And, as usual, some of the Triple Crown crowd -- and refugees from the Triple Crown trail -- already are showing signs they will have to be reckoned with in the year-end festivities.
Among them is one of the most controversial Kentucky Derby entrants, Danthebluegrassman. Trainer Bob Baffert entered the colt for owner Mike Pegram at the last minute, precluding Windward Passage from starting. He then was scratched before the race with a minor physical problem.
Saturday, the son of Pioneering took charge in the stretch run of the $100,000 Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs and won by 2 ½ lengths over Stephentown. Sky Terrace was third. With Jerry Bailey up, Danthebluegrassman ran 1 mile in 1:35.04.
"I can see why Bob entered him in the Derby," Bailey said afterward. "He's got a lot of talent."
Pegram admitted many people "thought we were playing games" before the Derby. "But the horse spoke for himself today. I think we can be America's horse again. We're going on the road," he said.
Baffert, however, cautioned that Danthebluegrassman is plagued with a breathing problem that might require surgery. "If he didn't have that, he'd be a really, really good horse -- a top, top, top horse."
Whoever goes in the Breeders' Cup Classic may well have to contend with Street Cry, the easy winner of Saturday's $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap, also at Churchill Downs. Street Cry, a 4-year-old son of Machiavellian, made easy work of a good field in his first start since winning the $6 million Dubai World Cup in March. At the wire, he was 6 ½ lengths ahead of Dollar Bill, with pacesetter Tenpins holding on for third. The favorite, Congaree, faded to finish sixth.
"He will stay here," said winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "He won't go back to Europe. I think if he stays nice and healthy and sound, that we will have a good chance with him in the Breeders' Cup Classic."
The colt's owner, Godolphin Racing, twice won the Breeders' Cup Turf but is still chasing the big race. Jockey Jerry Bailey said this might be the time. Asked if there is a better main-track horse in the world now than Street Cry, he said, "Not that I know of. Not as long as he continues to run at this level."
Suroor said he hasn't yet decided where Street Cry will run next.
Another name to keep in mind: Milwaukee Brew. The 5-year-old son of Wild Again closed strongly through the stretch to win Saturday's $500,000 Californian at Hollywood Park by a head over Bosque Redondo. Momentum was third. Milwaukee Brew toted Kent Desormeaux over 9 furlongs in 1:48.06, backing up his victory this spring in the Santa Anita Handicap.
Winning trainer Bobby Frankel said he felt Milwaukee Brew was a little closer to the lead Saturday than he would have liked. "The Hollywood Gold Cup will be next," he said. "At a mile and a quarter, he can be ridden a little more conservatively. People thought he got lucky in the Santa Anita Handicap but now people will think he's a pretty good horse."
Across the continent, Seeking Daylight found plenty of it in Saturday's $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park. Splashing from behind over a sloppy track, the 4-year-old son of Seeking the Gold ran away in the stretch drive to win by 8 ¼ lengths over Country Be Gold. Griffinite was third and the favorite, E Dubai, got home fourth. The 9 furlongs took 1:46.35.
Winning trainer Mark Hennig said Seeking Daylight suffered a fractured cannon bone last year but is ready now. "He galloped out great. I think the farther the distance, the more he'll enjoy it," Hennig said. He indicated the $500,000, 1 ¼-mile Suburban on July 6 might be the next stop.
In other races with potential Breeders' Cup implications:
Suances led the field through a merry chase in Saturday's $250,000 Dallas Turf Cup Handicap at Lone Star Park, winning by 1 ½ lengths without being asked for his best run. Our Main Man was second and Candidate Glen third. Trained by Darrell Vienna and ridden by David Flores, Suances ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.09. He is expected to move along to the Eddie Read Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 28 and the Arlington Million on Aug. 17.
"This is a great horse," said Flores. "I just got him on his feet in the first part of the race and he took me to the lead very easily." The English-bred runner started his career in Spain and ran in France. Two years ago, he was rated just two pounds below Sakhee and three pounds better than Beat Hollow, winner of Saturday's Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park.
Moon Solitare sat off the early lead in Sunday's $300,000 King Edward Breeders' Cup Handicap at Woodbine, then surged to a 2-length win over Quiet Resolve. Moon Solitare, an Irish-bred, 5-year-old son of Night Shift, just came up short in his seasonal and North American debut last month in an allowance event at Churchill Downs. "He was a horse that Sheikh Maktoum sent to us from Europe last fall," said winning trainer Henry Cochran. "I liked him right away." He said the Firecracker at Churchill Downs might be Moon Solitare's next start.
