Why I'm Betting Channel Maker in the Man o' War Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 9th, 2019

Three straight defeats have befallen #8 Channel Maker since he won the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) in gate-to-wire fashion at Belmont Park last fall.  But perhaps a return to Belmont for Saturday’s $700,000 Man o’ War Stakes (G1) will trigger a rebound.

An honest pace could enhance Channel Maker’s chances in this 1 3/8-mile turf event. Throughout his career the son of English Channel has struggled with rating behind slow fractions. With the notable exception of the Joe Hirsch, Channel Maker is typically wrangled into pace-tracking positions, and when the fractions are slow—as they were in the Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park last month, in which Channel Maker finished a close fourth—he fights his rider, refuses to settle and wastes energy.

Fortunately for Channel Maker the pace should be fair in the Man o’ War. #3 Village King likes to race on the lead, and the California shipper #7 Epical—fresh off a gate-to-wire win in the San Luis Rey (G2) at Santa Anita—should guarantee Village King doesn’t shake loose on a slow pace.

If Channel Maker is able to settle in the Man o’ War, we should see an improved performance. The return to the wide, sweeping course at Belmont should help too. The smaller turf courses at tracks like Gulfstream and Churchill Downs seem less ideal for Channel Maker, who has excelled at large courses like Belmont, Saratoga and Woodbine. Best of all, his recent defeats should ensure a good price in the wagering.

A simple win bet will be my primary play, but the exotics also offer appeal. I’m intrigued by #9 Kulin Rock, who finished ahead of Channel Maker by a neck in the Mac Diarmida. Kulin Rock had a tricky trip, sitting inside and behind horses through slow early fractions, but still managed to unleash a solid kick to finish third by a length. He came back to win a 1 1/2-mile allowance race at Keeneland while overcoming yet another slow pace, so I’m curious to see what this up-and-coming Mike Maker-trained gelding can do if he gets a fair pace to chase.

Speaking of slow paces, #6 Focus Group encountered a poor setup in the Pan American Stakes (G2), but overcame the obstacle to rally and win by a neck for top trainer Chad Brown. Adding further depth to the Man o' War field is #2 Zulu Alpha, who won the Mac Diarmida, while Irish conditioner Aidan O’Brien will be represented by #1 Hunting Horn (third in the Belmont Derby here last summer) and #5 Magic Wand (runner-up in the Pegasus World Cup Turf in January).

This race is competitive, and you can make a case for any horse in the field. In addition to my win bet, I’ll key Channel Maker in the exacta with Zulu Alpha, Magic Wand, Focus Group, Epical and Kulin Rock:

$15 to win on #8 Channel Maker $1 exacta: 8 with 2,5,6,7,9 ($5) $2 exacta: 2,5,6,7,9 with 8 ($10)

Good luck!