Darkness creeps ever earlier in the day and Jack Frost's icy finger already is probing deep into the nation's midsection. The green leaves that provided shade during the summer now are brown and clogging the gutters.
No matter. The 2-year-olds all turn 3 on New Year's Day and Thoroughbred racing fans will spend the next several months trying to solve the annual puzzle: Which of them will wear the roses on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs?
The pieces of the Kentucky Derby puzzle play out at race tracks where the sun shines and it's (usually) not cold: Gulfstream, Fair Grounds and Santa Anita, later at Oaklawn and Keeneland.
Vindication, a son of Seattle Slew, is an early Derby favorite after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Those picking trainers might want to take Bob Baffert and Aidan O'Brien -- they saddled the 1-2-3-4-5 finishers in the Juvenile (B-B-O-B-O, for those keeping score). But there are plenty of others out there.
And, honestly, who would have figured a year ago that War Emblem was to be the 2002 Derby winner? Most of the class hadn't learned that lesson at post time on Derby Day.
Here's what happened this weekend with the "Class of '03."
--We might as well start with Churchill Downs itself, where Sunday's $100,000 Iroquois Stakes leads to the Nov. 30 Kentucky Jockey Club, which leads to... well, you know. Champali, a son of Glitterman from the Dixieland Band mare Radioactivity, got the early lead in Sunday's race, dropped back to third and came again to win by 1 ¼ length. Alke was second and What a Bad Day was third. Pat Day rode Champali in 1:37.06. Day had been scheduled to ride Private Gold, who was scratched with a minor injury. Champali now is perfect in three starts, including a maiden event at Ellis Park and an allowance race at Keeneland.
--At Aqueduct, Added Edge shipped down from the frozen north (well, from Woodbine) and rolled to a 2 ½-length victory over Outer Reef in Saturday's $100,000 Nashua Stakes. The favorite, Cowdin winner Boston Bull, led but faded to finish third. And Pretty Wild, second in the Futurity and Hopeful, was scratched and faces surgery for a knee chip. Added Edge, a Kentucky-bred son of Smart Strike, now is perfect in four starts. He ran 1 mile in 1:36.77. "This is what we were hoping for today," said Barry Irwin of Team Valor. "He doesn't look like ad good horse and he doesn't move like a good horse but he is a good horse." Irwin and trainer Mark Casse said Added Edge will get a short break in Ocala, Fla., before starting his winter campaign at Gulfstream Park.
--The frozen north provided perhaps the most exciting 2-year-old race of the season as Arco's Gold and Mobil hit the wire in a dead heat in the $250,000 Coronation Futurity. But the stewards ruled that Mobil's jockey, Todd Kabel, had inadvertently hit Arco's Gold on the nose with his whip and set down Mobil to second. "My horse took a step back. It might have cost him the race," said Arco's Gold's jockey, Constant Montpellier. Arco's Gold remains undefeated in three starts. The 11/8 mile took 1:53.75.
--Crackup went for the lead on the second turn in Saturday's $125,000 Cal Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita and cruised home first, 2 lengths ahead of the favorite, Excessive Barb. Hair Jordan was third. Crackup, a son of Distorted Humor, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.82. "We'll see how he comes out of the race," trainer Rafael Becerra said of Crackup's future schedule. "I might have been too hard on him so I may just back off on him."
--Funny Cide, who won the Sleepy Hollow at Aqueduct rather than contest the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, is still on hold, trainer Barclay Tagg said Saturday. Tagg said he is considering running the undefeated son of Distorted Humor at Laurel, Aqueduct or Sam Houston but that each of those plans has a drawback. "There's a chance I'll take him south with my Florida string and not run him again this year," Tagg said.
--And speaking of sunny Florida, Calder Race Course on Nov. 16 will provide a preview of the winter season during the inaugural Florida Million program. The $150,000 Joe O'Farrell Juvenile Fillies and the $150,000 Jack Price Juvenile will lure some local talent that wasn't eligible for the Florida Stallion Series events.
Let's not forget the fillies. While they don't get as much national attention as the males, the contenders for the Kentucky Oaks provide at least as much excitement and, often, some better wagering options. The soon-to-be 3-year-old fillies also were in action during the weekend.
--At Churchill Downs on Saturday, Belle of Perintown had to contend with a traffic jam at the top of the stretch before going on to win the $100,000 Pocahontas by ¾ length over Star of Atticus. Belle of Perintown, a daughter of Dehere, ran the 1 mile in 1:36.52 under Mark Guidry. She now has two wins, two seconds and at third from six lifetime starts. Trainer Eddie Kenneally said he will consider the Golden Rod on Nov. 30. "And I think she will stretch out to two turns," he added. "I think she will go a mile and a sixteenth."