Filly & Mare Turf
Distant Valley got to the lead in mid-stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs and rolled home a 3-length winner over Peace River Lady. The Grade III race was restricted to 3-year-old fillies. Distant Valley raced as a 2-year-old in England and won the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket last fall. Winning trainer Niall O'Callaghan said the key to the victory was getting Distant Valley back off the pace and covered up until it was time for jockey Jerry Bailey to make his run. "Hopefully now she'll have a great career in the United States," he said.
At Belmont Park, Riskaverse just got up in the final yards to win Sunday's $100,000 Sands Point Handicap for 3-year-old fillies by a head over Cyclorama. She's Vested was third. Riskaverse, a daughter of Dynaformer, ran the 9 furlongs over a yielding inner turf course in 1:51.63. "We'll keep our options open," said winning trainer Pat Kelly. "She has to be considered one of the best 3-year-old fillies in the country right now."
Spain is in foal to Storm Cat but that didn't prevent her from winning Saturday's $300,000 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs. And, at least according to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, it might not prevent her from trying to win the Distaff for the second time this fall. Spain, a 4-year-old daughter of 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch, chased With Ability through the first mile, then took over in the stretch and won by 3 ¼ lengths. With Ability held third and Canadian star Dancethruthedawn was along for third. "I haven't shortened up her training or anything. And I won't," said Lukas. Asked about the Breeders' Cup, Lukas added, "I'm still thinking that and the best breeding minds told me that's not out of the realm of possibility. I'd like to plant that seed." Spain won the Distaff in 2000 and just missed repeating last year, losting to Unbridled Elaine by a head. She ran fourth in the Juvenile Fillies in 1999.
Adoration won Saturday's $250,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks by 1 length after a pace-stalking trip for jockey Garrett Gomez and trainer David Hofmans. Sister Girl Blues was second and Saint Bernadette third. Adoration, a Kentucky-bred by Honor Grades, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.73. However, Hofmans said he's not sure how he will proceed. "Staying on the dirt or going back to the turf, I don't know what we will do with her," he said.
Trainer Bill Cesare also is faced with a surface choice for Cellars Shiraz, the 9-lengths winner of Saturday's $100,000 Office Queen Stakes at Calder Race Course in South Florida. The 3-year-old daughter of Kissin Kris skimmed over 1 1/16 mile on a sloppy track in 1:47.49. Four Pennies was second and Tasso Run third. Cesare said he opted for the Office Queen rather than the Regret Stakes on the turf Saturday at Churchill Downs. "I still think she is better on turf," he added. He said he is planning on going to the American Oaks at Hollywood Park on July 6, where Cellars Shiraz probably will face budding star Megahertz. "I'd just like for her to hit the board" in that race," Cesare said.
Oberwald did what he had to do in Sunday's $75,000 Haggin Stakes at Hollywood Park -- enough to win. After fighting for the lead, the Swiss Yodler colt edged clear in the stretch and won by 1 ½ lengths over Royal Place. The favorite, Crowned Dancer, was third after leading. The 5 ½ furlongs took 1:05.01. "I expect this horse to be a lot like his dad," said winning trainer Mike Harrington. "His dad only won by as much as he had to." Harrington said Oberwald likely will race next in the $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile on July 20. This is Swiss Yodler's first crop to race. So far at the Hollywood Park meeting, his progeny have won seven of eight races.
El Ruller led all the way in Saturday's $125,000 Victoria Stakes at Woodbine in Canada, winning by 2 ½ lengths over Skeet. The Florida-bred son of Eltish ran 5 furlongs in 58.29 on a sloppy track. Too early to tell.
At Bay Meadows, Taraval also led all the way to a 2 ½-length victory in Sunday's $55,000 Malcolm Anderson Stakes. Taraval, a Cal-bred son of Bold Badgett, got the 5 furlongs on a fast track in 57.77 seconds. Too early to tell.
None of the chalk players felt any anger toward Hostility after the Devil His Due filly eased home first in Saturday's $55,000 Time To Leave Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Bay Meadows in northern California. Solo Singer was second and Proactive was third. The 5 furlongs went in 58.07 seconds. "We'll probably give her some time off now," said Dennis Ward, assistant to trainer Wesley Ward. "We'll take her back (to Southern California) and let her grow a bit."
In other weekend racing:
Downs at Albuquerque
Nates Colony saved ground through most of Sunday's $100,000 Downs At Albuquerque Handicap, swung four-wide to get the lead at the top of the stretch and took off, winning by 9 lengths over the pace-setter, Reflecting Colors. Darn Tootin was third. Nates Colony, with Martin Pedroza up, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.13.
Grundlefoot got past front-running Private Ryan and held off late-closing Lyracist to win Saturday's $100,000 Baltimore Breeders' Cup Handicap by ¾ length. The 7-year-old son of Unaccounted For finished the 9 furlongs in 1:49.65 under Mario Pino. Pino said trainer Gary Capuano "warned me that he'll loaf if you make the lead too soon. So I just let him run his own race. At the top of the stretch, he took command and finished very strong." Capuano said he was pleased Grundlefoot finally got a graded stakes win. "He's been close many times and I'm really thrilled that he got the job done today," he said.
