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Patience pays off for Manitoulin; will make second start of 2019 in Sunday’s Ky. Turf Cup at Ellis Park

By Alicia Hughes
Special to KyForward

Before he ever hit the ground and got the chance to make good on the purple bloodlines flowing through his chestnut frame, the two mantras that would sum up Manitoulin’s entire being were already set.

Patience and faith are preached by many learned horsemen but, in the case of the strong-bodied Phillips Racing Partnership homebred, holding dear to both traits has been an absolute necessity for all involved with the son of Awesome Again. His arrival into this world on March 17, 2013 was fraught with both characteristics as he was a born via a risky Cesarean section at Lexington’s Hagyard Equine Medical Institute to his champion dam, Soaring Softly. Having successfully emerged from that fragile start to life, Manitoulin decided to keep testing his connections’ conviction once he settled into life as a racehorse.

Manitoulin will make his second start of 2019 in the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Kentucky Turf Cup on Sunday. (Photo from NTRA)

He took six tries to break his maiden, teasing of greater talent while throwing attitude which – to that point – didn’t have the output to match. In hopes of bringing his innate ability to the surface, he was transformed from potential stallion prospect into regally-bred gelding before finally making the leap to graded-stakes winner when he captured the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes at Del Mar in November 2017.

“He is sort of the miracle child and has been a lot of fun even though his record is somewhat checkered,” said John Phillips, owner of Darby Dan Farm. “He has proven to be a lot of fun and of course for us, he was a sentimental horse given his dam. And so we put together a very fun group of people to say let’s go have some fun with him and keep him and race him until he says it’s time for him to retire from that activity.”

In his 6-year-old season, Manitoulin has his team counting on fortitude and hope to come through once more on his behalf. Having recently returned to action after nearly 10 months on the sidelines due to bone bruising in both ankles, the Michael Matz-trainee is set to make his second start of 2019 when he travels to Ellis Park this Sunday for the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Kentucky Turf Cup going 1 1/4 miles on grass.

When Manitoulin broke through in the Hollywood Turf Cup to earn his first graded triumph, he appeared to finally get his erratic ability and obstinate mind to meld in a manner that would pay dividends in the results column. Though he dropped his first two starts of 2018, one of those defeats was a fourth-place effort in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes where he was beaten just three-quarters of a length for the win and finished ahead of future Grade 1 Arlington Million hero Robert Bruce.

Manitoulin winning Del Mar’s Grade 2 Hollywood Gold Cup in 2017 under Mike Smith. (Benoit Photo, via NTRA)

There were no such silver linings to be found, however, in Manitoulin’s last two starts of his 5-year-old campaign – a pair of well-beaten, off-the-board outings in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes and Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup. When the bone bruising was ultimately diagnosed, a decision was also made to transfer Manitoulin from the barn of New York-based Jimmy Toner to Matz’s bucolic base at Fair Hills Training Center in Maryland in an effort to help the headstrong gelding go a little easier on himself.

“Jimmy Toner is still very much involved with the horse; he and Michael are friends so they’ve collaborated quite a bit,” Phillips said. “But for me it was an issue of with him having suffered some bone bruising, they have the artificial track there (at Fair Hill) and he is also able to do extensive exercise there on turf courses and the like there. It’s a much kinder environment, not that Belmont is brutal, but it’s simply an easier environment given his particular scenario.

“He’s not easy on himself,” Phillips continued about Manitoulin. “He’s kind of cantankerous and very much a bull in a china shop. So that environment just suited him better and we all agreed on that. That was just a good match with what he was experiencing and the way his temperament is.”

Some rust was evident in Manitoulin’s form during his first start off the layoff as he finished fifth in the 1 ½-miles Cape Henlopen Stakes at Delaware Park on July 6. If he takes steps forward in Sunday’s test, a return venture to Kentucky Downs should be the docket for this summer. The Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup on Sept. 7 carries a $1 million purse this year.

“Of course we take it one race at a time and he’ll tell us if he wants to go on with what is obviously going to be tough company (at Kentucky Downs), not that this race will be easy company,” Phillips said. “That would be certainly where we would strongly consider if he did well in this race.”

Dictating his own path has been Manitoulin’s modus operandi from his start in life. No matter what the rest of his career holds, his has already been a journey rich in both emotional and tangible rewards.

“We’ve got a really fun group that follows him and he’s taken us a lot of neat places,” Phillips said. “So hopefully we’ll continue that for another year or two.”

Alicia Hughes is the National Thoroughbred Racing Association director of communications

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