Belmont undercard wrap: Up to the Mark is toast of Manhattan

Belmont undercard wrap: Up to the Mark is toast of Manhattan
Photo: Daniel Rankin / Special to HRN

Up to the Mark, having found new life on the turf this year, continued his career resurgence with a popular and powerful 2 3/4- length victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park, becoming racing’s newest millionaire.

Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, Up to the Mark covered the 1 1/4 miles over a firm turf course in 1:59.31. It was his second consecutive Grade 1 victory after the May 6 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on the undercard of the Kentucky Derby.

It was the third win of the afternoon for both Ortiz and Pletcher and second together following Emmanuel’s victory in the Poker (G3). Ortiz . also won the True North (G2) aboard Elite Power.

Ortiz previously won the Manhattan with Instilled Regard in 2021, Bricks and Mortar in 2020 and Slumber in 2015, all trained by Chad Brown. Pletcher had never won the Manhattan, most recently finishing eighth with multiple Grade 1 winner Colonel Liam in 2021.

“He’s having a terrific year,” Pletcher said of Up to the Mark. “We always felt like he had a lot of promise. He won his debut on the dirt and then we got a little bit frustrated that he wasn’t moving forward so we decided to try the turf. Obviously, that’s been the key to his turnaround.”

Strong Quality, making his stakes debut in the Manhattan at odds of 18-1 off back-to-back victories, took the early initiative and opened up on his nine rivals, going the opening quarter-mile in a sharp 23.18 seconds tracked by fellow 53-1 long shot Ocean Atlantique with So High third and Up to the Mark on the outside in fourth.

Ocean Atlantique and So High closed the gap on the leader as Strong Quality went a half-mile in 47.74 seconds as Ortiz continued to give Up to the Mark clear run three-wide. Strong Quality remained in front after going six furlongs in 1:12.34 and rounded the far turn in command as So High tipped off the hedge to make his bid while Up to the Mark waited for his cue from Ortiz and Grade 1 winner Red Knight, the early trailer, began to make up ground on the far outside.

Strong Quality held a tenuous lead once the field straightened for home but was quickly overtaken by Up to the Mark in a swift and powerful move to the front, opening up with each stride. Behind him the British-bred pair of Soldier Rising and Ottoman Fleet, who had raced near the back of the pack in the early stages, came with a late rally to finish a head apart, respectively, in second and third.

“Todd didn’t tell me too much about the horse, he just let me ride the horse,” Ortiz said. “He broke good and put me in a good spot. Todd told me I have speed inside of me and to follow them. We were on the same page. So when he broke and put me in a good spot, I took it. After that, I was sitting off the leaders waiting. I sat for a long time behind Luis Saez (on Ocean Atlantique) and then when I felt someone outside, I made sure to get to work on him. He ran a great race.”

New York-bred Red Knight was up for fourth, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Strong Quality, followed by Highest Honors, Warren Point, So High, Rockemperor and Ocean Atlantique. Sent off as the 8-5 favorite, Up to the Mark returned $5.30 for a $2 win bet.

“It was a beautiful trip,” jockey Jose Ortiz said of runner-up Soldier Rising. “We saved all the ground, then made one run. I’m very happy we got up there for second.”

Up to the Mark, a $450,000 son of Not This Time, began his career on the dirt, winning six-furlong maiden special weight over a sloppy track last July at Saratoga Race Course. Winless in four subsequent starts on the main track to end his rookie season, Up to the Mark was moved to the grass for one-mile optional claiming allowance on Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park, which he won by four lengths.

In his next start, Up to the Mark again came from behind to take a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer on March 4, also at Gulfstream, to earn him a shot in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) on April 14 at Keeneland, his stakes debut, where he was beaten a neck for second by 2022 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Modern Games. He then overcame an early bump to roll to a 3 3/4-length score as the favorite in the Turf Classic.

Bred in Kentucky by Rampsring Farm, Up to the Mark now owns five wins from 10 career starts and is four-for-five on the grass, with purse earnings of $1,242,050.

“He gives me the impression that he’ll handle a little more ground,” Pletcher said. “I don’t know what we’ll do from here. When you’re thinking Breeders’ Cup, he’s probably the type of horse where you could go in two different directions. We probably need a little experience at a mile and a half to know (which). We also have the Arlington Million (a Grade 1 on Aug. 12 at Colonial Downs) at a mile and a quarter. We’ll enjoy this for the moment and come up with a strategy.”

Elite Power continues streak, wins True North

Elite Power, who started his career with three straight defeats, has now reeled off seven straight victories.

Last year’s champion male sprinter dispatched five rivals Saturday in his first domestic start of 2023. The 5-year-old son of Curlin stalked the leaders in the Grade 2, $250,000 True North Stakes before taking command for an in-hand, 1 3/4-length victory.

The True North was Elite Power’s first U.S. start since he bested odds-on favorite Jackie’s Warrior last November at Keeneland to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. In between, he went to Saudi Arabia and won a Group 3 race Feb. 25 on the Saudi Cup (G1) undercard.

Trainer Bill Mott gave Elite Power a break from serious training following his Middle East trip. He returned to the work tab in April at Churchill Downs and steadily worked toward the first stakes race of Saturday’s Belmont card.

