John Murrell’s Zhukova shipped over from Ireland in the hopes of scoring her first Grade 1 win in Saturday’s Man o’ War Stakes for trainer Dermot Weld, whose late mother bred the mare. The 5-year-old daughter of Fastnet Rock had little trouble doing just that in the soft going at Belmont Park, carrying John Velazquez to an open-length victory on the yielding inner turf course in a final time of 2:25.31 (nearly 14 full seconds off the race record). She is the first female to win the Man o’ War since Waya in 1978.
Zhukova broke well and was content to do exactly as Velazquez asked of her through the first seven-eighths of a mile, which was to lay just off the incredibly slow pace set down by frontrunner Charming Kitten. With splits of :27.47, :56.45, 1:24.16 and 1:49.69 for the quarter, half, six-furlong and one mile fractions, the entire field of five was covered by just three lengths until the approach of the stretch run. Charming Kitten was a length in front of Zhukova, and a length behind her it was the three-wide group of Sadler’s Joy, Wake Forest and Taghleeb.
In the far turn Velazquez asked Zhukova for a bit more and she easily surpassed Charming Kitten to take the lead. As she changed leads at the head of the stretch, Velazquez asked her just one more time and she burst away from the field with a giant turn of foot to be open lengths in front at the eighth pole. He simply hand-rode her from there to cross the wire at least six lengths in front. Taghleeb just held second over Sadler’s Joy, and Charming Kitten stayed on for fourth.
Bred in Ireland by Dermot Weld’s mother, the mare out of a daughter of Galileo did not meet her reserve at the Tattersalls yearling sale when bidding stopped at just over $ 900,000. Now, Zhukova has seven wins from nine career starts on two continents, including her first Grade 1 in the Man o’ War. The victory boosts her overall earnings to approximately $ 480,000.
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