February 23, 2024

Emmanuel collars pacesetting Filo Di Arianna in Poker; Chez Pierre third

Emmanuel wins the Poker S. (G3) at Belmont Park (Photo by Coglianese Photos)

Ten lengths behind Chez Pierre when a no-show seventh in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland, Emmanuel engineered a total form reversal in Saturday’s Poker (G3) at Belmont Park. The Todd Pletcher trainee rallied to catch front-running Filo Di Arianna, with 1-2 favorite Chez Pierre third.

Emmanuel had already bounced back with a close third in a course-record Dinner Party (G3) over 1 1/8 miles at Pimlico. The venue change to Belmont, where he wired last summer’s Pennine Ridge (G2), was one factor. He also reverted to more patient tactics on the cutback to one mile, although the tempo ended up not being quick at all.

Chez Pierre, who had not raced since his career high, reverted to a less positive tendency by pulling hard early. Filo Di Arianna was able to grab the lead and moderate his speed, making for a leisurely pace that did not suit the favorite. Although Chez Pierre then settled down in a tracking second for Flavien Prat, the race was not unfolding as beneficially as the Maker’s Mark.

Filo Di Arianna was on cruise control through fractions of :23.94, :47.82, and 1:11.42, and the Brazilian-cum-Canadian champion remained full of run into the stretch. Chez Pierre challenged, but lacked sufficient punch to reel in the longtime leader.

Emmanuel, who had been switched off in last early, had the requisite late kick. Rallying out wide with Irad Ortiz Jr., the 6.20-1 chance forced his neck in front in 1:34.25. Filo Di Arianna held Chez Pierre off by a half-length.

“I had a good trip,” Prat said of Chez Pierre. “He jumped well out of there. I got myself outside of the leader. He relaxed well from there on the backside, and he made a good move turning for home, and then he just couldn’t go by the horse in front and that was it.”

Anaconda was a sneaky fourth after fluffing the start. Although the slow pace helped Anaconda recover and gain position, he still did well to finish with interest despite not seeing much daylight on the inside. Dreams of Tomorrow and Emaraaty rounded out the order under the wire, while Mackinnon and main-track-only Bourbon Calling were scratched.

Siena Farm and WinStar Farm’s Emmanuel has compiled a record of 11-6-0-2, $587,950. The son of More Than Ready was on the 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) trail, but a fourth in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and third in the Blue Grass (G1) prompted a surface switch.

Emmanuel found his true home on turf in the Pennine Ridge, only to head to the sidelines after being eased in the Saratoga Derby (G1). He returned triumphant with a course-record Tampa Bay (G3) victory, where Chez Pierre was a rank sixth. Emmanuel added the Canadian Turf (G3) at Gulfstream Park. A slow start at Keeneland ended his Maker’s Mark chances right off the bat. Ortiz felt that he didn’t relax enough in the Dinner Party, but he got him covered up nicely in the Poker.

“He broke good, and I knew some horses had more speed than me,” Ortiz recapped. “I just wanted to get him in a good spot. Last time, you see the fractions, they went a little quick (in the Dinner Party). He went fast and kept fighting that day from the eighth-pole. Today, he was perfect. The mile flat suits him perfect here at Belmont.”

Pletcher noted the different trip, and revealed the backstory about how Emmanuel entered the Poker.

“Irad said in Baltimore, he was in the clear the whole way. It was a mile and an eighth and he was kind of pulling more than you’d like. Today, he was able to get him a little more settled and use that big run.

“We were targeting this race with Annapolis, but when he couldn’t make it, it didn’t look like this race was coming up a large field. So, I told Elliott (Walden, CEO of owner WinStar Farm), ‘What do you think of taking a look at this race?’ And he said, ‘Let’s take a look at it.’ Once he drew in the race, we felt like he fit well and he was sharp and doing well.”

Bred by Helen K. Groves Revocable Trust in Kentucky, Emmanuel sold for $350,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. His dam, the Hard Spun mare Hard Cloth, is a half-sister to Grade/Group 1 winners Hawkbill and Free Drop Billy.