Channel Cat Holds On By A Nostril Under Velazquez To Win Man O’ War

Providing an encore for a Kentucky Oaks-Kentucky Derby sweep is a tall order, but Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez was up to the challenge, piloting Channel Cat to the lead at every point of call and fending off 3-2 favorite Gufo’s furious late charge in the final jumps to hang on for a gate-to-wire victory by a nose in Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Man o’ War for 4-years-olds and up going 1 3/8 miles on Belmont Park’s inner turf.

Velazquez, who last weekend won the Grade 1 “Run for the Roses” aboard Medina Spirit and the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks with Malathaat, added to his record for graded stakes wins, seeing Channel Cat break sharp from post 5 and lead the eight-horse field through fast fractions of 22.69 seconds for the quarter-mile with the half in 47.53 on the turf rated good. Field Pass tracked from second position as Channel Cat led the field through three-quarters in 1:12.45 and maintained his advantage out of the far turn.

Channel Cat, seeking the first win of his 6-year-old campaign, continued to press on as Moon Over Miami challenged to his inside. Velazquez kept his charge alert but then had to fend off Gufo’s late outside bid.

Under Joel Rosario, who was bidding for his fifth win on the day, Gufo closed the deficit in the final sixteenth and the two challengers nearly arrived at the wire simultaneously, with Channel Cat winning the head bob and hitting the wire in 2:13.34 to give trainer Jack Sisterson his first career Grade 1 victory at Belmont.

“I didn’t think we went that fast,” Velazquez said. “I knew we were going fast, but not quite 22 and change. I gave him loose reins and he was a happy horse up front. I was happy with the way that he was doing things. I felt [Gufo] coming when I was asking him to run.”

Added Sisterson: “I left it [the trip decision] in Johnny Velazquez’s hands. I told him last weekend [winning the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby] was pretty incredible. I didn’t sleep last night. I wasn’t nervous about Channel Cat, I was nervous about letting John Velazquez down because I didn’t want to ruin last weekend’s celebrations.”

Channel Cat posted his first win in 10 starts and first victory since the Grade 2 Bowling Green in July 2019 at the Spa. The son of English Channel finished second or third in three graded stakes during that stretch, including a runner-up effort last out in the Grade 2 Elkhorn going 1 1/2 miles on April 17 over a Keeneland turf course rated good.

“Thanks to Channel Cat and the staff back at the barn, who do all the hard work to win a Grade 1,” said Sisterson, who now has a Grade 1 win at all three NYRA tracks following Vexatious’ win in the Personal Ensign last year at Saratoga Race Course and True Timber’s victory in December at Aqueduct Racetrack. “I don’t take any credit for this. It’s all due to the people behind the scenes that people don’t see.

“He was coming into the race in great shape,” he added. “He ran a great race in the Elkhorn off the layoff and finished up good, closing into fast fractions.”

Off at 8-1, Channel Cat returned $18.40 on a $2 win wager. The Calumet Farm homebred earned millionaire status, extending his earnings to $1,383,522 with a career record of 6-3-5 in 26 starts.

“It’s nice to win a race for the owner,” Sisterson said. “He’s so passionate and supportive of the sport.”

Sisterson said Channel Cat remains a possibility for the Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Manhattan on Belmont Stakes Day June 5.

Otter Bends Stables’ Gufo, the 124-pound highweight, looked sharp in his first start off a layoff of more than five months, besting Moon Over Miami by a neck for second. The Christophe Clement trainee, who won his previous start on the course in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby in October and added a win in the Grade 3 Kent as a sophomore, has finished on the board in all nine career starts, improving to 5-2-2 for trainer Christophe Clement.

“Whenever you get beat first race off the layoff like that with such a good race, it’s disappointing because I love the horse,” Clement said. “Especially considering we were giving six pounds to the winner. But I tip my hat to the winner, he ran a good race. Gufo will improve from the race. We’ll go to the Manhattan and just hope we don’t have to give six pounds to everyone else and go from there.”

Summer Wind Equine’s Moon Over Miami, conditioned by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, was 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Shamrocket to earn black type for the third consecutive start in his 4-year-old year, adding to his third in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida in February and second in the Grade 2 Pan American in March at Gulfstream Park.

“He’s such a cool horse. He always gives you a good run,” said Moon Over Miami rider Junior Alvarado. “He always tries and no matter where you put him, he’s always there for you. Eventually, I think he’ll win a big race. He deserves it. He can do a lot of different things. He’s been knocking on the door in some big races this year. He’s definitely one with a future ahead of him.”

So High, Ziyad, Sovereign and Field Pass completed the order of finish.

The 62nd running of the Man o’ War, named for the Hall of Famer who made the debut of his legendary career at Belmont Park in 1919, was the headliner of a card featuring five graded stakes that included Firenze Fire winning the Grade 3 Runhappy, Harvey’s Lil Goil capturing the Grade 3 Beaugay, Victim of Love winning the Grade 3 Vagrancy and Promise Keeper taking the Grade 3 Peter Pan.

Live racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card and a 1 p.m. Eastern first post. The slate is highlighted by the $100,000 Gold Fever for sophomores going six furlongs on the main track in Race 8 at 4:51 p.m.

Starting on May 1, Belmont Park re-opened to a limited number of spectators. All admission must be purchased in advance at nyra.com/belmont/tickets/.

For comprehensive information on health and safety protocols in effect for the Belmont Park spring/summer meet, please visit: https://www.nyra.com/belmont/visit/plan-your-visit.

 

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