06/13/2011 4:03PM

Belmont Park: Manhattan win thrills Mission Approved's current and old connections

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Tom Keyser
Mission Approved after his 21-1 upset of the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. – To listen to both men speak, it was almost harder to tell who was happier about Mission Approved’s upset victory in Saturday’s Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap – his current trainer, Naipaul Chatterpaul, or his former trainer, Gary Contessa.

Chatterpaul claimed the horse from Contessa on June 11, 2010, for $35,000. After nearly pulling off a stunning upset in the Grade 1 Man o’ War a month later, Mission Approved was away for 11 months before upsettting Saturday’s Manhattan at 21-1, beating, among others, two-time turf champion Gio Ponti.

“To win a race like this is really big,” Chatterpaul, who owns the horse along with his brother Terikchand, said Monday morning outside his Belmont Park barn “It’s such a great feeling, I can’t even explain it right now.”

Meanwhile, a couple hundred miles away in upstate New York, Contessa said he and the horse’s breeder and one-time owner William Coyro also were happy. Contessa said he was given the horse by Coyro after it looked like a reoccurrence of a physical problem was going to end the horse’s career. Contessa, who wouldn’t disclose the nature of the injury, decided to have surgery performed on the horse and brought him back in May 2010, where he won a $40,000 claimer at Delaware Park. He ran him a month later at Belmont, where he finished second but was claimed for $35,000.

“Dr. Coyro gave the horse for nothing,” said Contessa, who also was given the mother and a sibling of Mission Approved. “He was about ready to get out of the game, and this was possibly a career-ending injury and take another eight or nine months.”

Contessa said Mission Approved needed to have a third operation on the same joint. Contessa had given the horse time off on his farm and was thinking of making a riding horse out of him, before opting to do the operation.

“That guy did a great job rehabbing an old class horse,” said Contessa, who trained the horse to win the Grade 3 Saranac at Saratoga in 2007 and the Grade 3 Singspiel at Woodbine in 2008. “I called that guy five minutes after the race and congratulated him. I got mine, God bless him, that guy got his. Dr. Coyro and Gary Contessa are the biggest fans of Mission Approved. I hope he wins more Grade 1’s going forward.”

Chatterpaul is a 44-year-old native of Guyana, who was briefly a jockey in that country. He came here in 1988 and said he worked in a bar, a jewelry story, and in construction before getting back into racing in 2008. Chatterpaul said he became a fan of Mission Approved and followed the horse’s progress.

Chatterpaul said the day Contessa brought Mission Approved back to the races off a nine-month layoff, he drove to Delaware Park to see how the horse looked. He was ineligible to claim at Delaware, so he couldn’t put up the $40,000. But when he saw the horse in for $35,000 in his next start, he took him.

“The main thing was you’re always wondering why they gave him time off?” Chatterpaul said. “But every time he’s come back from his time off, he runs a big number.”

Chatterpaul said the Man o’ War was his immediate goal after he claimed the horse last year. In that race, Mission Approved led for virtually every step but the last, when he was run down by Gio Ponti.

“It took a champion to beat him,” Chatterpaul said. “I was thrilled and happy, but at the same time you hate to get beat at the wire.”

Chatterpaul said Mission Approved stepped on himself training up to the Sword Dancer last summer at Saratoga and he gave the horse all the time he needed to have it heal up. Though he could have run him in the Red Smith at Aqueduct in November, he decided against it.

Chatterpaul said Mission Approved will now be pointed to the $600,000 Man o’ War on July 9, where he will once again face Gio Ponti.

Christophe Clement, trainer of Gio Ponti, said his horse came out of his third-place finish in the Manhattan in good order and that the Man o’War is the “logical next step.”

Trappe Shot, It’s Tricky point to Grade 1’s

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin enjoyed a productive 40 minutes or so Saturday, winning the Grade 1 Acorn with It’s Tricky and the Grade 2 True North Handicap in back-to-back races.

McLaughlin said Monday that It’s Tricky, who won the Acorn by 3 3/4 lengths while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 105, will point to the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 23. McLaughlin doesn’t fear stretching out from a one-turn mile to a two-turn 1 1/8-mile race.

“Being by Mineshaft, I don’t think that’s an issue,” he said.

Meanwhile, Trappe Shot put in a performance that could have him mentioned with the top sprinters in the country. He won the True North by 8 1/2 lengths and ran six furlongs in 1:08.86 while earning a 112 Beyer. McLaughlin said Trappe Shot would be pointed to the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga on Aug. 7.

“It’s important for him to win a Grade 1, because he is a Grade 1 horse,” McLaughlin said.

Trappe Shot was a talented 3-year-old, winning the Long Branch Stakes and running second to Lookin At Lucky in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth. His connections agonized on whether to run in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop or the 1 1/4-mile Travers. He ran in the Travers, where he finished ninth as the favorite before getting the remainder of the year off.

He returned with a half-length victory over D’ Funnybone in an overnight stakes at Belmont before the True North.

Justin Phillip eyes Saratoga

Though Nehro came out of his fourth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes with an ankle chip, Saturday wasn’t a total loss for owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Steve Asmussen. That duo teamed up to win the Grade 2 Woody Stephens with Justin Phillip, who went gate to wire to win by 3 1/4 lengths over the sloppy track.

Trainer Steve Asmussen said the horse came out of the race in good order and would remain in New York, where he will be pointed to the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga on Aug. 27. A decision has yet to be made whether he would prep in the Amsterdam Stakes earlier in the month.

“He will stay in New York and probably go to Saratoga at the end of the month,” said Asmussen, who plans to ship horses upstate by the end of June. “Obviously, we’re digesting [Nehro’s] news a little bit more than talking about this. The Belmont could have worked out better for Mr. Z, but at least he still won a nice race.”

Life At Ten, Unrivaled Belle rematch is on

Life At Ten and Unrivaled Belle will renew their rivalry in Saturday’s Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap.

Life At Ten defeated Unrivaled Belle by 2 3/4 lengths in last year’s Ogden Phipps and by two lengths in last year’s Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont in the fall. Unrivaled Belle exacted revenge by winning the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Churchill, while Life At Ten trailed throughout and finished last.

On Monday, both mares put in workouts over the Belmont Park training track. Unrivaled Belle worked four furlongs in 48.04 seconds by herself, while Life At Ten went a half-mile in 47.93 in company with the 3-year-old colt Queen’splatekitten.

Todd Pletcher, trainer of Life At Ten, also plans to enter Awesome Maria and Super Espresso in the Phipps. Awesome Maria, winner of the Grade 2 Shuvee in her last start, worked four furlongs in 49.16 by herself, while Super Espresso, winner of the Allaire duPont Distaff at Pimlico last out, worked a half-mile in 47.66 in company with Happy Week.

Others pointing to the race are Absinthe Minded and Payton d’Oro. Tiz Miz Sue is possible.