07/09/2011 6:58PM

Belmont Park: Cape Blanco draws clear in Man o’ War

Barbara D. Livingston
Cape Blanco, with Jamie Spender riding, goes past the pacesetting Mission Approved en route to victory in the Man o' War.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Gio Ponti was denied an unprecedented third straight victory in the Grade 1, $600,000 Man o’ War Stakes by the Irish invader Cape Blanco, who took over from the pacesetting Mission Approved in midstretch and drew clear to a 2 1/4-length victory Saturday at Belmont Park.

Gio Ponti, who had won this race in 2009 and 2010, was floated six wide in the stretch and his late run could only get him second by one length over Boisterous. Mission Approved, who won the Manhattan last month, finished fourth and was followed by Al Khali and Bearpath.

The win was the seventh from 13 career starts for Cape Blanco, a 4-year-old Irish-bred son of Galileo who was making his North American debut for Ireland-based trainer Aidan O’Brien and owners Derrick Smith, Michael Tabor, John and Susan Magnier, and Fitri Hay. Cape Blanco is a half-brother to Mr. O’Brien, who won the Grade 2 Kelso going a mile on turf here in 2004.

Cape Blanco won the Man o’ War despite losing a front shoe, according to jockey Jamie Spencer, whose horse stalked Mission Approved for five furlongs and moved alongside that rival four furlongs out. Cape Blanco drifted out to the four-path in the stretch, allowing Mission Approved to stay in contention, but Spencer, resorting to a rapid-fire, right-handed whip, got Cape Blanco to the wire in front. Cape Blanco covered the 1 3/8 miles over ground labeled good in 2:14.06 and returned $8.10.

“I wanted to get a lead, but I wanted a good even pace,” said Spencer, who has ridden this horse in all four of his starts this year. “I joined the leader four furlongs out – my horse was really ready – as I joined him he changed leads and lost a front shoe. That was the only worry I had throughout the whole race. He’s a high-class horse, and I’m glad he’s come back to form.”

Last year, as a 3-year-old, Cape Blanco won the Irish Derby and the Irish Champion Stakes – both Group 1 events – in Ireland. He began this year with a fourth-place in the Dubai World Cup, followed by a fourth in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp and, most recently, a sixth-place finish in the one-mile Queen Anne Stakes at Ascot.

Charlie O’Connor, representing the owners, said the distance of the Man o’ War was much more appropriate than the one-mile Queen Anne.

“The distance was perfect,” O’Connor said. “We were a little bit worried when they went a bit slow, but the jockey gave him a great ride, and he kicked on at the right time.”

O’Connor said that though Cape Blanco would ship back to Ireland, he would likely return to North America for the Arlington Million on Aug. 13.

Meanwhile, the connections of Gio Ponti must ponder whether to keep their horse in marathon distances or shorten him up to a mile. Last year, he proved effective at the shorter distance, winning the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile and finishing second to Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

On Saturday, jockey Ramon Dominguez said he was happy with the trip he had on Gio Ponti, despite being floated wide in the stretch.

“It might have appeared as though I ended up a little wider than I wanted, but I had a great trip saving as much ground as possible,” Dominguez said. “My horse gave me a good turn of foot, but not enough.”

Caress: Quebrada Shiner rallies to victory

In the race before the Man o’ War, Dominguez guided Quebrada Shiner past the favored pacemaker Rose Catherine in deep stretch en route to a 1 1/4-length victory in the $60,000 Caress Stakes for filly and mare sprinters.

Much Rejoicing got up for second by a neck over Rose Catherine.

Quebrada Shiner, making her first start since Feb. 11, raced three wide in fifth position early on before moving into third by the quarter pole. Rose Catherine had run a half-mile in 45.91 seconds and tried to spurt away in the stretch, but Quebrada Shiner collared her inside the sixteenth pole to get the victory.

Quebrada Shiner, a 6-year-old daughter of Indygo Shiner, covered the six furlongs in 1:09.10 and returned $18.80 to win. Quebrana Shiner is owned by James and Jane Fraser and trained by Bob Barbara.

* Jockey Alan Garcia had to take off his last six mounts Saturday after getting kicked in the right thigh in the paddock by the horse he was to ride in the third race, Wanstead. Garcia was taken by ambulance to North Shore University Hospital where X-rays were negative and he was released. He was diagnosed with a thigh bruise.

Garcia is not scheduled to ride again until Thursday, when he is named on two horses at Belmont.