Up to the Mark up to the challenge in G1 Resorts World Casino Manhattan | Belmont Stakes
Stakes Recap
Jun 10, 2023
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Up to the Mark up to the challenge in G1 Resorts World Casino Manhattan

by NYRA Press Office

Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Up to the Mark, having found new life on the turf this year, continued his career resurgence with a popular and powerful 2 3/4- length victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Manhattan at Belmont Park, becoming racing’s newest millionaire.

The 151st running of the Manhattan for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/4 miles on the inner turf course was the eighth of nine graded-stakes and fifth of six Grade 1 events worth a total of $5.25 million in purses on a 13-race program, immediately preceding the 155th renewal of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.

Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, Up to the Mark covered a firm turf course in 1:59.31 in earning his second consecutive Grade 1 victory after the May 6 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on the undercard of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby.

It was the third win of the afternoon for both Ortiz, Jr. and Pletcher and second together following Emmanuel’s victory in the Grade 3 Poker. Ortiz, Jr. also won the Grade 2 True North aboard Elite Power.

Ortiz, Jr. previously won the Manhattan with Instilled Regard in 2021, Bricks and Mortar in 2020 and Slumber in 2015, all trained by Chad Brown. Pletcher had never won the Manhattan, most recently finishing eighth with multiple Grade 1 winner Colonel Liam in 2021.

“He’s having a terrific year,” Pletcher said. “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.”

It was Strong Quality, making his stakes debut in the Manhattan at odds of 18-1 off back-to-back victories, that took the early initiative and opened up on his nine rivals, going the opening quarter-mile in a sharp 23.18 seconds tracked by fellow 53-1 long shot Ocean Atlantique with So High third and Up to the Mark on the outside in fourth.

Ocean Atlantique and So High closed the gap on the leader as Strong Quality went a half-mile in 47.74 seconds as Ortiz, Jr. continued to give Up to the Mark clear run three-wide. Strong Quality remained in front after going six furlongs in 1:12.34 and rounded the far turn in command as So High tipped off the hedge to make his bid while Up to the Mark waited for his cue from Ortiz, Jr. and Grade 1 winner Red Knight, the early trailer, began to make up ground on the far outside.

Strong Quality held a tenuous lead once straightened for home but was quickly overtaken by Up to the Mark in a swift and powerful move to the front, opening up with each stride. Behind him the British-bred pair of Soldier Rising and Ottoman Fleet, who had raced near the back of the pack in the early stages, came with a late rally to finish a head apart, respectively, in second and third.

“Todd didn’t tell me too much about the horse, he just let me ride the horse,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “He broke good and put me in a good spot. Todd told me I have speed inside of me and to follow them. We were on the same page. So when he broke and put me in a good spot, I took it. After that, I was sitting off the leaders waiting. I sat for a long time behind Luis Saez [on Ocean Atlantique] and then when I felt someone outside, I made sure to get to work on him. He ran a great race.”

New York-bred Red Knight was up for fourth, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Strong Quality, followed by Highest Honors, Warren Point, So High, Rockemperor and Ocean Atlantique. Sent off as the 8-5 favorite, Up to the Mark returned $5.30 for a $2 win bet.

“It was a beautiful trip,” jockey Jose Ortiz said of runner-up Soldier Rising. “We saved all the ground, then made one run. I’m very happy we got up there for second.”

Up to the Mark, a $450,000 son of Not This Time, began his career on the dirt, winning six-furlong maiden special weight over a sloppy track last July at Saratoga Race Course. Winless in four subsequent starts on the main track to end his rookie season, Up to the Mark was moved to the grass for one-mile optional claiming allowance on Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park, which he won by four lengths.

In his next start, Up to the Mark again came from behind to take a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer on March 4, also at Gulfstream, to earn him a shot in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile on April 14 at Keeneland, his stakes debut, where he was beaten a neck for second by 2022 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Modern Games. He then overcame an early bump to roll to a 3 3/4-length score as the favorite in the Turf Classic.

Bred in Kentucky by Rampsring Farm, Up to the Mark now owns five wins from 10 career starts and is four-for-five on the grass, with purse earnings of $1,242,050.

“He gives me the impression that he’ll handle a little more ground,” Pletcher said. “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 [which]. We also have the Arlington Million [Grade 1 on August 12 at Colonial Downs] at a mile and a quarter. We’ll enjoy this for the moment and come up with a strategy.”

Live racing resumes Sunday at Belmont with an 11-race card featuring the $150,000 Jersey Girl for 3-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs on the main track in Race 5 and the Grade 2, $200,000 Wonder Again for sophomore fillies going 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.

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