After a weekend of top-level racing from coast to coast, the fields for the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships are coming into focus, with some epic battles in the offing.
Among the weekend's top preps were races leading to the $2 million Distaff on Breeders' Cup Day at Arlington Park near Chicago. Take Charge Lady beat You in Kentucky. Imperial Gesture beat Mandy's Gold and Summer Colony in New York and, earlier in the week, Azeri continued to beat everyone on the West Coast.
Imperial Gesture, a Godolphin filly who was second in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, stole off to an uncontested lead in Saturday's $750,000 Beldame at Belmont Park and coasted home a winner by 2 ¾ lengths over Mandy's Gold. Summer Colony, the favorite, was third.
Tom Albertrani, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Surror, said Imperial Gesture lost weight after being roughed up at the start in the Kentucky Oaks and it has taken this long to get her back in fighting trim. "She is really coming into her own right now," he added. "Hopefully, this race didn't take too much out of her."
Both Mandy's Gold and Summer Colony also are expected to move along to Arlington.
At Keeneland in Lexington, Take Charge Lady found room on the rail in Sunday's $500,000 Overbrook Spinster Stakes and went through to win by 2 ½ lengths over pace-setting You. Printemps was third.
Take Charge Lady was second to Imperial Gesture in the Gazelle in New York on Sept. 7. "I think she just got a little tired (in the Gazelle)," said jockey Edgar Prado. "She probably needed that race." Added winning trainer Kenny McPeek: "She's just awesome. She loves Keeneland. When that hole opened up, she just took off."
You ran a good race on the engine to finish second. Jockey Kent Desormeaux said the filly picked it up when he asked but couldn't keep up with Take Charge Lady. Desormeaux did not explain why he let Take Charge Lady through on the rail at the top of the lane.
And if there was any question of Azeri being the best distaffer in the west, it was answered Wednesday on the opening day of Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. With Mike Smith up, the 4-year-old Jade Hunter filly cruised to a 3 ½-length victory over Starrer in the $200,000 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap. Mystic Lady was third.
The victory was Azeri's sixth straight. "I'm just delighted," said winning trainer Laura de Seroux, who was moved to tears in the winner's circle, "and he (Smith) just geared her down towards the end. I think she's faster than the fillies on the East Coast and they're all going to be carrying equal weights" in the Distaff. That would be 126 pounds. Azeri toted 127 in the Lady's Secret, giving 12 pounds to Starrer.
In other weekend Breeders' Cup Preps:
$4 million John Deere Turf
--The Tin Man led all the way around in Sunday's $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship at Santa Anita, turning back challenges from three different horses. At the end, the 4-year-old Affirmed colt won by 1 length over Sarafan, with Blue Stellar third. The Tin Man, with Mike Smith up, ran the 1 ¼ mile in a quick 1:58.93. "I'm thinking the mile and a half (in the Breeders' Cup)," said winning trainer Richard Mandella. "But he's eligible for whichever. I'd have to say this was his best race."
--Rochester rallied five-wide into the stretch in Sunday's $150,000 Sycamore Breeders' Cup at Keeneland and caught Roxhino in the late going to winby 1 length. Lord Flasheart was third. The 1 ½ mile went in 2:30.48. "You have to remember that this was his second mile and a half race in 15 days," said winning trainer Jonathan Sheppard. "So he might not have a lot in reserve." Rochester, a 6-year-old son of Green Dancer, won the $300,000 Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 21.
--In France, Marienbard rallied past High Chaparral and Aquaralliste to win Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in Paris. Sulamani was second and High Chaparral third. Owned by Godolphin Racing and trained by Saeed bin Suroor, Marienbard raced on the inside behind the lead pack before making his bid as the furlong marker approached. "I was in a beautiful spot throughout the race with High Chaparral and Aquaralliste ahead of me, which was ideal," said winning rider Frankie Dettori. "The gap then came and my horse had a great turn of foot." Marienbard, a 4-year-old son of Caerleon, also won the Grosser Preis von Baden in his last start. The Arc win moved him into second place in the World Series Racing Championship standings behind Grandera, who is in Australia prepping for the Oct. 26 Cox Plate.
$1 million Mile (turf)
Europeans seem to have the strongest hand in Mile division after Landseer won Sunday's $600,000 Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile by a neck over Touch of the Blues. Beat Hollow, the odds-on favorite, Arlington Million winner and consensus best U.S. turf runner, could do no better than third after leading briefly in mid-stretch. Landseer, a 3-year-old son of Danehill, was making his first U.S. start for trainer Aiden O'Brien. He twice has finished second to top European miler Rock of Gibraltar. "He's a tough horse," said O'Brien assistant Mick Maloney. "He's a very good horse." Jerry Bailey, who rode Beat Hollow, said, "I'm disappointed. Everyone's looking for excuses but there were none."
