Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Yibir headlines G1 Man o’ War
by Keith McCalmont
Godolphin homebred Yibir, winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Del Mar, headlines a talented field of six in Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Man o’ War, an 11-furlong inner turf test for older horses, at Belmont Park.
The Man o’ War, slated as Race 8, tops a lucrative 11-race card which boasts five graded stakes, including the nine-furlong Grade 3, $200,000 Peter Pan, the local prep for the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets in Race 9; the Grade 3, $150,000 Beaugay in Race 10; the Grade 3, $150,000 Vagrancy in Race 3; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Runhappy in Race 5. First post is 1:00 p.m. Eastern.
Trained by Charlie Appleby, Yibir, a 4-year-old Dubawi chestnut, captured the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational in September at Belmont ahead of his rallying half-length score over Broome at the Breeders’ Cup.
Yibir’s impressive sophomore season, in which he earned Eclipse Award-honors as Champion Turf Male, included scores in the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy in July at Newmarket and the Group 2 Great Voltigeur in August at York before shipping to North America and winning both stateside tests.
Appleby said he was impressed by Yibir’s first trip to Belmont in September.
“He did what we hoped he would do,” Appleby said. “It was important that he gained experience traveling and get used to the running style of American tracks and horses. He's a horse that sometimes will be off the bridle in behind, but he seems to pick up at the right end, thankfully. We’re going into the weekend confident he'll be a big player.”
Yibir, who arrived in New York early Sunday morning, has made two starts this campaign, closing wide down the lane to finish second in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic in March ahead of a runner-up effort last out in the Group 2 Jockey Club on April 29 over the undulating Newmarket turf.
“We were delighted with his first run back as a 4-year-old in the Sheema Classic. He was a fast-finishing second,” Appleby said. “We know the tracks he loves are the more conventional flat galloping track likes Meydan and Belmont. The American tracks seem to suit him.
“The race at Newmarket was a prep to come to America on the back of - I know he was a beaten favorite on the day, but our European tracks don't seem to suit him so much,” Appleby added. “We were pleased that we got a run into him and he came out of the race well. I've spoke to the team at Belmont on a daily basis and they're happy with the way the horse has shipped and trained so far.”
Appleby said he was particularly impressed by Yibir’s effort in the Dubai Sheema Classic where the chestnut traveled at the back of the 15-horse field under returning rider William Buick before angling wide for the stretch run, finishing a neck shy of multiple Group 1-winner Shahryar.
“He's more of a hold-up horse and they did tend to go pretty steady around there, which is pretty unusual in the Sheema Classic,” Appleby said. “There were plenty of horses still in contention and he had to circumnavigate around them to get his run up the middle of the track. It cost him a fair bit of ground and he gave himself a challenge, but I don't think he lost too much in defeat.”
Appleby said Yibir has noticeably matured as an older horse.
“We see a lot of progress from 3-to-4-years old with the Dubawis as physicals and therefore their performances hopefully will improve,” Appleby said. “That's what we're looking towards with this horse and he really does tick a lot of boxes going into the weekend. He's got track experience, distance experience and the quality of form, really.”
Buick has the call from post 3 aboard Yibir, who Appleby indicated could target a start in the Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer on August 27 at Saratoga Race Course, which offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Keeneland.
Otter Bend Stables’ Gufo, a 5-year-old Declaration of War chestnut, will look to avenge a nose defeat to Channel Cat in last year’s Man o’ War.
Trained by Christophe Clement, Gufo boasts a perfect in-the-money record of 5-2-1-2 over the Belmont turf, featuring wins in the 2020 Grade 1 Belmont Derby going 10 furlongs on firm footing and last year’s Grand Couturier at 12 furlongs over good going.
Gufo, an eight-time winner from 15 starts, added the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer to his ledger last season, closing from last-of-7 to post a neck score over Japan in the 1 1/2-mile test over firm turf at Saratoga Race Course. The well-traveled horse followed with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont before completing his campaign with a distant tenth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Gufo wintered at Payson Park in Florida and enters Saturday’s test from a two-length score in the Grade 2 Pan American on April 2 at Gulfstream Park.
Clement said he is not concerned about Gufo cutting back to 1 3/8 miles after making his last five starts at 12 furlongs.
“We’ll be just fine,” Clement said. “He’s done it before. It’s my job as a trainer to bring him back to the race as well as I can and he’s doing well.”
Joel Rosario retains the mount from post 2.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Alex Daigneault’s Abaan.
The 5-year-old Will Take Charge chestnut joined the Pletcher stable last summer at Saratoga, graduating in September in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight over yielding ground.
Abaan cleared the first-level allowance hurdle two starts later in November traveling 11 furlongs at Aqueduct Racetrack to kick off a win streak that included scores at Gulfstream in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens in December and the 12-furlong Grade 3 William L. McKnight in January. He enters from a runner-up effort to Gufo in the Pan American that garnered the gelding a career-best 100 Beyer.
Abaan will emerge from post 4 with Luis Saez aboard.
Madaket Stables' Easter will stretch out beyond 10 furlongs for the first time after finishing a closing third on April 15 at the Big A in a 1 1/16-mile turf allowance in his U.S. debut for trainer Graham Motion.
The 4-year-old Exosphere gelding launched his career in his native France for trainer Fabrice Chappet, including a pair of wins in 2020 at Lyon-Parilly. Easter tested deeper waters in his sophomore campaign traveling one mile at Longchamp, closing to finish fourth in the Group 3 Prix de Fontainebleau ahead of an off-the-board effort in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains.
He completed his time in France with a close fifth-place finish in the Prix Ridgway at 10 furlongs in June at Longchamp ahead of a fourth-place finish, defeated less than three lengths in September at Chantilly.
Flavien Prat picks up the mount from post 1.
Motion will also saddle Mrs. Firtriani Hay's Highland Chief for his second start in North America following a troubled ninth-place finish in his April 14 debut traveling 1 1/16-miles over firm Big A turf.
The 5-year-old Gleneagles bay was campaigned to consecutive group stakes placings by conditioner Paul Cole when second in both the Group 3 John Pearce Racing Gordon at Goodwood in August 2020 and the Group 2 Great Voltigeur one month later at York. He completed his 2020 campaign with a third-place finish in the Group 3 Cumberland Lodge over soft going at York.
Highland Chief raced just once last year, finishing a distant fifth in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom. Trevor McCarthy retains the mount from post 4.
Rounding out the field is Knight R.B. Stables’ So High [post 6, Luis Rodriguez Castro], a 6-year-old Nathaniel chestnut bred in Great Britain by George Strawbridge. Out of the graded-stakes winning Alphabet Soup mare Fugitive Angel, So High is a half-brother to graded-stakes winner Utmost.
So High was initially campaigned in England by John Gosden for Strawbridge’s Augustin Stable before being shipped to America and transferred to the care of conditioner Jonthan Thomas. The gelding won at fifth asking for Thomas in a 1 1/16-mile turf test from which he was claimed for $25,000 by his current connections.
So High finished fifth in last year’s Man o’ War at odds of 90-1 and enters from a close second, a head better than Easter, in the 1 1/16-mile turf allowance on April 15 at the Big A.
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