When Todd Beattie scratched morning-line favorite Fabulous Strike out of Sunday's Grade 2 Tom Fool Handicap, he noted his respect for the 3-year-old Munnings and his uneasiness about spotting that horse 11 pounds going seven furlongs.
Beattie's fears proved well-founded as Munnings put on another dazzling display, sliding through an opening along the rail turning for home under John Velazquez and charging to a 2 1/4-length victory in the $200,000 Tom Fool at Belmont Park. Riley Tucker finished second by 3 1/4 lengths over Driven by Success, who was 15 lengths clear of The Last Wave. Muninngs paid $3.30.
Munnings added the Tom Fool to his eye-catching 5 1/4-length victory in last month's Grade 2 Woody Stephens and should set him up well for next month's Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga.
"He's doing so good now, I wish the King's Bishop was the first week [of August]," said Pletcher, who trains Munnings.
Munnings, a son of champion sprinter Speightstown, became just the fourth 3-year-old in the 35-year history of the Tom Fool to win the race. He joined Plugged Nickle (1980), Groovy (1987) and Trippi (2000). The latter was trained by Pletcher.
Pletcher had mixed emotions about the scratch of Fabulous Strike. On one hand it took a multiple graded stakes winner out of the field. On the other hand, it took a primary speed out of the mix as well, leaving Driven by Success as potentially the main speed.
But Riley Tucker was quicker than Driven by Success and those two dueled through a quarter of 22.10 seconds and a half-mile in 44.47 seconds. Munnings was a stalking third, always within two lengths of the lead.
Turning into the stretch, Riley Tucker drifted off the rail, and Velazquez shot Munnings through the opening on the inside. He then drew clear under a vigorous hand ride for the victory. Munnings' final time of 1:21.08 was the fourth fastest Tom Fool behind the Pletcher-trained Left Bank (a track record 1:20.17 in 2002), Ghostzapper (1:20.42 in 2004), and Banker's Gold (1:21.04 in 1998). Munnings is owned by Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.
"Any time a horse that's won 13 races comes out it's good, but this horse is so good right now I think he'd make anybody run for their money going seven-eighths or maybe even further," said Pletcher. "He's just in great form right now, he's put it all together now. He's always shown us that kind of ability, but it's nice that he's developed into a professional horse."
While Munnings points to the King's Bishop, Beattie said that Fabulous Strike will point to the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 9.