Horse of the Year hopefuls were politicking fast and furious Sunday morning at the Breeders' Cup sendoff breakfast.
Trainer Laura De Seroux was front and center for Azeri, who turned in one of the most impressive performances on Saturday's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championship card at Arlington Park, winning the $2 million Distaff with ease.
Asked if her 4-year-old Jade Hunter filly -- now 10-for-11 lifetime -- should be Horse of the Year, De Seroux replied calmly but firmly, "My question back is, 'Who else?' I'm not going to get too pushy here."
If De Seroux, in only her third year as a trainer, wasn't overtly hustling votes, she wasn't shy about her filly's chances, either. "I don't mean to sound boastful," she said. "But we hadn't let her run until yesterday."
D. Wayne Lukas trained Lady's Secret, who used the 1986 Breeders' Cup Distaff as a springboard to become the last female Horse of the Year when no male contender ran well in that year's Classic.
"You've got that very same situation this year," Lukas told the assembled voters.
This year, male Horse of the Year candidates War Emblem, Medaglia d'Oro and Came Home all ran up the track behind longshot winner Volponi in the Classic.
Not everyone is conceding Horse of the Year honors to Azeri, however. Some voters pointed out she has not run against, much less beaten, males. And -- while she beat the best from everywhere in Saturday's Distaff -- most of her races were in California, against less talented competition.
Rival trainer Bob Baffert, after watching a tape of his 2-year-old star, Vindication, winning the $1 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile, quickly said, "What's wrong with him for Horse of the Year?"
Baffert wasn't really serious. If he had been, memories of the last 2-year-old Horse of the Year -- Favorite Trick -- might prevent a recurrence. In 1997, Favorite Trick won all eight races at 2 and was the first juvenile Horse of the Year since Secretariat. But he then showed little the following year.
The various trainers, owners, head lads and others reported Sunday that their Breeders' Cup horses were in fine fettle and heading to their various homes.
By all accounts, Arlington Park's inaugural Breeders' Cup experience was a success. The weather was cold but it didn't rain -- or sleet or snow. The crowd of more than 46,000 appeared to move into, around and out of the track easily. Breeders' Cup merchandise all but sold out.
The Arlington Park Breeders' Cup day handle of $115,523,156 established a record, surpassing the mark of $108,603,040 set in 2000 at Churchill Downs. Of the total, $13,568,233 was wagered on-track at Arlington. Those figures do not include a few international sites.
The Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick 6 collected $4,646,289 in handle. All six winning tickets -- worth $428,392 each -- were sold at the Catskill OTB in upstate New York. All Ultra Pick 6 tickets sold at Keeneland were voided because of a totalizator malfunction and will be refunded. Unclaimed refunds will be used to pump up a Pick 6 wager during Keeneland's spring race meeting.
Another unresolved issue lingering in the wake of the Breeders' Cup is the shape of the 2003 Triple Crown picture. No Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has ever gone on to win the Kentucky Derby -- a "jinx" that Baffert obviously is hoping to break with Vindication.
He said Sunday his colt's last Breeders' Cup prep race, the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park convinced him Vindication has the potential for greatness. Indeed, he compared the colt to a pair of champions.
"He made that Arazi move and gave me goose bumps," Baffert said, "that kind of Point Given move that told me I had a super horse."
On Saturday, Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien also was talking up his juvenile star, Hold That Tiger, who finished third in the Juvenile despite missing the break and racing wide.
"I would love to think he could be a Kentucky Derby horse next year," O'Brien said of Hold That Tiger, a Kentucky-bred son of Storm Cat.
