he kept salty competition, finishing a neck shy of victory in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud two years in a row, losing to accomplished runners Coronet and Way to Paris.
“I think he’s pretty adaptable,” said Motion, who won the 2005 Man o’ War with Better Talk Now. “He came to me straight from France to Keeneland last fall, so I didn’t have much time to get to know him before his race there. Now that I’ve had him for a while, I’ve gotten to know him quite better. He’s a very straightforward horse that’s been training very well this year so far. I feel that he’s ready for a race like this. On his form he’s competitive against this group.”
Manny Franco retains the mount from post 3.
Calumet Farm’s Channel Cat nears millionaire status while attempting a fourth stakes victory. The son of English Channel trained by Jack Sisterson has not won since going gate-to-wire in the Grade 2 Bowling Green in July 2019 at Saratoga, and was most recently second in the Grade 2 Elkhorn on April 17 at Keeneland.
Channel Cat has put together a record of 25-5-3-5, with earnings of $998,522 and will leave from post 5 under Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Three Diamonds Farm’s three-time graded stakes winner Field Pass will look to give trainer Mike Maker his first Man o’ War victory.
During his sophomore season, the son of Lemon Drop Kid captured a trio of Grade 3 events, including the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park and the Ontario Derby at Woodbine over all weather surfaces, as well as the Grade 3 Transylvania over the Keeneland turf. He will see a considerable stretch-out in distance after finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile on April 9 at Keeneland.
Jockey Luis Saez will ride Field Pass from post 7.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott sends out three-time winner Moon Over Miami, who arrives at the Man o’ War off a pair of graded stakes placings over firm turf at Gulfstream Park, where he was third in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmada on February 27 and second in the Grade 2 Pan American on March 27.
The son of Malibu Moon began his career over the main track, breaking his maiden at second asking by five lengths in November 2019 at Aqueduct. After defeating winners in his third start on grass, Mott kept the bay 4-year-old colt on turf and earned a stakes win in the Dueling Grounds Derby on September 10 at Kentucky Downs.
“He’s held up pretty well for what we’ve done with him,” Mott said. “We’ve realized that he does want to run on and go a little further. We’ve discovered that he does that pretty well and is better at the staying distances than he is at the middle distances.”
Jockey Junior Alvarado will pilot Moon Over Miami from post 2.
Donegal Racing’s Shamrocket will receive some added distance when breaking from post 6 for newly minted Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. The son of third-crop sire Tonalist was a close second against Florida-breds going nine furlongs in the Turf Classic on March 28 at Tampa Bay Downs.
On the board in each start except for his career debut, Shamrocket earned an open company stakes-placing in the Dueling Grounds Derby finishing 4 ½ lengths to Moon Over Miami. He then followed up with a three-quarter length triumph over Florida-bred winners in his sophomore finale on December 23 at Gulfstream Park.
Shamrocket will be ridden by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano.
Rounding out the field is Knight R.B. Stables’ So High [Eric Cancel, post 4] for trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul, who is no stranger to upsetting Grade 1 turf events on the NYRA circuit, having captured the 2011 Manhattan with Mission Approved.
The Man o’ War is slated as Race 10 on Belmont’s 11-race Saturday program. First post is 1:00 p.m. Eastern.