Eleven months after nearly knocking off champion Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Man o’ War, 7-year-old Mission Approved returned to turn the trick Saturday, wiring the field at odds of 21-1 to take the Grade 1, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park.
Claimed by trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul one year ago to the day for $35,000, the bay son of With Approval became one of the most improbable winners of the Manhattan in its 110-year history.
Setting easy, slow fractions two lengths ahead of the rest of the field after a fast start, Mission Approved turned back a challenge from Straight Story at the quarter pole and pulled away in the final furlong to win by 1 ¼ lengths.
An even longer shot, 31-1 Bim Bam, finished strongly for second, while Gio Ponti rallied mildly from near the back of the pack for third.
Mission Approved ran the 1 ¼-mile race over a course labeled “yielding” in 2:06.32. He paid $44 for a $2 win bet and keyed a $1,108 exacta with Bim Bam.
Mission Approved had nearly shocked Gio Ponti in the Man o’ War last year, losing by a neck at odds of 53-1 off the claim. He had not raced since.
“(He was off) because he had a quarter crack, nothing major,” said a jubilant Chatterpaul, who landed the first Grade 1 victory of his career. “I thought it was best to put him up and wait for this race. (I claimed him because) I liked the horse — a lot of back class. As long as he’s in front, he’s not going to give it up. It’s awesome. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Chatterpaul, based at Belmont Park, had entered another front-runner, claimer Wishful Tomcat, but scratched him before the race, leaving Mission Approved the controlling speed. The victory, worth $240,000 to Chatterpaul and his brother, Terik, increased Mission Approved’s lifetime earnings to $760,830 in 23 lifetime starts.
“The trainer did a very good job with him, and he told me he was fit coming into the race,” said jockey Jose Espinoza. “Coming for home, I had plenty of horse because he was just galloping easily on the lead. I was very proud of him today.”
Gio Ponti was making his first start for trainer Christophe Clement since a close-up fifth-place finish in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in March. Jockey Ramon Dominguez reserved the 6-year-old early and saved ground along the hedge for a mile before asking for run. Gio Ponti angled wide in the stretch and came with a charge but could not catch the two leaders.
“This was his first race back from the break,” Clement said. “He will improve from this race on firmer ground. He’ll be back.”
Al Khali, Bold Hawk, Straight Story, Windward Islands, Viscount Nelson and Prince Will I Am completed the order of finish.