There was racing at other tracks during the weekend:
The Breeders' Cup Classic and the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf were only two of the three World Series racing events on Saturday. At Moonee Valley in Australia, Northerly ran by pace-setting mare Sunline in the late going to win the $3 million Carlton Daught Cox Plate for the second straight year. Defier narrowly edged World Series points leader Grandera for second and Sunline, running her last race, held fourth. "The plan was to stalk her (Sunline) and it worked to perfection," said winning trainer Fred Kersley. Asked if he will send Northerly on to the Melbourne Cup, he said, "This was the one we aimed at. I'll give it a couple sleeps and then decide on the Melbourne Cup." A victory in that race would make Northerly only the second horse to sweep Australia's Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup. Rising Fast scored that triple in 1954.
After Saturday's three races, Grandera leads the point standing with 32, including victories in the Singapore Airlines International Cup and the Ireland the Food Island Champion Stakes. Marienbard is second with 24, including wins in the Grosser Preis von Baden in Germany and the Arc d'Triomphe at Longchamp in Paris, followed by High Chaparral with 16 and Golan with 13. Six horses, including Volponi, are tied for fifth spot with 12 points. Frankie Dettori leads the jockey standings by miles, as do Godolphin Racing and trainer Saeed bin Suroor in their categories. The series continues with the Japan Cup on Nov. 24 at Nakayama (Tokyo Race Course is being renovated) and concludes with the Dec. 15 Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin.
In Friday's run-up to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, Cat Genius scored a gate-to-wire victory in the $100,000 Gilded Time Stakes for 2-year-olds. The son of Western Cat ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:23.01. Desert Warrior was second. Tap The Admiral was DQed from first in the $100,000 John Henry Handicap for interference in the stretch, handing the victory to Riddlestown. The 1 3/16-mile event over yielding turf went in 1:59.83. And Bien Nicole did the best running in the stretch to win the $100,000 Estrapade Handicap by 3 lengths over Verruma. The 1 1/16 mile for fillies and mares took 1:44.52 on the yielding greensward.
Sunday, the final day of the long Arlington meeting, Abderian charged from well back in the field to win the $100,000 Smile Handicap by 1 ¾ lengths over Mighty Beau. The 5-year-old son of Machiavellian got the 5 ½ furlongs over the yielding turf in 1:03.53. The winning jockey was Horatio Karamanos, who came in for the ride after scoring seven victories on Saturday's card at Laurel Park. Also Sunday, Allspice survived a bad break to win the $100,000 Eliza Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 3 ½ lengths over Jodys Deelite. Allspice, a daughter of Coronado's Quest, ran 7 furlongs in 1:24.56.
Tenpins once was considered a prospect for the Breeders' Cup Classic and now maybe trainer Donald Winfree wishes he had gone that direction. Instead, the 4-year-old son of Smart Strike led the field through 9 furlongs of Saturday's $150,000 Fayette Stakes, turned back a challenge from X Country and won by 1 ¾ length. Crafty Shaw and Invisible Ink completed the order of finish. The race went in 1:51.17 on a muddy track. "I know this horse likes competition," said winning rider Craig Perret, "so I was happy when that other horse (X Country) came up alongside us."
Friday, Rapid Proof upset the $100,000 Hopemont Stakes for 2-year-olds, coming along in the late going to beat Zydeco Affair by 1 length. Collateral Damage was a neck farther back in third. Rapid Proof, a Kentucky-bred son of Fast Play, ran the 1 1/16 mile on yielding turf in 1:46.45.
Thursday, Ocean Drive picked up her third win in as many starts by dominating the $100,000 Green River Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The daughter of Belong to Me, with John Velazquez up, won by 4 ¾ lengths over Sand Springs, running 1 mile on the turf in 1:44.30.
Shine Again rolled down the lane in Saturday's $150,000 First Flight Handicap, overtaking pace-setter Readhead Riot and winning off by 2 lengths. Redhead Riot held second and Raging Fever was third as the favorite in the 7-furlong test for fillies and mares. The time was 1:23.75 on a sloppy track. Shine Again is by Wild Again. "We had a good trip behind the speed and we had a little luck when that hole opened up," said winning rider Jean-Luc Samyn.