True Passion outdueled favorite He's a Knockout in the early going of Saturday's $100,000 Wilmington Handicap, then went on to win by 2 ¼ lengths over Sing Me Back Home. Clever Gem was third. True Passion now has won four straight races at Delaware, starting with a $20,000 claimer. "To be honest," said trainer Donald Reeder, "I wish I knew what made the difference." Among the adjustments, he said, was the ultimate equine equipment change. He said he hasn't decided on a next start for the 4-year-old son of Petionville.
Van Minister came from last in a scratch-shortened field of five to win Saturday's $100,000 Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds by ½ length over Miesque's Approval. Westcliffe was third. Michael Luzzi rode Van Minister over 9 furlongs of soft turf in 1:54.42. Van Minister is a son of With Approval. "He is just getting better and better," said winning trainer Carlos Martin. "He's really improved on the turf."
Tempis Fugit wasted no time getting to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Oceanport Handicap, which was scratched down to three starters when it came off the turf. Leading throughout under Jose Velez Jr., the 5-year-old Unaccounted For gelding scored by 3 lengths over Runspastum. One Eyed Joker brought up the rear. Tempis Fugit, claimed at Aqueduct in April for $75,000, ran 1 1/16 mile in the mud in 1:42 3/5. In his first start for his new owners, he ran second in the Frisk Me Now stakes. "It was gratifying to take a horse for that kind of money, spot him in a race like this and the plan works out," said trainer Jason Servis.
Also Saturday, Willie's Luv scored a front-running win in the $50,000 Santo Lalomia Handicap. The 3-year-old filly raced the 1 mile in 1:37 2/5. Firecard was second.
Sunday, Sea of Tranquility came around the field on the stretch turn to win the $50,000 Jersey Breeders' Handicap by 4 ½ lengths. Thistyranthasclass was second and Red Weasel third. Sea of Tranquility, a 6-year-old son of Heff, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36 4/5.
Secret Launch went right to the front and was never headed in Sunday's $75,000 Budweiser Emerald Handicap, winning by ½ length over stablemate Crowning Meeting. "They both ran their guts out," said trainer Sharon Ross. "I am really proud of them." Karen Knapp rode the winner. "Getting an easy lead really helped me today," she said. Crowning Meeting finished in 1:33 2/5, just 1/5 of a second off the state record and the third-fastest mile ever at Emerald.
Missme came from well back in the field to win Saturday's $60,000 Prairie Mile by less than 1 length over Vito Corleone. Cowboy Stuff reported home third. Roger Engel, who saddled the horse for trainer Lynn Whiting, said Whiting "told me he had a quarter-mile kick and he sure did." Winning rider Luis Quinonez agreed. "He told me to wait until a quarter of a mile or less. So that's what I did." At that point, Missme was last, 9 lengths off the lead, and the late run just got him home. The final time of 1:37 2/5 equaled the stakes record.
Al's Dearly Bred swept past rivals in the stretch run in Saturday's $40,000 Brooks Fields Stakes and ran off to win by 7 ½ lengths over Promise of War. Trinity River was third. Al's Dearly Bred, a 5-year-old son of Waquoit, ran the 7 ½ furlongs on the turf in 1:29 2/5. "It's an unbelievable feeling when they take off like that," said winning rider Seth Martinez.
Sunday, Sarah Jade, a daughter of Jade Hunter, shook off early challenges and cruised to an 8-length victory in the $40,000 Canterbury Park Oaks. With Martinez up again, the filly finished in 1:42.19. "Once she got out there, she was fine," Martinez said. "She was happy to be out there by herself."
News and Notes
--Chris McCarron announced Saturday he will retire after June 23. The 47-year-old rider had 7,136 wins through Friday and ranks sixth on the all-time list. He has won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont two times each and has nine Breeders' Cup Championship victories including Alphabet Soup's score in the 1996 Classic and Tiznow's consecutive wins in 2000 and 2001. He has 101 starts in the Breeders' Cup Championships, tying him with Pat Day for the most mounts. The next-highest total is Gary Stevens' 86. McCarron said he realized after finishing sixth in this year's Kentucky Derby on Came Home that he had lost his edge.
--Arlington Park topped the nation in Father's Day attendance for the second straight year. Arlington's turnstiles turned 24,695 times Sunday. The track used to pack 'em in when it opened on Mother's Day but a change in the Chicago area racing schedule ended that tradition. "It is gratifying to see Father's Day at Arlington Park become an annual tradition," said track President Steve Sexton. On-track handle on live racing was $1,113,717.