Hambletonian Oaks champion Manchego delivered a stunning 1:51.4 stakes record performance to defeat Hambletonian champion Atlanta in Friday’s $136,000 Casual Breeze at Woodbine Mohawk Park. The superstar fillies were squaring off for the first time in 2018 and Manchego was sent off the very slight favorite over Atlanta in the field of 10.
Manchego and driver Yannick Gingras left strong from post eight, while Atlanta and driver Scott Zeron showed their usual early speed from post three. Driver Trevor Henry decided to mix things up by firing longshot Smoke And Mirrors towards the lead and kept Manchego out going around the first turn, as Zeron took back to settle third.
The Jimmy Takter trained Manchego cleared to the top just strides after leading by three-quarters of a length at the opening quarter in :27.3. The Hambletonian Oaks champion continued to trot strong for the next eighth of a mile before Gingras tapped the breaks to grab a comfortable :28.4 second quarter.
Atlanta was angled from the three-hole heading into the far turn, while Gingras and Manchego began to ramp up the tempo. Smoke And Mirrors gapped in the two-hole, which allowed Zeron to drop in with Atlanta and power up for the stretch battle. Manchego reached three-quarters in 1:24.1 with a 1 1/2-length lead on Atlanta.
In the stretch, Manchego continued her powerful ways and didn’t allow Atlanta to get any closer than her wheel. The Takter trainee trotted a :27.3 final quarter to defeat Atlanta by 1 3/4 lengths in a Canadian record equaling 1:51.4. Sorceress Seelster, who sat fourth most of the mile, finished 11 lengths back in third, while Blonde Magic was 12 lengths behind the winner in fourth.
Friday’s matchup between Manchego and Atlanta was months in the making. Manchego entered the season as the top filly after an undefeated rookie campaign. Atlanta made an immediate impact to start her sophomore season and eventually successfully took on the boys in the Hambletonian, while Manchego beat the fillies in the Oaks.
"Everybody was talking about Atlanta and rightfully so, she’s a great filly too, but I never lost confidence in mine and all along I thought I had the best filly," said Gingras following the victory. "It’s just one matchup; they’ll meet up again many times, but my filly was super strong tonight."
Gingras noted in the winner’s circle that the race didn’t play out like he imagined but didn’t think the outcome would’ve been any different with opposite trips.
"I thought I would maybe get away second behind him, but of course when I was able to grab the lead I was happy about that. I think either way, at least tonight, even if he cut the mile I’d have beat him anyway."
A daughter of Muscle Hill, Manchego improved to 18 wins and nearly $1.4 million earned in 21 career starts for owners Black Horse Racing, John Fielding and Herb Liverman. She has now won six of nine this season and remains undefeated in three starts at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Rick Zeron trainee Atlanta suffered just her second loss in eight starts this season. The Chapter Seven filly’s only prior defeat was a second in the first heat of the Hambletonian, which she followed up with an impressive victory in the final.
Manchego and Atlanta are both eligible to next Friday’s Simcoe Stakes, which is followed by the Elegantimage Stakes eliminations on Sept. 8. Competing in all three events would mean four consecutive weeks of racing, leaving a strong possibility one or both could skip next week’s event.
A $2 win ticket on Manchego returned $3.60. (WEG)