Keying Hi Happy in the Man o' War Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 10th, 2018

If you’re looking for a handicapping challenge, I encourage you to test your skills on Saturday’s $700,000 Man o’ War Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park.

Held at 1 3/8-miles on turf, the Man o’ War has attracted a highly competitive field of ten accomplished horses. The problem is, you can argue that some of these horses may have peaked a year or two ago, making it difficult to predict how well they might run on Saturday.

Among the contenders who might arguably be winding down a bit are #5 Wake Forest, winner of the Man o’ War in 2016 but only one more race since then, and #10 Money Multiplier, who counts just one win on his record since the summer of 2016.

That’s why I’m tempted to take a shot with a horse that is arguably in career-best form—the six-year-old #7 Hi Happy. In his native Argentina, the son of Pure Prize was a sensation in 2015, rattling off wins in the Group 1 Gran Premio Jockey Club, Gran Premio Nacional, and the Carlos Pellegrini, with the latter being a prestigious 1 ½-mile turf race open to older horses.

Hi Happy was subsequently brought to California, where he ran reasonably well in a series of graded stakes races on dirt and turf; notably, the closest he came to victory was a neck defeat in the 1 ½-mile Tokyo City Cup Stakes (gr. III), the longest race he contested out west.

Following a ten-month layoff, Hi Happy changed barns again, shipping to Florida to race for Todd Pletcher. In his 2018 debut, Hi Happy finished a solid third in the Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes (gr. I) going a mile and an eighth, a distance well short of his best. But that proved to be a perfect prep for the 1 ½-mile Pan American Stakes (gr. II), a race in which Hi Happy tracked the pace before seizing command and drawing off to win by 2 ¾ lengths, clearly relishing the added distance while posting a 101 BRIS speed figure.

You can argue that Hi Happy may have benefited from racing close to a slow pace in the Pan America, but the horse that he ran down to win—#9 One Go All Go—is no slouch and came right back to win the Elkhorn Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland, so it’s not as though Hi Happy received a dream trip in the Pan American—he had to work for it. I envision Hi Happy working out a similar trip on Saturday to prevail once again.

Let’s bet Hi Happy to win and key him in the exacta with #2 Sadler’s Joy and #8 Bigger Picture, Grade 1 winners that finished fourth and seventh in the Pan American while trying to rally from off the pace:

$10 to win on #7 Hi Happy $5 exacta: 7 with 2,8 ($10) $5 exacta: 2,8 with 7 ($10)

Good luck!