With the Belmont Stakes the only leg of the Triple Crown remaining, Mane Minster is in good position to capture the $1 million bonus award.
The only horse to finish in the money in both the Kentucky Derby and yesterday's Preakness, a victory in the Belmont would clinch the windfall for Mane Minister, who has defied the odds two races in a row.
Sent off at $18.90-to-1 in the Preakness, he finished a respectable third for the second time in a row and remained third in the bonus derby (based on a 10-5-3-1 system for first-through-fourth finishes) with six points. Strike the Gold and Hansel have 10 apiece.
"I think the owners will probably go to the Belmont,: said trainer Juan Gonzalez. "I don't think the distance (1 1/2 miles) will bother him. It looks like he can run all day."
Mane Minister broke alertly and was fulfilling the pre-race plan of laying just off the pace set by the speed horses, Corporate Report and Olympio.
But suddenly he was "bouncing" on the track and began dropping back.
"The plan was not to let those horses go too far in front," said Gonzalez. "But he wasn't handling the track and horses were passing him. I thought we were going to be last the way he was falling back."
Then jockey Alex Solis took his mount away from the rail and found better going. Mane Minister rallied just as he had in the Derby when he went five wide to make his move.
"At least he tried," said Solis. "He improved in this race. He just didn't get hold of the track, but in the last eighth of a mile I got him in the clear and I knew he could run."
A bargain purchase at $93,000, Mane Minister still is paying dividends for Canadian owners Trudy McCaffrey and John Toffan, who have owned horses together for less than two years.
"I like this horse,: said Solis. "He's very strong. He improved again in this race."
Gonzalez, nicknamed Paco, did not saddle a winner as a trainer until last year. He is a former exercise rider who assisted trainer Joe Manzi until Manzi's death.
"There is no Lasix in New York," said Gonzalez. "But this horse is not really a bad bleeder. The first time he bled (after the San Rafael Handicap), it wasn't really too bad. So, I think the owners will decide to run." With $1 million on the line, the chances are Mane Minister is in. After it's a good bet he'll be lightly regarded again.
"If he had handled the track in the first part yesterday, this would have been a different race," said Gonzalez. "But Hansel is a good horse."
Gonzalez said he "was surprised" at Hansel's performance "because of the way he ran in the Derby, plus that 14-hour trip in the van here this week. All those things. But give him credit. He's a good horse."