The $750,000 United Nations Stakes (G1) is one of the premier races at Monmouth Park, attracting some of the best turf runners on the east coast. On Saturday before an on-track crowd of 12,278, a compact field of just 5 entered this 1 3/8 mile event over the turf. Last year's winner and course record holder English Channel was back for a title defense and was sent off as the 3-5 favorite over 5-2 Better Talk Now, who defeated English Channel in the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park in their last start. English Channel came into the race off 2 straight losses, the Dubai Duty Free and the Manhattan. 6-year-old mare Honey Ryder was the 3-1 third choice taking on males after winning the Sheepshead Bay Handicap at Belmont last time out.
Fri Guy, the longest shot on the board at 33-1, went to the front right away and set a slow pace of 25.60, 49.90, 1:14.45, and 1:38.33 over the firm going while as many as 2 lengths clear of English Channel in second. The field was strung out most of the way, as it was another 2 lengths back from English Channel to 20-1 Embossed and Honey Ryder, while Better Talk Now, who was bothered at the start, stayed well off the pace as many as 5 lengths behind Honey Ryder down the backstretch. On the far turn, jockey John Velazquez took English Channel to the outside to pass the tiring Fri Guy and took over the lead at the 3/16 pole, getting 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.40. Honey Ryder also came out wide to pass the tiring pacesetter and set up for a rally. Through the stretch, English Channel held off his stablemate Honey Ryder to prevail by just 1 length in time of 2:12.89, lowering his own course record for 1 3/8 miles on the Monmouth turf by 0.35 seconds. It was another 2 lengths back to Better Talk Now in third, who closed late but had too much ground to make up. Pacesetter Fri Guy was fourth and Embossed was fifth. English Channel is the first back-to-back winner of the United Nations since Sandpit in 1995 and 1996, when the race was run at Atlantic City.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show
1 English Channel Velasquez 3.20 2.10 2.10
5 Honey Ryder Gomez 2.40 2.10
2 Better Talk Now Dominguez 2.10
Winning Time: 2:12.89
$2 Exacta 1-5 9.40
$1 Trifecta 1-5-3 5.40
English Channel in the winner's circle. His trainer Todd Pletcher said, "The way they showed the break it was head-on, and it looked like he veered out a bit after the break. But Johnny (Velazquez) knows this horse well and, once he got him to relax, it was fine. We were concerned there might not be any pace, so were happy to see Fri Guy in there. I thought he got a little off track in Dubai. Other than that, he's never really run a bad one. He ran a good race in the Manhattan, but it was good to get him back to three turns, and he's shown that he likes the Monmouth Park turf course. His two wins (at Monmouth) have been over firm turf in the summer. You never know what kind of course you'll get in the fall, but we'd love to see him show up there and have a good-to-firm turf course." Pletcher said he would go next in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, and then use either the Man o'War or the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Turf, which will be run at Monmouth.
English Channel returns after the race. His jockey John Velazquez said, "On the first jump, I went to grab him so I didn't bother the horse alongside me, and he threw his head up. He was a little uncomfortable after that, so I was trying to get him to see that other horse (Fri Guy) in front of him so that he'd settle down; and once he saw him he was still a little headstrong, but he was back in my hands. Once he relaxed, he was fine the whole way. He's run two monster races back-to-back since returning from Dubai."
Second place finisher Honey Ryder in the paddock. Jockey Garrett Gomez said, "English Channel got the jump on me at the top of the stretch and that's where he beat me." She improved her record to 13 wins, 3 seconds, and 8 thirds in 31 starts with earnings of $2,343,310 for owner Glencrest Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher.
Third place finisher Better Talk Now in the post parade. Better Talk Now trailed the field the whole way under jockey Ramon Dominguez and closed well but was disadvantaged by the slow pace up front. The 8-year-old gelding improved his career record to 14 wins, 6 seconds, and 3 thirds in 40 starts with earnings of $3,899.788 for owner Bushwood Racing Partners and trainer H. Graham Motion.
The $65,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes featured older horses sprinting 6 furlongs on the main track. 7-2 second choice Herecomeshollywood was out wide in third down the backstretch, took over the lead on the turn, and was all-out late to hold off late-running 9-10 favorite Suave Jazz by a head in 1:08.52. It was a long 5 lengths back to 12-1 War Tempo in third. Winning jockey John Velazquez said, "This horse ran just three days ago, and for him to come back and run a race like this was amazing. He was game all the way to the wire, and he ran fast, too. What a real nice performance."
Results chart from Equibase
Kicking off the stakes action on United Nations day was the $60,000 Lighthouse Stakes, featuring a field of seven older fillies and mares going 1 mile on the turf. 3-10 favorite Pommes Frites did not disappoint, stalking the pace of 7-1 Beat The Band down the backstretch through a quarter in 23.69 and a half in 47.54, and then taking over the lead from the pacesetter with a furlong to go. She drew off to win by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:33.82. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back from Beat the Band to 14-1 A Different Tune.
PHOTO: John Velazquez and English Channel after winning the United Nations.
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/2007-united-nations-stakes-results-7-07.html">2007 United Nations Stakes Results</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com