The week leading up to this past Saturday didn’t go nearly as well as Lilli Kurtinecz hoped so when the serious running started and it was still in doubt if Manchurian High would defend his title in the Sunshine Millions Turf she couldn’t bear to watch.
“When they were turning for home and he was still blocked in – to be honest I just watched the race for the first time yesterday – I started slinking down behind the post I was standing next to,” Kurtinecz said Monday afternoon. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to get boxed in.’ “
Manchurian High and jockey Luis Saez came close to getting boxed in, settling in the middle of the pack early in the 9-furlong Turf before inching their way into contention around the turn. They came between rivals in the stretch and surged past pacesetter Cement Clement first and then Reporting Star to win by a half-length. Kurtinecz, entertaining guests from out of town who weren’t afraid to support their friend’s charge at the windows, said she couldn’t watch for a few reasons.
“This one was tough because I had people in town, because he won it last year and because my week hadn’t gone as planned,” she said, explaining the third factor a bit more. “We didn’t go into the race as we usually do, every small thing just added up and he takes so much to get there, so I was like, aghhhh. … To win makes you feel like you’re doing something right. He’s proud of himself, too. He knows and he tries. That makes me happy. It all pays off.”
Manchurian High, now an 8-year-old son of The Daddy, certainly gives his owner and trainer reason at times to doubt.
Last summer, while she cooled out Manchurian High in between barns at Saratoga Race Course’s Oklahoma Annex, Kurtinecz remarked how she “wished he was 500 pounds heavier.”
Five months later the story has changed. Manchurian High isn’t as picky in the feed tub and is a better doer these days, pretty remarkable considering his age. Typically the smallest horse in the race – sometimes by a noticeable margin – Manchurian High is still pretty small but he’s filled out a bit. Maybe even too heavy heading into last Saturday’s race at Gulfstream, Kurtinecz said.
“He’s actually stronger and it looks like he’s matured, finally, as an 8-year-old,” she said. “He’s carrying a bit more weight and he’s solid. Before I could never get him to eat, he was a finicky little thing and now he’s just blossomed. He’s really filled out.
“Going into this race he had me worried. … Everybody says, ‘he’s an older horse it doesn’t matter that much,’ but usually he doesn’t eat and I wouldn’t care so much but now I can’t keep food from him. Then I was worried he’d go into the race fat. Now every race I give to him he’s a different horse and comes out of it differently. He runs consistently though. That’s the only consistency in his life.”
Manchurian High’s victory in the Sunshine Millions Turf was the 10th of his career from 40 starts and it boosted his career bankroll to $479,013. Half of his victories (from 17 starts) and nearly 73 percent of his earnings ($348,303) have come since Kurtinecz took the controls prior to the 2014 season.
In addition to his two Sunshine Millions scores Manchurian High also won the 2014 Laurel Turf Cup and placed in three other stakes for Kurtinecz.
Manchurian High ended his 2015 campaign with a victory in a four other than allowance at Keeneland, a stop Kurtinecz hoped to make back in August and one she plans to make part of her rotation along with stops in Florida in the winter, Maryland in the spring and fall and Saratoga in the summer.
Where Manchurian High shows up next might be a bit more tricky. Since he won the four other than at Keeneland he’s “pretty much out of conditions now,” Kurtinecz said.
“So now I don’t really know,” she added. “I don’t think he’s quite the graded stakes type, or at least not on the East Coast with all the heavy hitters. I just have to look for the right spots for him.
“Maybe the Florida-bred stakes at Tampa. That’s the only one I’ve seen so far. I do know of that one. Other than that I don’t know what they’d write here at Gulfstream or later in the year at Keeneland.”
– Constellation improved her record to 3-for-5 with a romp in the $95,000 Ruthless at Aqueduct Sunday. Purchased for $800,000 by Solis & Litt at the OBS March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training in 2015, the daughter of Bellamy Road has yet to finish off the board for owner LNJ Foxwoods, trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
Asmussen said it best in The Saratoga Special this summer, “Oh, she’s class, all class.”
Alex Solis II was on hand at Saratoga when she won her debut.
“She breezed awesome at the sale,” Solis said. “As you can see, she’s a big, stout filly and Steve called this morning and said, ‘I don’t have her cranked but she’s a really good filly.’ She’s an efficient mover and she breezed in 9 and 4 at the sale, galloped out in 20 and change, three eighths in 33 flat.”
Not much has changed.
– Veteran jockey John Velazquez returned from a working vacation in Australia to win four races at Gulfstream Park Saturday. The Hall of Famer guided first-time starter Kinsley Kisses for Cheyenne Stable and Todd Pletcher to win a maiden. He came right back to win the next, earning a half-length win in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf with Miller Racing’s Lori’s Store for trainer Marty Wolfson. At the end of the card, Velazquez garnered the Sunshine Millions Classic aboard Mexikoma for Team Valor and Mike Dilger and the nightcap aboard first-time starter Boalt Hall for Stonestreet and Pletcher.
– G M B Racing swept the first two spots in the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds. Favorite Mo Tom, trained by Tom Amoss, rallied to win over fifth choice Tom’s Ready, trained by Dallas Stewart. Corey Lanerie guided the winner, who maintained a perfect on-the-board record
Gayle Benson, wife of New Orleans Saints owner Tom, owns the duo.
Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready finished in the same order in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs in November.
Let the Derby dreams continue.
– Taris produced another easy stakes romp over the weekend, taking the Grade 2 La Canada by 5 1/4 lengths for Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and John Magnier. Hall of Famer Gary Stevens guided the daughter of Flatter for trainer Simon Callaghan. Taris won four of her first five for Mid-Atlantic-based trainer Todd Beattie before being purchased by the Coolmore team.
Well behind Taris, Santiago Gonzalez produced the ride of the week when his rein broke on Oscar Party. Gonzalez lost his irons as well and managed to slow down Oscar Party by reaching up and grabbing the bridle before an outrider pulled him to a stop at the eighth pole. Wow, to be a jockey.
– Dingdingdingding did exactly that when upsetting the Forego at Turfway Park Saturday. Owned by Allied Racing and trained by Marshall Godsey, the 4-year-old son of Candy Ride returned $53.40 to anybody brave enough to wager $2 to win on the 4-year-old gelding. Making his debut over a synthetic surface, he sported two bullet works at Turfway Park before annexing his second career win.
– California invaders swept two stakes at Turf Paradise Saturday. Bob Hess shipped With A Twist to win the Glendale for Jerry McClanahan and Ernest Machowsky. The 8-year-old daughter of Cashel Castle has won four of her last five. Michael McCarthy followed the same plan with 8-year-old Somethings Unusual, who ventured from Santa Anita to win the Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile Handicap for Bruce Treitman.
– Street Strategy nosed out Departing to win the Fifth Season at Oaklawn Park Saturday. Trained by Randy Morse for Randy Patterson, the 5-year-old son of Street Sense went off second choice behind $1.8 million-earner Departing but managed to win by a head. Street Strategy won four races in 2015, finishing off his year with a seventh-place finish behind Liam’s Map in the Breeders’ Dirt Mile.