December 3, 2023

Up to the Mark conquers Manhattan

Up to the Mark wins the Manhattan Stakes (Photo by Jetta Vaughns/Coglianese Photos)

After a breakout performance in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day, Up to the Mark passed another test in the $750,000 Manhattan (G1) on Belmont Day. The 1.65-1 favorite stepped up to 1 1/4 miles for the first time at Belmont Park, swept from just off the strong pace, and opened up by 2 3/4 lengths, to continue his rapid ascent to the top of the turf division.

Up to the Mark represents the same connections as champion Forte, who would run second in the Belmont (G1) one race later – Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, trainer Todd Pletcher, and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Ortiz racked up four wins on the card, including the True North (G2) with champion Elite Power and the Poker (G3) with Pletcher’s Emmanuel.

As Strong Quality bounded clear through an opening quarter in :23.18 on the firm inner turf, Up to the Mark was well placed in fourth. The favorite steadily reduced the gap through fractions of :47.74, 1:12.34, and 1:36.15, and stormed clear in the stretch to clock 1:59.31.

The 16-1 Soldier Rising outdueled Godolphin’s 2-1 Ottoman Fleet for runner-up honors. Red Knight closed from last to round out the superfecta. Strong Quality faded to fifth, trailed by Highest Honors, Warren Point, So High, Rockemperor, and Ocean Atlantique.

Up to the Mark was completing a big-race double for sire Not This Time, who is also responsible for Brooklyn (G2) scorer Next. Now 4-fo-5 on turf, with his only loss a third in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1), Up to the Mark improved his overall resume to 10-5-0-2, $1,242,050.

“He got into a perfect position and was settled,” Pletcher said. “We saw a few horses that we anticipated would be the pacesetters. He fell into a nice rhythm. He was just waiting on Irad to cue him when to go. He handled the mile and a quarter. He did remarkably well.

“He’s having a terrific year. We always felt like he had a lot of promise. He won his debut on the dirt and then we got a little bit frustrated that he wasn’t moving forward so we decided to try the turf. Obviously, that’s been the key to his turnaround.

“He gives me the impression that he’ll handle a little more ground. I don’t know what we’ll do from here. When you’re thinking Breeders’ Cup, he’s probably the type of horse where you could go in two different directions. We probably need a little experience at a mile and a half to know. We also have the Arlington Million ([G1] on Aug. 12 at Colonial Downs) at a mile and a quarter. We’ll enjoy this for the moment and come up with a strategy.”