--Night Patrol may have run himself into the Breeders' Cup with a win in Saturday's $250,000 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita. Under Jose Valdivia Jr., the 6-year-old Storm Boot gelding took the lead from a tiring Congaree at the top of the lane and just held on to win by a nose over Kachamandi and another nose over Nicobar. The mile took 1:32.93. Winning trainer Nick Canani said of the Breeders' Cup, "A lot of things are tempting. We'll see how he comes out and go from there."
--Green Fee came from last to win Saturday's $350,000 Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont. Forbidden Apple fell ½ length short after leading briefly and Moon Solitare was third. "If we have a shot to get in (to the BC Mile), we'll probably think about going," said winning trainer Dan Peitz. Trainer Christophe Clement said Forbidden Apple also is ready to run in the Mile now.
$1 million Filly and Mare Turf
Owsley came from last in a short field to win Friday's $500,000 Winstar Galaxy by 1 1/4 lengths in a mild upset. Snow Dance was second and Surya was third. Affluent, the favorite, finished fifth. Owsley, a 4-year-old daughter of Harlan, ran the 1 3/16 mile on yielding turf in 1:56.72. Winning rider Edgar Prado said Owsley "broke a step slow, which was the best thing that could have happened to her." When traffic cleared, he said, "she kicked it in."
--At Santa Anita, Golden Apples edged clear in the final sixteenth to win Saturday's $500,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes by 1 length over Voodoo Dancer, with even-money favorite Banks Hill finishing third. Golden Apples, and Irish-bred 4-year-old, ran the 1 ¼ mile on firm turf in 1:59.72. "I'm glad it's over. It worked out well," said winning trainer Ben Cecil. He said he will ship Golden Apples to Chicago shortly before the Breeders' Cup.
$1 million Sprint
Touch Tone and Day Trader sandwiched Xtra Heat as they fought for the lead in Saturday's $250,000 Phoenix Breeders' Cup Stakes at Keeneland. But Xtra Heat, the only filly in the five-horse field, was more than equal to the task, drawing clear of her rivals as they hit the stretch. She rolled home an easy, 3-length winner. "I was petrified the whole race," said winning trainer John Salzman Sr. "There were some big colts in there and she was between horses." Explained rider Harry Vega, "I'm not concerned when other horses come at us. They've done it before. She's so good and goes so much." Salzman said if Xtra Heat, a 4-year-old daughter of Dixieland Heat, "comes out of the race okay, we'll be going to the Breeders' Cup." The $5,000 yearling purchase, who now has won 24 of her 31 lifetime starts, finished second in last year's Sprint. Asked if he's concerned about rivals ganging up on his filly in the Breeders' Cup, Salzman said, "We might gang up on them."
--Kalookan Queen rallied from mid-pack to win Saturday's $200,000 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita, scoring by ½ length over Crafty C.T., with Mellow Fellow third. "No chance that she'll go to the Breeders' Cup," said winning trainer Bruce Headley, who will saddle Kona Gold for that race. Kalookan Queen was the first filly to win the Ancient Title since Track Gal did it in 1995. Crafty C.T. and Mellow Fellow remain possible starters for the Breeders' Cup.
--At Bay Meadows, Stoney caught El Dorado Shooter in the late going to win Saturday's $100,000 California Sprint Championship. "We'll probably look at the California Cup Sprint Championship next," said winning trainer Reuben Carednas. "But I told the owner, 'If you want to spend the money to supplement to the Breeders' Cup ($90,000), I'll go."
--Avanzado, an Argentine-bred 5-year-old, held off Dash for Daylight to win Sunday's $250,000 Forest Hills Handicap at Belmont but trainer Doug O'Neill said he is not Breeders' Cup nominated. "We're dreaming of an invite to Hong Kong," he said.
$1 million Long John Silver's Juvenile Fillies
Storm Flag Flying took charge in the final furlong of Saturday's $500,000 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park, drawing clear to win by 2 lengths over Santa Catarina. Storm Flag Flying, a daughter of Storm Cat by 1995 Juvenile Fillies winner My Flag, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.20. Appleby Gardens was third. "We have to be patient with her and not get too excited," said winning trainer Shug McGaughey. I wasn't thinking about the Breeders' Cup today. I was thinking about the Frizette. I wanted her to pass the test today, not to get her into the Breeders' Cup." Jerry Bailey, who rode Santa Catarina for trainer Bob Baffert, said, "The farther she goes, the better of she'll be. She'll run well (in the Breeders' Cup), believe me."