Also Saturday, Multiple Choice was the right answer for long-shot players in the Sport Page Handicap. The 4-year-old son of Mt. Livermore, sent to the post at 15-1, won off by 7 ¼ lengths over Bowman's Band, with Sing Me Back Home finishing third. Multiple Choice ran the 7 furlongs in the slop in 1:23.28. "He's been knocking on the door and running in a lot of tough races," said winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "He liked the slop. Usually Mt. Livermores do."
Sunday, One Colony was just up at the wire to beat Celtic Memories in the $75,000 Pilgrim Stakes for 2-year-olds. One Colony, a son of Dehere, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.00. Half the field scratched when the race came off the turf.
Sunday's $75,000 Miss Grillo Stakes for 2-year-old fillies also was scratched down to only six starters when it came off the green course. Firecroft was the best of the remaining field, coming from off the pace to catch Marc's Rainbow in the late going and win by 1 length. Firecroft, an A.P. Indy filly, was clocked in 1:49.79.
Special Matter took on pace-setting Alyzig on the turn for home in Sunday's $150,000 Carleton F. Burke Handicap, slowly gained the advantage and won by 1 ¾ lengths. Alyzig held second by a head over Dance Dreamer, who in turn was only a nose in front of Nazirali at the wire. Mountain Rage was scratched. The 1 ½ mile on the turf, staring down the hillside course, went in 2:28.47. "I got him to relax after we got off the hill," said winning rider Tyler Baze, "and when I asked him, he really kicked it in so hard. I don't think I even uncocked my stick, he was running so hard." Trainer Rafael Becerra claimed Special Matter, a 4-year-old son of River Special, for $12,500 on May 31. "I said, 'What the heck, he has a chance to go on,'" explained Becerra. Sunday's victory was worth $90,000. As Marty McGee would say, "What an easy game this is."
Gotdream rallied down the stretch to win Saturday's $50,000 Hidden Light Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 1 length over Chope Mockery. Both the top two finishers were bred in France and both are trained by Bobby Frankel. Major Idea was third. Gotdream, under Corey Nakatani, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.10.
Strut the Stage took back off the early lead in Sunday's $250,000 Sky Classic Handicap, then won a stretch duel with Cetewayo to win by ¾ length. Man From Wicklow also closed smartly to finsihe third, another neck back. Strut the Stage, a 4-year-old son of Theatrical, ran 1 3/8 mile on soft turf in 2:19.33 under Todd Kabel.
Also Sunday, Krz Ruckus led all the way to a comfortable, 1 ½-length victory over Runaway Love in the $100,000, restricted Mt. Sassafras Stakes. Krz Ruckus, a 5-year-old son of Bold Ruckus, ran 7 furlongs on a fast main track in 1:22.35.
Feathers got going as the field hit the turn in Saturday's $125,000 Ontario Fashion Handicap for fillies and mares, rallied four-wide into the stretch and outfinished Sheila's Prospect to win by ½ length. Miss Sweep was third. Feathers, a 5-year-old daughter of Cherokee Run, finished the 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:10.82.
Mt. Carson caught Valenzo in the final strides to win Saturday's $100,000 Dover Stakes for 2-year-olds by a neck. Cape Good Hope was third. Mt. Carson, a son of Lord Carson, ran the 1 mile on a good track in 140.12 for jockey Jozbin Santana and trainer Rodney Jerkins.
Twilight Road repulsed a late bid by Mountain General to win Sunday's $100,00 Ack Ack Handicap by 2 ½ lengths. Binthebest came from last in the field of nine starters to take third. Twilight Road, a 5-year-old son of Cahill Road, ran the 7 ½ furlongs in 1:29.39 under Pat Day. Trainer Paul McGee credited "the Pat Day trick." "He let that other horse come up to him before he went into his drive," McGee said of Day. Day now has won a record 142 stakes races under the Twin Spires. McGee took his sixth.
