by Heather Pettinger
La Providencia's homebred Hi Happy kicked on late to secure a half-length victory in the 60th running of the Grade 1, $700,000 Man o' War at 1 3/8 miles on the inner turf to close out a stakes-packed card Saturday at Belmont Park.
The Todd Pletcher trainee broke on top under jockey Luis Saez, but settled contently in second as One Go All Go took up his customary position at the front of the field of eight, drawing off through an opening quarter-mile in 23.95 seconds, a half in 49.50, and three-quarters in 1:15.15. Hi Happy, with Catcho En Die to his inside, caught up with One Go All Go as they reached the final turn and kept ahead of Call Provision and Postulation, trying to make ground from the middle of the pack.
Angled out into the stretch by Saez, Hi Happy chipped away at One Go All Go's lead as Sadler's Joy, last through the early going, put in a late run in the middle of the track. Hi Happy got by One Go All Go in the final sixteenth and held on over Sadler's Joy to complete the route in 2:14.79 over an inner turf listed as "good."
"He was perfect. He broke pretty good, pretty clean, sharp," said Saez. "He was right there in the perfect position. We haD a feeling we would be right there, but everything came so well. When we came to the three-eighths, he was ready to run. I felt the other horses coming, but he never gave up. He was always trying, so I just kept going with him and he finished very strongly."
Sent off as the 9-5 favorite, Hi Happy greeted horseplayers with a $5.90 return on a $2 win wager.
One Go All Go held on for third, a half-length behind Sadler's Joy. Call Provision, Catcho En Die, Postulation, Bigger Picture, and Wake Forest completed the order of finish. Money Multiplier and Scholar Athlete were scratched.
"It was just a perfect trip, exactly what we were hoping for," said Pletcher. "He delivered a big performance. We're very proud of him. We'll see how he bounces out of it."
The win was the second straight for the Argentinian-bred son of Pure Prize, following a 2 ¾-length score in the Grade 2 Pan American on March 31 at Gulfstream Park. The Man o' War was Hi Happy's third start since moving to the Pletcher barn ahead of his 6-year-old campaign. Pletcher added that Hi Happy could be possible for the Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan on Belmont Stakes Day on Saturday, June 9.
Two races earlier, trainer Chad Brown ran 1-2 in the Grade 3, $200,000 Beaugay as the German-bred A Raving Beauty won her North American debut by three lengths over stablemate Inflexibility.
It was the first start for the 5-year-old gray mare by Mastercraftsman since finishing second in the Group 1 Premio Lydia Tesio on October 29 in Italy.
Ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., A Raving Beauty completed the 1 1/16-mile turf contest in 1:41.64. The winner returned $7.70.
"She broke a lot better than I thought she would," said Brown. "She's been training extremely well, and was a lot more forwardly placed than I thought anticipated. I thought Irad did a really good job to cover up. He had a choice there at the first eighth to maybe put her outside the other speed horse to see if he could settle her that way or cover up, but I think if he chose to put her outside she might have run off so I think he really won the race by choosing to cover up and then she did settle down."
Inflexibility, favored at even money, finished a neck ahead of Lido in third. Team of Teams, Tricky Escape, My Impression, Broken Bridle completed the order of finish.