Optimizer Pursues His Grade 1 Win
Posted by Brian Appleton on July 11, 2013
I’ve become a much bigger fan of Optimizer this year than I ever was during his 2012 sophomore campaign. His record wasn’t the greatest that year and certainly wouldn’t have scared away any competition with only two wins and three additional on-the-board finishes in graded stakes races, but he ran 14 times in a single year. That’s more than many horses run during their entire careers at the top of this game so I think it’s fair to call Optimizer a rugged, talented and hard running throwback. He’s run 7 times already this year, beginning with two impressive back-to-back wins in the Grade 3 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap and Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap. After a 4th and 4th place finish in the Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Handicap (Gr.2) and Oaklawn Handicap (Gr.2) respectively, Optimizer came back alive with a fantastic runner-up finish to reigning horse of the year Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day. After that he finished third, less than a length behind victorious Skyring in the Dixie Stakes (Gr.2) after a tight trip on the inside. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed, but each time he’s faced the best this year, he’s run his best and his runner-up finish to Point of Entry in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap on June 8th was no exception.
The Grade 1 Man ‘O’ War Stakes at Belmont Park offers the perfect opportunity for Optimizer to finally seize his elusive Grade 1 win. There’s no Wise Dan or Point of Entry to contend with and what’s more I think he’s a perfect fit for the 1 1/8 mile turf distance. This should be Optimizer’s race to lose.
His biggest challenge could come from the Shug McGaughey trained Boisterous, recent winner of the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes on June 9th and runner-up in the Bel Ali Stakes (Gr.3) to Successful Dan in his two starts this year. He finished 2012 with consecutive victories in the Knickerbocker Stakes (Gr.3) and Red Smith Handicap (Gr.2) followed by a runner-up finish in the River City Handicap (Gr.3). He seems to be improving with age and maturity and posted two good 4 furlong works in preparation for the Man ‘O’ War Stakes.
The rest of the field seems like a distant third to me. Al Khali has a resume packed with Graded stakes experience, but he hasn’t won a graded stakes race since taking the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap on September 11th, 2010. Finnegans Wake and Twilight Eclipse finished 4th and 5th respectively in the Manhattan Reserve Handicap (Gr.1) behind Point of Entry and Optimizer. Of the two, Twilight Eclipse is the more accomplished, having won the Pan American Stakes (Gr.2) on March 23rd and the W. L. McKnight Handicap (Gr.2) last November. Exclusive Strike enters off two straight allowance scores, but both races were run in slow times and I think he’s a bit out of his league.