Under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., Elite Power broke from post No. 4 on the backstretch of Belmont Park. He sat comfortably in fourth as Today’s Flavor took the field through fractions of 23.25 seconds for the first quarter and 46.12 seconds for the first half-mile.

Elite Power made an outside run, passing Anarchist near the exit of the turn and Today’s Flavor and Strobe at the head of the stretch. He flew on to a comfortable lead in the final furlong before Ortiz geared him down in the final yards of the 6 1/2-furlong sprint.

The Juddmonte runner Elite Power stopped the clock in 1:15.65 and returned $3.50 as the 3-5 favorite. He sports a 10: 7-0-1 record and now counts four stakes wins to his ledger after needing four tries to break his maiden.

“He was great last year," Ortiz said. "You can see his performances and campaign last year was great. I’m hoping he’s the same or better than he was last year, so far it looks great. He hasn’t made any mistakes out there. He looks like he’s doing great right now.” 

Mott ran Elite Power in this spot rather than having him face stablemate Cody’s Wish and others later Saturday in the $1 million Metropolitan Handicap (G1). The trainer said his next start could be the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) on July 29 at Saratoga.

“There are plenty more targets for him for the rest of the year so I'm sure that Irad was keeping him fresh for what he has in his mind for him for the future," said Garrett O'Rourke, general manager of U.S. operations for Juddmonte.

Rounding out the board behind Elite Power in the True North were runner-up Anarchist and third-place finisher Strobe.

Emmanuel gets up in shadow of wire for Poker score

Emmanuel showed determination when turning for home, closing strong from the outside to run down Filo Di Arianna near the wire and prevail by a neck in the Grade 3, $200,000 Poker for 4-year-olds and up on the Widener turf on Saturday at Belmont Park.

The 38th running of the Poker, one of nine graded stakes on Saturday’s card, saw Emmanuel post a victory going one mile for the first time since his debut victory on the Gulfstream Park main track in December 2021 for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.

Under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., Emmanuel tracked in last of six with Filo Di Arianna leading the field through the opening quarter-mile in 23.94 seconds, the half in 47.82 and three-quarters in 1:11.42 over the firm going.

Emmanuel, who started his 4-year-old campaign for owners Siena Farm and WinStar Farm with consecutive Grade 3 wins at 1 1/16-miles in the Tampa Bay and the Canadian Turf, made a bid for a return winner’s circle visit, as Ortiz coaxed him with clear daylight to the outside in the final furlong. The More Than Ready colt passed three rivals in deep stretch and overtook Filo Di Arianna in the final sixteenth, hitting the wire in 1:34.25 to notch his sixth victory in 11 career starts.

The Brazilian-bred Filo Di Arianna, trained by fellow Hall of Famer Mark Casse and ridden by Luis Saez, bested 2-5 favorite and French-bred Chez Pierre by a half length for runner-up status. Anaconda, Dreams of Tomorrow and Emaraaty completed the order of finish. Mackinnon scratched, as did main-track only entrant Bourbon Calling.

Off at 6-1, Emmanuel, bred by Helen K. Groves Revocable Trust, paid $14.40 on a $2 win wager. He improved his career earnings to $587,950.

“He broke good and I knew some horses had more speed than me,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “I just wanted to get him in a good spot. Last time, you see the fractions, they went a little quick (in the Dinner Party). He went fast and kept fighting that day from the eighth-pole. Today, he was perfect. The mile flat suits him perfect here at Belmont.”

After winning his first two races this year, Emmanuel ran seventh in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) in April at Keeneland before rebounding with his third in the nine-furlong Dinner Party at Pimlico on Preakness Day. He improved to two for two at Belmont following a victory in the Pennine Ridge (G2) last June. The Kentucky-bred has finished on the board in eight of his 11 career starts.

“He ran great at Pimlico and seemed to come out of it well. We were targeting this race with Annapolis, but when he couldn’t make it, it didn’t look like this race was coming up a large field,” Pletcher said. “So, I told Elliott (Walden, CEO of owner WinStar Farm), ‘What do you think of taking a look at this race?’ And he said, ‘Let’s take a look at it.' Once he drew in the race, we felt like he fit well and he was sharp and doing well.

“Irad said in Baltimore, he was in the clear the whole way,” Pletcher added. “It was a mile and an eighth and he was kind of pulling more than you’d like. Today, he was able to get him a little more settled and use that big run.”

Pletcher said the $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap (G1) on Aug. 12 at Saratoga, a “win and you’re in” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Mile in November at Santa Anita, remains a possibility for Emmanuel’s next start.

Filo Di Arianna was making just his second start of he year after returning from an eight-month respite to run second in an optional claimer going 5 1/2 furlongs over Woodbine’s all-weather track in April. With that first race back, Casse stretched out the 7-year-old, who appreciated the distance and has now finished first or second in nine of his 11 career starts (7-2-0).

“It was a good trip,” said Filo Di Arianna jockey Luis Saez. “Broke good, got into a great spot and tried hard. He was the speed in the race. He came from shorter (distances), and he broke sharply and was right there.

“He was very comfortable. Actually, when he came to the straight he really tried pretty hard. But in the end, got caught. He tried really hard."

This story will be updated.

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