Red Knight earns his Grade 1 in Man o’ War

Saturday, May 13th, 2023

Red Knight joins rare company with Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes victory Saturday at Belmont Park. Janet Garaguso/NYRA Photo.

Red Knight put his name in the history books in January when he joined the likes of Affirmed Success, Evening Attire and Kona Gold with a graded stakes victory at age 9. He took things to another level Saturday at Belmont Park when he joined an even smaller group of Grade 1-winning 9-year-olds with a victory in the $600,000 Man o’ War Stakes.

Trinity Farm’s homebred son of Pure Prize, who also became the 86th New York-bred Grade 1 winner, joined legends John Henry, Super Diamond, John’s Call and The Tin Man as 9-year-old Grade 1 winners with his decisive score in the 11-furlong Man o’ War. Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., Red Knight won by 1 1/2 lengths over Soldier Rising with the odds-on favorite Warren Point a non-threatening fifth in the field of eight.

“He’s a great gift from above; he really is. It’s amazing,” Trinity Farm’s Tom Egan. “… We’ve been to Colonial Downs with Red, to Kentucky Downs, Keeneland, Gulfstream Park, back to Keeneland. But here, Belmont Park, seems like home to me. And I know Red has raced here 10 times himself so it’s like home to him also. I like New York racing the best. The grass course here is very fair. It’s not a speedball thing and you don’t have to come from 40 lengths out of it. There’s a lot of [good] things about New York racing.”

Red Knight also picked up $330,000 in the Man o’ War to boost his bankroll to $1,717,763 and vault into 15th position on the list of all-time leading New York-bred earners. Red Knight also extended a streak of 14 straight years with at least one New York-bred Grade 1 winner.

“I was very impressed, as always,” winning trainer Mike Maker said. “He’s just a hard-knocking horse who loves his job.”

Second by a diminishing head in his last start in the Grade 2 Elhorn Stakes April 22 at Keeneland, Red Knight went off as the 5-1 second choice behind European import Warren Point in the Man o’ War. Ortiz, who rode Red Knight to victory in the Grade 3 William L. McKnight two starts back at Gulfstream Park, allowed the chestnut gelding to settle at the back of the field as former Eclipse Award winner Channel Maker set the pace in :23.54, :49.18 and 1:15.06 over the firm inner turf course.

Channel Maker, also attempting to become a Grade 1 winner at age 9, still led past the mile split in 1:38.69 while coming under pressure from Strong Tide, Warren Point and Howe Street. Warren Point and jockey Frankie Dettori, the 3-5 favorites who broke a step slow, made a wide run around the far turn to get into contention. Ortiz followed that move, first on the backstretch and then on the far turn before angling around the field in the lane.

“I let him be happy and find his stride and then after that, he just take me,” Ortiz said. “He started taking me from the five-eighths pole to the quarter-pole waiting for the time to go and when I asked him he responded really well.”

Red Knight rolled past Warren Point and Strong Tide at the sixteenth pole and opened up to win going away. Soldier Rising, the 7-1 third choice, rallied late for the place spot, a head in front of Strong Tide. How Street, Warren Point, Channel Maker, Verstappen and Value Engineering completed the field. Red Knight won in 2:13.74.

“I was hoping he would move a little earlier than usual,” Ortiz said. “He’s a big horse and has a huge stride and it was in my mind I wanted to let him go a little earlier, but I was stuck there. By the five-eighths pole, Frankie’s horse started to pick it up a little bit, so I tried to follow him and my horse was doing it easy so I don’t get in his way. By the quarter pole, he was already in stride. I just bided my time and tipped him out and he did the rest.”

Red Knight and his connections soak in another graded stakes victory Saturday at Belmont Park. NYRA Photo.

The Man o’ War victory came in Red Knight’s second try in a Grade 1. He finished 11th in his only other attempt at the top level, in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland Race Course.

Egan joked in January, after Red Knight won the McKnight on the Pegasus World Cup undercard, that perhaps the ask was too big in the Breeders’ Cup.

“He doesn’t need that and I don’t either,” Egan said.

Egan and his late wife Jaye bred Red Knight in the name of their Trinity Farm out of the late Skip Away mare Isabel Away. They bought Isabel Away for $60,000 at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale and raced her in their yellow and royal blue colors to a 1-4-1 record in 11 starts and $71,149 in earnings.

Foaled at Keane Stud in Amenia, Red Knight is one of five winners produced Isabel Away. She also produced multiple stakes winner and $654,981-earner Macagone, $252,002-earner Birchwood Road, Jaye Jaye and Rossellini. Each of the winners were bred in New York by Trinity Farm.

Unraced at 2, Red Knight improved to 12-9-1 from 34 starts. He added the Man o’ War to prior stakes wins in the 2018 H. Allen Jerkens at Gulfstream, 2019 Point of Entry at Belmont, 2020 Grade 3 Sycamore at Keeneland, 2022 Colonial Cup at Colonial Downs, 2022 Grade 2 Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes at Kentucky Downs and the McKnight. He’s also placed in eight stakes during his career.

The Grade 1 Manhattan on the Belmont Stakes Day undercard June 10 could be next for Red Knight, although Maker wasn’t ready to fully commit.

“It’s too early to say,” Maker said. “We wheeled him back a little quicker than we would have liked to today, but it paid off. Having said that, if he tells us he wants to run then we’ll be there.”

Egan left the decision to his trainer, who took over the gelding’s training at the start of the 2022 season and has won four times from seven starts.

“Whatever Mike says,” Egan said. “The Manhattan is obviously a great race. The thing about having a 9-year-old is that he does he need to go to a farm for two to three weeks just to clear his head.”

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