He was a modest Florida-bred and $28,000 RNA at the OBS October Mixed Sale as a weanling in 2008. Ten months later, he sold as a yearling for $1,000, the ticket signed by Rey de Oros – Jose L. Ramirez. The colt’s first start came in the 2010 Saratoga Special-G2. He won back-to-back renewals of Gulfstream Park’s Florida Sunshine Millions Turf Stakes, ran – and won – on the flat and over jumps before retiring at age 11 with more than $500,000 earned.
The story of Manchurian High is a book full of interesting chapters, and no one is better equipped to tell it than Forrest Kelly, who owns the 14-year-old gelding with his wife, Lia.
“He’s one of the most opinionated horses,” Kelly said. “Everything has to be his way. The personality on him is incredible.”
Greg Norman bred the chestnut son of The Daddy, winner of the 2005 Super Derby. Norman owned the stallion and the mare, the unraced Corredor’s Wind, by El Corredor. Manchurian High was foaled on March 18, 2008. He and his dam were based at the Florida farm of trainer Jena Antonucci after the OBS sale when Will Phipps was shopping for prospects for Bluegrass Empire Stables. Antonucci mentioned she had some youngsters on her farm, and Phipps went to check them out.
“I loved him immediately,” Phipps said. “We bought both him and his dam.”
The new trainer and owner thought enough of 2-year-old Manchurian High to point him toward a Saratoga debut. When the 2010 Saratoga Special-G2 came up light, the connections chose it for the colt’s first race. Phipps called it “a logical gamble.” Manchurian High finished third in a four-horse field, earning a graded placing in his debut and making Corredor’s Wind a stakes producer.
Manchurian High broke his maiden for Phipps and company that December, and remained in their barn until he was claimed for $30,000 by J.B. Secor and No Palla Stables at Colonial Downs in June 2011. Manchurian High won that race and headed to Secor’s farm in Monkton, Md. There he caught the attention of Lilli Kurtinecz, then working with Secor.
“Lilli and I are old friends,” Kelly said. “She went down to Florida with Manchurian High for J.B., and she really loved the horse. She spent a lot of time with him and wanted to buy him. J.B. and the owners offered him to her for $20,000, so she borrowed the money from her parents. And that horse ended up paying her way all across the country.”
After winning twice for Secor, Manchurian High made his first start for Kurtinecz at Pimlico May 30, 2014, winning three-other-than optional claimer over tough turf veteran Talk Show Man. Manchurian High spent the rest of that year on the road. He finished ninth behind eventual Eclipse Award winner Main Sequence in the United Nations-G1 at Monmouth Park, was third in a photo in Saratoga’s John’s Call Stakes and was second in a starter allowance at the Spa.
Back in Maryland that September, Kurtinecz entered him in the Laurel Turf Cup. As the race approached, the trainer felt a bit apprehensive.
“The deal was always when he got sick of the flat track, he came back to me at the farm,” Kelly said. “The morning of the Laurel Turf Cup, we went for a jog and I told Lilli to jump him over some oxers I had set up. I showed her the video and she said, ‘Oh my God, he looks so good!’ I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ I hauled him down to Laurel for her and told her to go do something else for a while. We didn’t see her again until the paddock. And then he goes and wins it.”
Manchurian High prevailed in a field of 13, earning $60,000 and helping Kurtinecz purchase a horse trailer. She and Manchurian High headed to Florida for a winter campaign. After a third in the W.L. McKnight Handicap-G3 Dec. 27, the trainer pegged the $100,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Turf Jan. 17, 2015, as his next start. Manchurian High won by 3 1⁄4 lengths.
“Then it was just Lilli and Manch wandering the country for a few years,” Kelly said. “They went everywhere. He won the Sunshine Millions again in 2016. He bought her a house, too. She’s based in Boynton Beach, Florida, now.”
The horse’s future was never in doubt; when his flat career was over, he would return to Kelly, whose farm is also in Monkton. Already certain of the gelding’s natural ability over fences, Kelly figured racing over jumps was a natural progression.
“He’s an unbelievable jumper,” Kelly said. “I had prepped him myself in a point-to-point, and it was the most terrifying ride I had in my life. He’s so little. Mud hit him in the face, and he hit the brakes so hard I swear to God I thought I would fall off the front of him.”
On Oct. 14, 2017, with Kelly as owner and trainer, Manchurian High made his first start over hurdles at Glenwood Park in Middleburg, Va., and finished third.
After the race, Kelly asked jockey Darren Nagle what had gone wrong.
“He said the horse had been on his wrong lead the entire time, and he was trying to get him to switch,” Kelly said. “I said, ‘Leave him alone! You’re not gonna make this horse do anything he doesn’t want to do.’”
A month later at Charleston, with Nagle aboard again, they won a maiden special, and Manchurian High surpassed $500,000 in career earnings. Two months later, he entered the gate at Gulfstream for a third try at the Florida Sunshine Millions for Kurtinecz.
“He got back down there, picked his head up and said, ‘Screw this.’ He also got a minor tear, so we gave him a year off. After that, we couldn’t get him to do anything, and he made it clear he didn’t want to run over hurdles anymore.”
Manchurian High retired after finishing eighth at Great Meadow May 4, 2019. He headed back to Kelly’s farm with a record of 51-11-5-10 and $516,943 to his credit, nearly nine years after that first start at Saratoga.
“We use him as a lead [for younger horses]. He’s fun as hell, a brilliant jumper and he loves it. He’s very mischievous and very intelligent. He’ll grab his bridle and hold it in his mouth so you can’t put it on him. He’s done it forever. If he’s in a good mood and happy, he’ll grab his noseband and stand there and shake it. He’s fat and happy, hunts like a dream and you can put anybody on him. And he’s Lia’s main hunter.”
Kelly shared a recent cell phone video shot during a check while out hunting. It’s his view of Manchurian High’s braided mane. The horse is bobbing his head, trying to take a step forward . . . doing everything but standing patiently. Kelly can be heard quietly through clenched teeth, “Stop it. Stoppppppp It!!”
“He’ll live with us forever, whether he likes it or not,” Kelly laughed. “He’s like a brother. We both want to punch each other sometimes, but we love each other. He’s stuck with me.”