07/04/2014 6:09PM

Kaigun on verge of breakout race in United Nations

Barbara D. Livingston
Kaigun has come of age after being gelded midway through his 3-year-old season.

Kaigun has taken his game to a new level in his last three starts. It's possible he will finally be rewarded in Sunday's Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park.

Kaigun has always been a useful horse. He won three of his first nine starts, a Polytrack maiden and a turf allowance at Woodbine and a second-level optional claimer on the grass at Gulfstream Park in February.

But sometime during a seven-week freshening following his Florida win, Kaigun turned into a Grade 1 horse. He closed stoutly in the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile at Keeneland to finish lapped on victorious Wise Dan while well clear of the rest of the field.

In the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby Day, he finished fourth, again behind two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, beaten 1 1/4 lengths after a tricky inside trip in a 10-horse field.

Last time out, he rallied inside Real Solution in the stretch of the Grade 1 Manhattan but was outfinished by 1 1/4 lengths and had to settle for second. A length behind him in third was Seek Again, who had given Wise Dan a fierce battle in the Woodford Reserve, losing by a head.

It appears Grade 1 turf stakes are the new normal for Kaigun. And his trainer, Mark Casse, and principal owner, Gary Barber, know why.

"The key has been gelding him," Casse said Friday via telephone. "When he won the allowance race at Woodbine last summer, he washed out before the race. He was just a mess.

"After the race, I called Mr. Barber and said, 'I know he won, but we really need to geld him.' He said, 'Okay, let's do it.' "

Now, midway through his 4-year-old year, Kaigun is all racehorse. Focused, no distractions.

The United Nations will be the third consecutive start in which Kaigun stretches out a furlong in distance. The Maker's 46 is a mile, the Woodford is 1 1/8 miles, and the Manhattan is 1 1/4 miles. Sunday's U.N. is 1 3/8 miles.

"I'm not really sure what his best distance is," Casse said. "Maybe a mile and an eighth. I don't think it really matters. "He's been running hard. We just hope he keeps it up."

The United Nations is a wide-open race, and Kaigun is a top contender. The $500,000 stakes would be a perfect time for him to break through.

"I have to think we have a big chance," Casse said. "There's no Wise Dan in there."