--Chimichurri led from gate to wire in Sunday's $100,000 Tempted Stakes at Aqueduct. The Elusive Quality filly, with John Velazquez up, ran evenly with only moderate pressure throughout from Reheat, who finished second. Bonay was third. Chimichurri finished the 1 mile in 1:37.52. "She finished up pretty good and it looked like she galloped out well," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher.
--At Santa Anita, Summer Wind Dancer rolled from well back in the field of 12 to win Saturday's $125,000 Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies by ½ length over Buttertart. Tizalovelylady was third. Summer Wind Dancer, by Siberian Summer, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.38. "It's the first time these fillies have gone this far," said winning jockey Alex Solis. "My filly kept trying and, luckily, we finally got to the other filly." Jenine Sahadi trains the winner.
--At Bay Meadows, Sailinwiththecaptain, the odds-on favorite, led in the early going of Saturday's $80,000 Don B. Stakes, was headed by Timely Jeff but came back to win by a neck. Novel T Dreamer was well back in third. Sailinwiththecaptain, a son of In Excess, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.01 and winning rider Russell Baze said the performance left something to be desired. "They were both staggering home," he said of the top two. "I was glad when we got to the wire."
In other weekend racing:
A field of 24 was drawn Saturday for Monday's 142nd running of the Melbourne Cup. Bookmaker Michael Eskander put up three contenders as co-favorites at 5-1 odds: Beekeeper, Pugin and Media Puzzle. Beekeeper and Pugin are both campaigned by Godolphin Racing.
Tates Creek moved up inside Voodoo Dancer in deep stretch to capture Sunday's $200,000 Las Palmas Handicap for fillies and mares by a neck. Magic Mission was third. Tates Creek, with Jerry Bailey at the controls, completed 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.69. "I thought we'd be in front turning for home," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "But that's the way Jerry wanted it. She's so game, this filly."
Also Sunday, Master Belt scored a huge upset in the $100,000 Morvich Handicap at 6 1.2 furlongs down the hillside course. Off at 68-1, the 4-year-old New Zealand-bred passed most of the field in the final furlong to win by a neck over I Love Silver. Chilean-bred Kachamandi was a head farther back in third and just a nose in front of Sarafan. The favorite, El Cielo, was fifth. Tyler Baze rode the winner for trainer Simon Bray. "I'd be lying if I said I thought he would win," said Bray. "I was going to be happy with third or fourth."
In Saturday's California Cup:
Calkins Road upset the $250,000 Cal Cup Classic, closing down the lane to outfinish Continental Red and win by a head. Slippery When Bet was third and the favorite, Grey Memo, was blocked in the stretch and finished fourth. Calkins Road, by Illinois Storm, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:49.16. Laffit Pincay Jr. rode Calkins Road for trainer John Shirreffs.
Turkish Pride pulled off the upset in the $175,000 Cal Cup Mile on the turf. The 7-year-old son of Prized rallied between horses to get home a neck in front of the favorite, Spinelessjellyfish. Adminniestrator was third. Turkish Pride, with Victor Espinoza in the irons, was clocked in 1:34.82. "I just wanted to take a shot," said Espinoza of his inside trip. "If it opened up, maybe we'd get lucky."
Super High led all the way to a 2 ½-length victory over Broke the Slump in the $150,000 Cal Cup Matron. The 3-year-old daughter of High Brite, with Pat Valenzuela up, finished 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.64. "She set her own pace," Valenzuela said.
In the $150,000 Cal Cup Distaff, at 6 ½ furlongs down the hillside turf course, Lil Sister Stich got clear after the crossover and scored a 1-length victory over Party Pirate. Top of Our Game was third. Lil Sister Stich toted Pincay to victory in 1:13.36. "She was trying hard through the stretch," Pincay said.
Unlimited Value was good value at nearly 7-1 in the $150,000 Cal Cup Sprint. The 6-year-old son of Present Value opened up a daylight lead and coasted home a 3 ¼-length winner over Treasured Note. Con Quixote was third and the favorite, Stormy Jack, could only manage fourth. The 6 furlongs took 1:08.35.
Nicole's Pursuit won the head bob over Shalini at the end of 1 ¼ mile in the $100,000 Cal Cup Distance Handicap. Nicole's Pursuit, a 3-year-old daughter of Flying Continental, was timed in 2:01.93.
Hawthorne Race Course
Kimberlite Pipe jumped out to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap and never looked back. The 6-year-old son of Take Me Out, who had not hit the board (that is, finished in the top three) in five previous starts this year, shortened up to 1 mile on the turf after running longer in his last three starts in Canada. Aslaaf closed well to take second and Major Omansky was third. "He's a big strong horse," said winning rider Chris Emigh. "But toward the end, I was getting a little nervous, wondering, 'Where's the wire?'"