--Westerly Breeze scored a major upset in Friday's $400,000 Walmac International Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland, pressing Atlantic Ocean through the early furlongs and then going on to win by 3/4 length over Ruby's Reception. Final Round was third, with Atlantic Ocean fading to fourth. The favorite, Midnight Cry, never got into contention and finished seventh. Westerly Breeze, a daughter of Gone West, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a sloppy track in 1:46.90. "I really thought she had a good chance today after her race at Turfway," said winning trainer Carl Nafzger, referring to the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies. "That was her first race going two turns and she only got beat 3 lengths." Saturday', assistant trainer Ian Wilkes said he is sure Westerly Breeze will head for the Breeders' Cup next. Terry Thompson, after riding Ruby's Reception, noted the Breeders' Cup is 9 furlongs, adding, "That's going to be perfect for her."
--In California, Composure showed a lot of it in winning Sunday's $200,000 Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita. The Touch Gold filly, trained by Bob Baffert, rated near the rear of the field, caught Buffythecenterfold turning for home and won off by 3 lengths. Buffythecenterfold held second and Sea Jewel was third. The 1 1/16 mile on the main track took 1:42.65. "She reminds me of Silverbulletday in talent," Baffert said of Composure. He said both Composure and Santa Catarina are "outstanding fillies. But we're going to need two good ones to beat that one filly in New York (Storm Flag Flying)."
$1 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
Sky Mesa toyed with five rivals in Saturday's $400,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, sitting behind the early speed. Then, when asked to run, the Pulpit colt easily went by the front-runners and left them behind, winning by daylight. The victory was his third in as many tries, following a 1 1/2-length score in the Hopeful at Saratoga.
"He made every mistake a young horse could make and still got it done," winning trainer John Ward said of Sky Mesa. Lone Star Sky also may move along out of the Futurity to the Breeders' Cup, said owner Buddy New and trainer Tom Amoss. The colt ran well and has a win over the Arlington track.
--In New York on Saturday, Toccet upset the $500,000 Champagne Stakes, running past Icecoldbeeratreds in the stretch to win by 1 ½ lengths. Icecoldbeeratreds held second and Erinsouthernman was third, followed by the favorite, Petty Wild. Toccet, by Awesome Again, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.45 and trainer John Scanlan said, "The farther he goes, the better he goes. He'll be at Arlington a week before the race just to get a work over the track."
--In Saturday's $200,000 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita, Bob Baffert trainees Kafwain and Bull Market battled nose-to-nose down the lane before Kafwain put his schnozz on the wire in front. Listen Indy was third. Time for the 1 1/16 mile was 1:36.24. Afterward, Baffert sounded higher on the runner-up than the winner. "I loved Bull Market's race," he said. "We've been high on that horse...For him to face that kind of pace early and to finish like he did -- Silver Charm used to do that."
Baffert said Sunday Kafwain and Bull Market will both go on to the Breeders' Cup but that he's not sure about his other juveniles, including Icecoldbeeratreds. He said those horses "are all coming back to California and then we'll decide what we're going to do."
--At Woodbine in Canada, Wando did what his trainer said he had to do in order to earn a trip to the Breeders' Cup: win Sunday's $250,000 Grey Breeders' Cup Stakes. He did that by 3 ¾ lengths over Gigawatt, with Grand finishing third. However, Wando, an Ontario-bred son of Langfuhr, suffered an abrasion on his right hind leg during the race. "We'll have to see how he comes out of the race before making a decision to run in the Breeders' Cup," said trainer Mike Keogh.
$4 million Classic
At Santa Anita on Sunday, Pleasantly Perfect came from near the back of the field to win the $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap by 3 ¼ lengths over the favorite, Momentum. Reba's Gold was third. Pleasantly Perfect, a 4-year-old son of Pleasant Colony, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:46.80. Asked about prospects for the Breeders' Cup, winning rider Alex Solis said, "Well, there's really no truly outstanding horse out there right now, and he's coming on at the right time. He's lightly raced and he's getting better, so I would say yes." Trainer Craig Dollase said Momentum also will go on to Chicago if he exits the Goodwood in good order.
