06/06/2009 12:00AM

Munnings delivers swift kick in stretch

Email

ELMONT, N.Y. - From the day he won his debut by more than four lengths at Saratoga last July, Munnings seemed destined to be a graded stakes winner.

It took 11 months, but Munnings met his destiny Saturday at Belmont Park, using an explosive kick in upper stretch to split horses and draw clear to a 5 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2, $250,000 Woody Stephens Stakes for 3-year-olds.

Everyday Heroes suffered his first defeat, but held second by a head over Kensei. They were followed in the order of finish by Hull, This Ones for Phil, Gone Astray, Hello Broadway, and Triumphant Flight.

Munnings's final time of 1:20.63 for seven furlongs over a fast-playing main track was the second fastest of 25 editions of this race. You and I won it in 1:20.33 in 1994 when it was known as the Riva Ridge. The track record is 1:20.17, set by Left Bank, who has the same connections as Munnings.

Under John Velazquez, Munnings sat an inside stalking trip while Everyday Heroes and Triumphant Flight dueled through fractions of 22.32 seconds and 45.01. Approaching the quarter pole, Velazquez was behind a wall of horses, but turning for home, the sea parted and Munnings split Everyday Heroes and Triumphant Flight and cruised home an impressive winner. Munnings, who as a 2-year-old finished third in the Hopeful and second in the Champagne, returned $9 as the third choice.

"He's promised us something like that for a while. It's nice to see it happen," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Munnings for Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith. "I tell you what, he kicked big time today."

This Ones for Phil, the 9-5 favorite, was forced in tight along the rail by Munnings outside the quarter pole and did little running after that, checking in fifth.

"I thought it was a good spot to slide up into, and John's horse came over just a little bit, made it a little tight on him, and when he made it a little tight my horse got a little timid," said Garrett Gomez, the rider of This Ones for Phil. "After that he didn't do too much running."

Pletcher said his major goal for the summer with Munnings is the Gradeo1 King's Bishop at Saratoga on Aug. 29. He said he may run him in the Dwyer here on July 4 at 1 1/16 miles before then.