Lady Shari wrapped up a likely Canadian 3-year-old filly championship with a 3 ½-length victory in Saturday's $175,000 Maple Leaf Stakes. The daughter of Judge TC covered the 1 ¼ mile in 2:06.22, with Small Promises second and Silver Nithi third. Lady Shari's 2002 campaign included a victory over colts in the Canadian Derby at Northlands.
Spanish Decree caught Mountain Orchid in the final yards to win Sunday's $150,000 Jammed Lovely Stakes by a nose. Constant Montpellier was aboard Spanish Decree, completing a three-bagger of stakes wins for the weekend. Spanish Decree finished the 7 furlongs in 1:24.52 on a fast track.
Dawn of the Condor got going a little late in Saturday's $150,000 Knickerbocker Handicap but once jockey Jorge Chavez got room on the rail in upper stretch, the 5-year-old son of Twining soared home a 2-length winner. Serial Bride was second and Polish Miner was third in the 9-furlong turf test, clocked in 1:52.54. The favorite, North East Bound, led early but faded to finish sixth. "He wants to stay down inside and in a little bit of trouble," said winning trainer Gary Sciacca. "He likes to fight for it."
Sunday, Svea Dahl led most of the way to a 4-length victory in the Turnback the Alarm Handicap for fillies and mares. The 5-year-old mare by Honor Grades, with Richard Migliore in the irons, ran the 1 1/8 mile in 1:50.42. Mystic Lady was second and Critical Eye third.
Royal Gem won a three-horse charge to the wire in Sunday's $100,000 Bay Meadows Derby, finishing a neck ahead of Aly Bubba. Century City broke slowly and was third, just a nose farther back. Royal Gem, a Kentucky-bred son of Royal Academy, finished the about 9 furlongs in 1:48.38 under Russell Baze. Humberto Ascanio, assistant to winning trainer Bobby Frankel, said he "liked the way (Baze) kept the favorite (Century City) inside of us. He really kicked on well down the lane."
Remember Red Bullet? Beat Fusaichi Pegasus in the Preakness a few years ago? Well, he's back. Red Bullet got a start on the comeback road in Saturday's $55,000 Foggy Road Stakes, cruising from near the back of the eight-horse field to win by 2 ½ lengths. The 5-year-old son of Unbridled, with Michael McCarthy up, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.34. "I was really pleased with his effort," said trainer Joe Orseno. Orseno said McCarthy "let him gallop out nice and we should be ready for the Cigar Mile off of this." Rusty Spur was second and Marciano was third.
Willa On The Move lived up to her name in Saturday's $60,000 Politely Stakes for 3-year-old Maryland-bred fillies, running off to win by 11 lengths over Gazillion. Phyxius was third. "Once I asked her, she just took off," said winning rider Jozbin Santana. "I was just a passenger today." The daughter of Two Punch ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.62.
Donna's Mailbag delivered in Saturday's $30,000 Excalibur Stakes for 3-year-olds. Racing from just behind the leaders, Donna's Mailbag, a Louisiana-bred son of Bag, challenged Ruling Star at the top of the stretch and the pair dueled to the wire, with Mailbag getting there ½ length in front. Richest Half was third. The 7 furlongs went in stakes-record time of 1:22.29. "We had a perfect trip," said winning jockey Tim Doocy.
Sunday. Impetuous Molly won the $25,000 Lady Razorback Futurity by 10 ¼ lengths over Ashley's Paige in 1:12.82. In the Razorback Futurity, Quote Me Later broke poorly, was rushed to the lead and still held on to win by a neck over Redcuda in 1:13.20.
News and notes
--In the wake of apparent problems with the Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick 6, the "big three" of North American horse racing Saturday announced they have taken steps to prevent pari-mutuel irregularities. Magna Entertainment, Churchill Downs Inc. and the New York Racing Association said security audits began Friday to ensure that internal controls are maintained, ensure the physical security of on-site tote facilities and perform background checks on employees. "It is imperative that we protect the interests of the customers that support our industry," said CDI President and CEO Thomas Meeker.
--The International Thoroughbred Exposition and Conference is back. The ITEC, held in Kentucky from 1986 through 1991, will resume June 20-22, 2003, at the Lexington Center in Lexington, Ky. The event, geared for owners, breeders, farm managers and personnel, trainers, veterinarians, jockeys, farriers, track managers and trade representatives, is co-sponsored by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders.
--Trainer Mike Reavis saddled five winners on Saturday's card at Hawthorne Race Course. Track officials said the only other recorded five-win day by a Chicago-area trainer was scored by Tom Tomillo at Sportsman's Park six years ago. The only Reavis missed was the third and, ironically, he saddled an entry in that event.