Hi Happy was a star in his native Argentina, and the bandwagon in his adoptive home began filling up after an impressive victory in the Pan American (G2) on Florida Derby Day. On Saturday, the Todd Pletcher trainee will attempt to become a top-level winner on a second continent in the $700,000 Man o’ War, a 1 3/8-mile test over Belmont Park’s inner turf.
Unbeaten in all six starts in Argentina, including a score in the prestigious Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (G1) in December 2015, Hi Happy was slow to make an impact in the U.S. when based in Southern California with Felipe Souza. He ran some good ones, though, finishing fourth in the Santa Anita H. (G1) and San Marcos (G2) before missing by a neck in the Tokyo City (G3) over 1 1/2 miles.
A trainer switch to Pletcher has brought out his best again. Third by a length to the speedy Heart to Heart in the Gulfstream Park Turf (G1) in February, Hi Happy took a major step forward in the 12-furlong Pan American, stalking One Go All Go early before taking over and winning by 2 3/4 lengths.
The latter is back to set the pace here following a wire-to-wire score in the Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland. Scholar Athlete, who exits an optional claiming win at Aqueduct over 2016 Man o’ War winner Wake Forest, also has some early foot.
Sadler’s Joy, fourth as the favorite in the Pan American, dropped too far back to prove effective in that race, but is a prior Pan Am winner and last year added the Sword Dancer (G1) over Money Multiplier and Bigger Picture, as well as the Mac Diarmida (G2) two back.
Money Multiplier, along with Call Provision, represent the dangerous Chad Brown barn. Money Multiplier improved off a dull try in the Gulfstream Park Turf by placing in a $1 million Group 1 in Qatar, but has only placed once in four prior tries at Belmont. Call Provision, a solid second in the Red Smith (G2) in November, could improve at a price off a fourth in the Elkhorn.
“We were playing a little catch up [in the Elkhorn] trying to get him to the Man o’ War,” Brown said. “We used that as a prep for this race. He had a little traffic late in the race and he didn’t get a good pace set up, but he still ran well. He was just a little up against it, but he seems to have bounced out of that in good shape. He should move forward off that race.”
Bigger Picture has won a Red Smith, a United Nations (G1), and two editions of the John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) at Sam Houston, and is generally at home at Belmont with a 7-4-2-0 mark on the local sod. Catcho En Die, on the other hand, would be a surprise factor exiting a win against $40,000 claimers. The field is rounded out by Grade 3 winner Postulation, third in the aforementioned optional claimer behind Scholar Athlete and Wake Forest.
Brown will unveil another one of his European imports in the $200,000 Beaugay (G3) for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf. The German-bred A Raving Beauty was a multiple stakes winner in her homeland, and closed her continental career with a second-place effort in the Premio Lydia Tesio (G1) in Rome last October.
Brown also saddles Canadian stakes winner Inflexibility, a recent Aqueduct allowance scorer, while Shug McGaughey and Jimmy Jerkens rely on graded veterans My Impression and Team of Teams, respectively.