--Perfect Drift came from a pace-stalking position to win Saturday's $400,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park by ¾ length over Easyfromthegitgo. Premeditation was third and the favorite, Wiseman's Ferry, faded to finish ninth after leading. Perfect Drift, a Dynaformer gelding, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.50.
--Friday night, Burning Roma upset the $400,000 Meadowlands Cup in New Jersey. With Eibar Coa in the irons, Burning Roma seized the early lead and held off Volponi in the late going. Coa said he had planned to take back but, when no one else wanted the lead, he let his horse run and the tactic paid off. Burning Roma finished the 9 furlongs in 1:48 4/5. Winning trainer Heather Giglio said she hasn't figured Burning Roma's next stop.
In other weekend racing:
Excessive Barb exchanged bumps with Unfurl the flag before going on to win Friday's $75,000 Cavonnier Stakes for Cal-bred 2-year-olds by 1 length. Crackup was third. Excessive Barb, a son of In Excess, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:22.97 and trainer Craig Lewis said he will point for the Cal Cup.
Manofglory outfinished Mighty Beau to win Friday's $75,000 Nureyev Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs on yilding turf. Manofglory, with Jorge Chavez up, stayed close during the early going and got home 1/2 length in front. Brown Eyed Major was third and the favorite, Bop, faded to finish fifth after leading. The race went in 1:03.99. "He broke very well," said Chavez. "I was happy to sit right off the early speed."
Saturday, Dixie Tactics used stalking tactics to win the $75,000 A.P. Indy Stakes for fillies and mares at 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass. The 4-year-old, Texas-bred daughter of Native Tactics got to the leaders on the turn for home, opened up by 2 1/2 lengths and held off Presumed Innocent by 1 3/4 lengths at the wire. Fust It was third and the favorite, On the Fritz, finished fourth. The race, over firm turf, took 1:03.47.
Sunday, February Storm overtook Honor in War in the stretch run to win the $75,000 Storm Cat Stakes for 3-year-olds by ½ length. Gentle Bien was a lonshot third. February Storm, a son of Storm Cat, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.52.
Smok'n Frolic rolled to the lead turning for home in Saturday's $250,000 Cotillion Handicap for 3-year-old fillies and scooted home first, 2 ¼ lengths ahead of Pupil. Jilbab was third and the favorite, Alternate, finished fourth. Smok'n Frolic, a Florida-bred daughter of Smoke Glacken, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.27.
Also Saturday, Thunderello won the $150,000 Gallant Bob Handicap for 3-year-olds, leading all the way and turning back all challengers. Thunderello, a Florida-bred son of Montbrook, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.98.
Calder Race Course
Chispiski won Saturday's $75,000 U Can Do It Handicap, leading gate to wire, despite being the only 3-year-old in the field. Chispiski got home 3 ¾ lengths in front of Fly Me Crazy. Rule Brittania was third. The time was 1:18 2/5. "She keeps finding new levels and is very good right now," said winning trainer Ron Spatz.
Man o'Rhythm got the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $45,000 Taylor's Special Stakes and held off Justice for Auston to win by ½ length. Bold Pilot was third. Man o'Rhythm, a 5-year-old Slewacide gelding, ran 5 furlongs on yielding turf in 58.86 seconds.
Nasty Storm took over in the stretch drive to upset Sunday's $150,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap for fillies and mares. The favorite, Raging Fever, was second and Shine Again was third. Nasty Storm, a 4-year-old Gulch filly, ran 6 ½ furlongs in 1:17.89 for jockey Jose Santos.
Jarf led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $100,000 Kelso Stakes. At the line, the 6-year-old son of Mt. Livermore was 3 ½ lengths ahead of Acorlect. The 1 3/16 mile took 1:57.51 on a fast track.
Secret River stalked the early pace in Saturday's $50,000 Lady Baltimore Stakes, then went on to win by 2 ½ lengths over Lady Linda. Secret River, a 5-year-old daughter of Secret Odds, ran 1 1/8 mile on the turf in 1:48.93.
Princess Jen won Saturday's $30,000 Majorette by ½ length over Cielo Girl after a ground-saving trip under Gerard Melancon. Prized Amberpro was third. Princess Jen finished the 7 furlongs in 1:22.93.
Sunday, Crowned King outfinished Whippee to win the $30,000 Minstrel Stakes by 1 ½ lengths. Aledo Pass was third. Crowned King's victory was vindication after he stumbled at the start of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park three weeks ago, unseating his rider.