Friday’s $250,000 Manila (G3) at Belmont Park figures to serve as a launching pad to a couple of more lucrative stakes next month at Saratoga and Colonial Downs. Contested at one mile over the Widener turf, the three-year-old feature kicks off the final weekend of racing at Belmont until next spring.
Major Dude and Nagirroc are the most accomplished horses in the field of eight. Major Dude is a three-time graded winner, including the Penn Mile (G2) when last seen June 2.
“It wasn’t a superstar field but he did what he was supposed to do and I like how he did it. It was a race he should have won, and he did,” said Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift Farm, which owns Major Dude.
Nagirroc, meanwhile, was a Grade 3-winning sprinter at two and earned the first route stakes win of his career in the one-mile James W. Murphy S. at Pimlico on Preakness Day, scoring comfortably by 3 1/4 lengths while racing with blinkers for the first time.
“We backed up a little bit by going in the Pimlico race, which obviously was an easier spot than some of the other races that we could have gone in, but I really wanted to try blinkers,” trainer Graham Motion said. “When you make changes like that you don’t want to make things too complicated for them. It really worked out that day and I’ve been really impressed with him.”
Talk of the Nation was a decisive winner of his stakes debut in the Columbia S. at Tampa Bay Downs in March, but was controversially scratched right before the start of the American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. Re-routed to the Jersey Derby at Monmouth Park on June 3, Talk of the Nation wound up second as a 3-10 favorite.
Trainer Chad Brown has entered Woodhaven S. winner Belouni, who trailed throughout in the Pennine Ridge (G2) last time, and maiden scorer Activist Investing, who has not run since October. More Than Looks enters off of an allowance win over the turf at Ellis Park, while stakes winners Armstrong and Dreaming of Kona dive into a tough spot in what will be the grass debut for both.
The Manila could serve as a feeder race for the Aug. 4 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2) at Saratoga and the Aug. 12 Secretariat (G2) at Colonial. Both races are over a mile and carry a purse of $500,000.