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May 08, 2015

Imagining seeks second straight Man o' War


Elmont, NY ( - Defending winner Imagining goes for a second straight victory in Saturday's $400,000 Man o' War Stakes, while also trying to give his connections their fourth consecutive win the 1 3/8-mile turf stakes at Belmont Park.

Owned by Phipps Stable and trained by Shug McGaughey, Imagining is the 9-5 morning line favorite versus six challengers. The 7-year-old chestnut horse will be ridden for the second straight race by Irad Ortiz Jr. and leave from the inside post.

Imagining won last year's Man o' War by three-quarters of a length, securing the third straight victory in the stakes for both owner and trainer. Phipps Stable and McGaughey won in 2013 with Boisterous after claiming the 2012 renewal with Point of Entry.

"(Whether or not he makes the lead again) depends on how the race comes up," said McGaughey. "He can be there, but I also think he likes a target. In both his races this year he's been (off the pace), so hopefully there'll be something in front of him."

The 7-year-old comes into the Man o' War off a win in Gulfstream Park's Pan American on March 28. That victory came almost two months after a close-up eighth-place finish, beaten less than three lengths, in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Feb. 7.

"His two races this winter were both good," said the Hall of Fame trainer. "In (the Gulfstream Park Turf) he didn't break good and got too far out of it, and when he made his run he kind of got blocked and was only beat a couple lengths. I thought his race in the Pan Am was as good a race as he can run."

Imagining has won half of his 10 lifetime starts at Belmont Park for $528,790 and overall has banked $1,095,394 with nine wins and five seconds in 22 career starts.

The 3-1 second program pick is Twilight Eclipse who will be ridden by Javier Castellano from post 4. The 6-year-old gelding is owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by Tom Albertrani.

Twilight Eclipse was third to Imagining in the Pan American after a season opening second in Gulfstream's Mac Diarmida. The 6-year-old will try to snap an eight-race losing streak. He has six wins, five seconds and four thirds from 23 lifetime starts for $1,347,986.

Arlington Million champ Hardest Core is the 4-1 third choice and will begin his 2015 season from post 6 with jockey Luis Saez reunited with the 5-year-old gelding. Hardest Core is owned by Andrew Bentley Stables and trained by Edward Graham.

"We were all surprised when he won the Arlington Million," said Graham. "We knew he was doing well, but winning a Grade 1 was surprising."

Hardest Core won last year's Million as an 11-1 longshot, but raced just once more in 2014, finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.

"The Breeders' Cup didn't set up for him," Graham added. "He was on the outside and didn't get a chance to get covered up; we knew right away he wasn't going to win.

"He seems good (right now); he's been in training since January and is training well. We thought it would be good to start him off in the Man o' War since it's close to home, and then we can go from there."

The gelding has earned $842,580 with wins in half of his 12 career starts.

From the rail out here is the field for the Man o' War: Imagining, Irad Ortiz Jr., 9-5; Hyper, John Velazquez, 10-1; War Dancer, Jose Lezcano, 12-1; Twilight Eclipse, Javier Castellano, 3-1; Comes the Dream; Junior Alvarado, 30-1; Hardest Core, Luis Saez, 4-1 and Dynamic Sky, Cornelio Velasquez, 5-1.

The Man o' War will go off at approximately 5:28 p.m. ET.

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