After sitting behind the leaders, Sirpa went to the front and drew clear in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Pacifica Handicap to win by 5 lengths over San Nicolas. Rio's Chase was third. Sirpa, a 4-year-old son of Gilded Time, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:43.59. "I just sat off the speed," said winning rider Jason Lumpkins. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said he will look for similar spots at Golden Gate Fields.
Sunday, Angel Gift closed smartly in the stretch run to win the $60,000 Golden Poppy Handicap for fillies and mares by 3 lengths over Lindsay Jean. Erica's Smile was third. Angel Gift, a 4-year-old Allen's Prospect filly, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:41.47. "She did everything I asked," said winning jockey Russell Baze. Added co-owner Ward Williford: "Everybody said (Breeders' Cup Distaff winner) Azeri won those races so easy. We thought we made her run pretty hard a few times."
Breeders' Cup Turf winner High Chaparral wasn't the only star in owner Michael Tabor's stable on Saturday. Pass Rush, arguably Tabor's best Indiana-bred, returned to his home state to win Saturday's $40,000 Benjamin Harrison Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds by a handy 8 ¼ lengths over If I Were You. Donnies Pick was third. Pass Rush, trained by Patrick Byrne and ridden by J.R. Martinez Jr., led all the way after breaking from the No. 1 post and finished the 1 1/16 mile on a muddy track in 1:45.95.
Winter Leaf closed steadily into a quick pace in Saturday's $50,000 Ta Wee Stakes for fillies and mares, then worked clear in the stretch to win by 1 ¾ lengths over Blinded By Love. A Barry Good Act was third. The 6 furlongs took 1:09.53. Winter Leaf is a 4-year-old daughter of Muhtafal.
Also Saturday, Lily's Affair led all the way to victory in the $50,000 Waya Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 mile. The 6-year-old Colonial Affair mare got home 4 lengths to the good of Your Out, with Weekend Kaper third. The time was 1:43.98.
Rebridled dueled with Candid Glen through the final yards of Saturday's $30,000 Alliance Handicap before prevailing by a neck. Paco Loco was third. The favorite, Big Hubie, led into the far turn before fading to finish last. The 1 1/16 mile on yielding turf took 1:45.63.
Sunday, Gigi's Skyflyer scored a gate-to-wire victory in the $30,000 Senorita Stakes, finishing 3 ½ lengths ahead of the favorite, Cielo Girl. Khazi was a distant third. Gigi's Skyflyer, a daughter of Skywalker, got the 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:24.02.
Cherokee's Boy looked like Secretariat in winning Saturday's $50,000 Tri-State Futurity by 21 ¾ lengths. The Citidancer colt "widened at will" and "was well in hand" through the stretch, according to the Equibase chart. He ran 7 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:26.76. Forever Joe was second and Straight Star third.
Great Lakes Downs
Magna Cum Laude rallied by pace-setter Mercedes Red in the stretch run to win Saturday's $45,000 Michigan Juvenile Fillies Stakes by ¾ length. The favorite, Jean's Way, was third after pressing the early pace. Magna Cum Laude, a daughter of Pleasant Tap, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.78.
News and notes:
--The film version of Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit: An American Legend" has begun production in the Los Angeles area. Jockeys Chris McCarron and Gary Stevens both have roles in the production. The on-location scenes will be shot at Santa Anita, Fairplex, Keeneland and Saratoga. The film is scheduled for release in late July, 2003. Anyone for a premiere at Del Mar, the track built by the film stars?
--Arlington Park bugler Joe Kelly retired Sunday after 22 years on the racetrack. Discovered by Arlington execs playing jazz at a local club, Kelly brought a jazzy variation to the traditional horseracing sounds and also fit well into racing's party scene. In addition to his duties at Arlington, Kelly traveled to many other tracks for special race days. Someone else will call them to the post next year at Arlington but Kelly will not be replaced.