ELMONT, N.Y. — Mission Approved, a 21-1 shot who hadn't run since last July, toppled champion Gio Ponti and eight others to take the Grade I, $400,000 Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park Saturday.
Trained and co-owned by Naipaul Chatterpaul, Mission Approved was claimed for $35,000 last May — a move that looks like genius now. The 7-year-old son of With Approval was beaten by a neck by Gio Ponti in last year's Grade I Man o' War Stakes at Belmont and got the better of the three-time Eclipse Award winner in his first start since being sidelined with a quarter crack.
After gaining the lead around the first turn under jockey Jose Espinoza, Mission Approved was allowed to cruise through an opening half in :51.47. Gio Ponti, second in the Manhattan a year ago, was rating next to last in the field and didn't get rolling under Ramon Dominguez until the bunch was settling in for the stretch run.
The 6-year-old Gio Ponti unleashed his kick on the far outside but could manage only third. Mission Approved was 13/4 lengths clear of 31-1 shot Bim Bam in second. Final time for the 11/4-mile race over a yielding turf was 2:06.32.
Just a Game Stakes
The Dale Romans-trained C.S. Silk earned the first Grade I win of her career in front-running fashion, taking the $400,000 Just a Game by 3 lengths over Fantasia.
Sent off at 12-1, C.S. Silk had lost five of her last six starts including a ninth-place finish in the Grade II Jenny Wiley Stakes over a yielding Keeneland turf on April 16. The 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro handled the rain-soaked grass at Belmont with ease, however, covering the opening half in :50.58 before drawing off to hit the wire in 1:40.53 for the 1-mile race.
Augustin Stables' Fantasia closed from last in the nine-horse field for runner-up honors with Amen Hallelujah third.
Darley Stable's It's Tricky turned back a charge from multiple Grade I winner Turbulent Descent to score a 33/4-length upset in the Grade I, $300,000 Acorn.
Turbulent Descent has widely been considered one of the best 3-year-old fillies in the country off wins in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks and Grade II Beaumont Stakes this year.
Sent off as the 3-5 favorite, Turbulent Descent moved into the four-wide path and had dead aim on 10-1 shot It's Tricky in the stretch. The daughter of Congrats could not find enough kick in her first try over a muddy track to run down It's Tricky, who hit the wire in 1:35.48 for the 1-mile test. Her Smile came up for third.
Bred by Stonerside Stable and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, It's Tricky won her first three career starts by a combined 141/2 lengths but ran fourth in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks on April 2.
True North, Woody Stephens
The two Grade II races on the undercard produced two of the more visually impressive efforts on the day with Trappe Shot earning an 81/2-length victory in the 6-furlong True North and Justin Phillip taking the 7-furlong Woody Stephens by 31/4 lengths after setting quick fractions.