OCEANPORT, New Jersey -- He didn't even win a stakes race, but Money Multiplier quietly ranked among the best 1 1/2-mile grass horses in North America during 2016. And if his 2017 debut Sunday in the Grade 2, $200,000 Monmouth Stakes was any indication, perhaps there are even better things to come this year.
"He was knocking on the door of being a multiple Grade 1 winner last year," trainer Chad Brown said. "Maybe this is his year."
Money Multiplier obviously will face stronger opposition as his campaign unfolds, starting with his expected next start in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga, but the circumstances of his victory Sunday suggested the horse came back from a layoff of more than eight months at least as good as he was a year ago.
Brown said his eye has long been on the Sword Dancer, and that the timing of the Monmouth Stakes as well as his horse's level of conditioning made the race an appealing comeback spot.
"A mile and an eighth is about what he was up to fitness-wise," Brown said.
But Money Multiplier probably is best going 12 furlongs, not the nine of the Monmouth Stakes, and a walking pace turned Sunday's race into a tricky, tactical affair.
Smooth Daddy made the lead and ran his first quarter (with a tailwind) in 25.34 seconds. The half went on a glacial 50.24, and aboard Money Multiplier, who was growing more anxious by the stride, jockey Javier Castellano had seen enough. He let his mount out a notch, took to the outside, and cruised up before the half-mile pole to challenge for the lead.
"You have to play it by ear, use your best judgment," Castellano said of his early move. "I tried to cover him up a little bit the best I can. His first race since the Breeders' Cup, you don't want to move too early, but the pace was very, very slow. I had to let him go a little bit to try and let him run his race. And he did."
Indeed, Money Multiplier took the measure of Smooth Daddy before turning for home and had plenty left to fend off all challengers. He went his final three furlongs in a fast 34.84 seconds and got his last furlong in 11.62 to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Irish Strait, the older brother to Haskell runner Irish War Cry, got shuffled back when Castellano made his early move, but stayed on well enough to finish second, 1 1/2-lengths in front of Kharafa, who ran decently for third. Then came Smooth Daddy, Thatcher Street, and Bolting.
Money Multiplier was timed in 1:47.91 over firm turf and paid $3.80 to win.
Owned by Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence, Money Multiplier is a 5-year-old ridgling by Lookin at Lucky and out of the Unbridled's Song mare Intensify. A half-brother to Risen Star Stakes winner Intense Holiday, he was bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall and Haymarket Farm. Money Multiplier has now won four of 15 starts, and though he has been effective in top company, this was his first stakes win.
Last year, Money Multiplier was second in the Grade 1 Man o' War, second in the Grade 1 United Nations, and second in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer. He failed to run to form on soft turf in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and came out of a sub-par sixth in the Breeders' Cup Turf with cannon bone bruising. His connections gave Money Multiplier a good long break to get right again, and, in a long-distance, older-male turf division looking for a leader right now, he could pay them back handsomely the rest of this season.