ELMONT, N.Y. - Multiple graded stakes winner Kaigun will look to establish himself as a dominating force in this year's turf male division, facing eight rivals in the first Grade 1 of Belmont Park's spring/summer meet, the $400,000 Man o' War at 1 3/8 miles on the inner turf on Saturday.
The ultra-consistent Kaigun, the most seasoned runner of the field with six wins from 29 lifetime races and over $1.4 million in earnings, hasn't finished worse than second in his past six starts, all against graded stakes competition. Trained by Mark Casse, the gelding kicked off his 6-year-old season with a pair of runner-up finishes in the Grade 3 John B. Connally at Sam Houston in January and the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park in March.
Kaigun broke through in the Grade 2 Pan American on April 2, splitting rivals at the top of the lane and gamely outdueling fellow Man o' War entrant Wake Forest to win by a head. Kaigun turned back on three weeks' rest in the Grade 2 Elkhorn on April 23 at Keeneland, coming up a half-length short.
"He seems to be a horse that the more you run him, the better he is and he just missed in the Elkhorn," said Norm Casse, assistant trainer to his father Mark. "I'm not saying that we could've beat [Da Big Hoss] that day, but he had a little bit better trip than we did, and that's kind of Kaigun. Kaigun's sometimes a difficult horse to ride. You've got to time your move right on him, and he gets beat sometimes by circumstances, but he always runs well."
An Ontario-bred son of Northern Afleet, Kaigun finished second in the 2014 Grade 1 Manhattan at odds of 16-1 in his only try over the Belmont inner grass.
"He's run up there before and we know he likes the Belmont turf course," said Casse. "He's doing good and so I would expect him to run well again at Belmont."
Installed at 5-2 on the morning line, Kaigun will depart from post 7 with regular jockey Joe Bravo aboard.
Kaigun will face a trio of runners from trainer Chad Brown in Wake Forest, Morandi and Money Multiplier. The German-bred Wake Forest finished sixth in his North American debut for Brown in the Grade 1 Arlington Million last summer and rallied late to finish second to Kaigun in the Pan American in his 2016 debut. Wake Forest will break under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez from the outside post 9 as the mild 2-1 favorite on the morning line.
Set to break from the inside, Morandi will take a shot at a stakes for the first time in more than two years. A French-bred son of Holy Roman Emperor, Morandi returned from a nine-month layoff last month, finishing an even fifth to graded stakes winner Triple Threat under Javier Castellano in an allowance at Keeneland. Morandi, set at 8-1, will be retain the services of Castellano.
Money Multiplier, owned by Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence, picked up his first victory on the grass in his last start, winning a first-level allowance race on April 15 at Aqueduct. Irad Ortiz, Jr. gets the mount aboard the Lookin At Lucky ridgling. At 15-1 on the morning line, the pair will leave from post 2.
Campaigned over nine different surfaces in as many career starts, WinStar Farm's well-traveled Closing Bell will make his first local start since finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby last July. One of two entrants from the Bill Mott barn, the 4-year-old Tapit colt is coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Handicap at Fair Ground on March 26 after finishing seventh on the dirt in his seasonal debut in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream in February. Closing Bell, 8-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by Jose Lezcano from post 4.
Rounding out the field for the Grade 1 Man o' War are fellow Mott trainee Go Around, recent winner of the Tampa Turf Classic for Florida-breds; Biz the Nurse, making his first start since July for owner John D'Amato and trainer Tom Albertrani; and a pair of Graham Motion trainees: Irish-bred Can'thelpbelieving and Sam-Son Farm homebred Up With the Birds.