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Arc Hope Al Riffa Targets Transatlantic Trip for Manhattan Mission at Belmont Stakes Racing Festival

Jamie Clark
Al Riffa goes for the Manhattan Stakes

Joseph O’Brien is no stranger to success at the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and favors the World Resorts Casino Manhattan Stakes over targets closer to home or in Ireland for Al Riffa.

As the son of legendary racehorse trainer Aidan O’Brien, he has seen and knows how targeting races across the pond can bear fruit. Joseph saddled Baron Samedi to victory in the Belmont Gold Cup of 2021 with John Velazquez aboard.

Later that same summer, his Irish barn sent out the globetrotting State Of Rest to Saratoga Derby glory. O’Brien junior earlier enjoyed a breakthrough Breeders’ Cup success with Iridessa in the Filly & Mare Turf of 2019.

Alongside race planner Kevin Blake, he is plotting a program for Al Riffa working backwards from Europe’s richest race, the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Held at Longchamp in Paris, France on the first Sunday in October, the mile-and-a-half (2,400m) turf race is the ultimate aim for the syndicate of owners behind the four-year-old colt.

Manhattan “Conditions Suit” Al Riffa

Rather than contest the Tattersalls Gold Cup on home soil on May 26, Coronation Cup at Epsom on May 31 or races at Royal Ascot in June, O’Brien now prepares to unleash his promising son of Wootton Bassett in the Grade I Manhattan Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

“Al Riffa is going to Saratoga for the Manhattan Stakes on June 8,” he told the Racing Post. “He ran really well in France on his first run back, [but] just got a bit tired late on.

“The race didn’t set up perfectly for him. He gets a 7lb allowance in America as he didn’t win a Group race last year, so the conditions suit him.

“He could end up in an Eclipse if it went well. We’re dreaming that he could be an Arc horse in the autumn, but we’ll try to win a Group 1 before that.”

Eclipse & Arc Bids Also on Agenda

Al Riffa got closer than any other horse to last year’s French Derby (Prix du Jockey Club) and Arc hero Ace Impact. He went down by three-quarters of a length in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano at Deauville on the Normandy Coast.

A Group 1 winner as a two-year-old, Al Riffa suffered setbacks and missed out on the British, Irish and French Classics last season. He ran fourth when again beaten by three-quarters of a length on his reappearance in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp on April 28.

This season’s Manhattan Stakes is over a reduced distance of 9.5 furlongs (1,900m) on the Belmont Stakes schedule and main Festival day. Top level races very much look as though they are in Al Riffa’s future, who could use Saratoga as a springboard to even greater things.

The Coral-Eclipse at Sandown Park on July 6 is a race where horses from different generations collide. If Al Riffa runs there after the Manhattan, he must give weight for age to any three-year-olds in the lineup.

Jamie Clark

After more than a decade of picking winners for the biggest races on the planet, pro handicapper Jamie Clark has been involved with our Belmont Stakes project right from the start. A thoroughbred pedigree expert, he has the knowledge of all the horses taking part in this and other major events across the USA and beyond.