A powerful field showed up from around the country for Saturday's $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff but it was the home team winning as Softly got up in the final yards to beat Bare Necessities.
"We said we're on our home track," said winning trainer Carl Nafzger. "Now let's see ... we have no excuses here."
None was needed. Jockey John Court let Softly track the pace into the stretch. He got the last run at the leaders and made it count. Softly, a 4-year-old Binalong filly, covered the 1 mile in 1:35.07, returning $49.60 straight.
Victory Ride was third and Trip, the post-time favorite, finished seventh. Habibti was eighth.
Nafzger said the opposition was impressive.
"But they're not the kind of horses that are going to go out here and just beat you every trip. They have their good days and their bad days and I said if we fire and they don't, it's out home track. Let's see what we've got," he added.
--For those looking for an early prospect in the 2003 Kentucky Oaks, cast an eye on My Boston Gal. The Boston Harbor filly, trained by Nafzger, won with ease in a Friday "non-winner of one other-than" allowance race, backing up a similar effort in her first start at Keeneland. With Calvin Borel up in Friday's effort, My Boston Gal rated on the inside, was blocked at the top of the stretch, bumped at the three-sixteenths pole and still won by 5 ¼ lengths over the favorite, My Trusty Cat. My Boston Gal was a $95,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase.
In other racing:
Hawthorne Race Course
"Speed on the lead" was the thing in Saturday's Illinois-bred festival, featuring six $100,000 events for the local crop.
In none of those races was the value of speed more evident than the Illini Princess, for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 mile. Two Item Limit was the heavy favorite despite her poor showing two weeks ago in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. But it was the unheralded (26-1) Vibes who got to the front and stayed there, winning by ½ length over Out of Options. Ellie's Rose was third and Two Item Limit was off the board in fourth. Vibes, a 3-year-old daughter of Ide, obviously benefited from a spirited Breeders' Cup week workout at Arlington Park and finished Saturday's event in 1:48.60.
The Illini Princess was a nice consolation surprise for trainer Gene Cilio, who was DQ'ed from victory in the Showtime Deb for 2-year-old fillies when Invader crossed the wire first but was set down behind She's Fantastic for a late bump. Julie's Prize was third. Invader led most of the way. The 6 furlongs took 1:13.27. "It was some vindication," Cilio said.
Tejano Honey was right there on the pace in the Powerless Stakes for fillies and mares and held off a late charge from Win Won to score by ¾ length. Come September was third as the 6 furlongs went in 1:12.11. Whatashot also was close to the pace set by Bold America through most of the Sun Power Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings, then went on to win by 4 ½ lengths over that rival with the favorite, Shandy, finishing third.
Too Many Bucks was too comfy out front in the Lightning Jet Stakes for 3-year-olds and up, edging clear to win by ½ length over Tic N Tin. Classic Appeal was third. Chinkapin was the closest thing to an off-the-pace winner, capturing the Illinois Coronet Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 mile. The 6-year-old son of Personal Flag won by 4 lengths after running fourth midway through the event.
Sentimental Value had never raced on the main track, much less on a wet surface. But when Saturday's $125,000 Matiara Stakes came off the lawn, trainer Kristin Mulhall decided to give it a go anyway. The result: Sentimental Value got the lead at the top of the lane and cruised home, winning by 4 lengths over Secret Garden. Company B was third. Sentimental Value, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Diesis, ran 1 1/8 mile on a wet-fast track in 1:52.12. "She handled the off track fine and seemed to like the dirt, too," said winning rider Victor Espinoza. Mulhall said he will seek a race for the filly at Santa Anita.
Sunday, Reba's Gold used the $70,000 Steinlen Handicap as a warmup for the Japan Cup Dirt. After taking the lead midway through the 1 1/16-mile Steinlen, Reba's Gold was headed by Mercenary at midstretch and came back to win by a head. Seinne was third. Reba's Gold, a 5-year-old son of Slew o' Gold, finished in 1:44.77. Reba's Gold is owned by "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek, who said the horse "always does well, no matter what the company is. So if he can do the same thing for us in Japan, I'l lbe very happy."
Babae opened up a daylight lead by mid-stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Athenia Handicap, then held on to beat Strawberry Blonde by ¾ length. Silver Rail was third, followed by Polygreen and Golden Corona in a rainbow finish. Babae, a Chilean-bred 6-year-old, ran the 1 1/16 mile on yielding turf in 1:44.90. This is the second straight year Babae has won the Athenia. "She's a really good filly. She never runs a bad race," said winning trainer Frank Alexander. He said he hopes to get Babae to Florida for the Dec. 7 My Charmer at Calder.
Sunday was New York Stallion Stakes day, featuring four stakes events for the local product.
Grey Comet led from gate to wire in winning the $125,000 Great White Way for 2-year-old colts and geldings by 1 ½ lengths over the favored entry of Ruby's Pro and Polish Jewel. Tomorrow's Banquet was home fourth. Grey Comet, a son of Distinctive Pro, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.01. "I really think he's the real deal," said winning trainer Gary Contessa. "I don't mean Kentucky Derby real deal, but real deal for New York-breds." Just to be clear...
In the Fifth Avenue, for 2-year-old fillies, Beautiful America also led all the way, drawing off to win by 6 lengths over Hanselina. The Name Was Gone (Jockey Club problems?) finished third. Beautiful America, a daughter of Dixie Brass, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.41 and trainer Mike Hernandez had bigger hopes for her. "I hope she turns out to be like Xtra Heat," he said.
Haggs Castle rolled from far back to win the $125,000 Cormorant Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths over Chasin' Wimmin, running 1 mile on the turf in 1:39.54. No White Flags was third. And Lovely Amanda got a good pace-stalking trip to win the $125,000 Perfect Arc by ½ length with Wootie and Dat You Miz Blue dead-heating for second and third. Lovely Amanda, by Belong to Me, ran the 1 mile on the grass in 1:40.48.
Jenny's Prospector, with apprentice John McKee up, closed quickly in the stretch run to win Saturday's $100,000 Hoosier Debutante Stakes by 1 ¾ lengths over Hurry Home. Wildcat Annie was third and the favorite, Southern Smoke faded to finish fourth as the 6 furlongs went in 1:11.50. "I have learned to just be patient," said the young rider, crediting his agent, Eddie Campbell. Jenny's Prospector, a daughter of Banker's Gold, banked her second winner's share in her fifth start.
Parose came from well back in the pack to win Saturday's $150,000 Woodbine Slots Cup Handicap by ½ length over Attest. Divine Luck was third. Parose, an 8-year-old Parlay Me gelding, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:45.10 under Todd Kabel.
The 2-year-old fillies took the spotlight Sunday in the $125,000 Glorious Song Stakes, Buffalo Jump, the only Ontario-bred in the field, tracked a trio of early leaders, had to go around all of them into the stretch and still managed to win by a neck over Dolly Dynamite. Smart Angel was third. The 7 furlongs went in 1:24.22. Winning rider Patrick Husbands said Buffalo Jump, a daughter of Benny the Dip, needs more seasoning despite the victory. "Down the lane is a bit of a problem now," he said.
Boca Flyer let The Sewickley Kid soften up heavy favorite Getoutofmyway in the early going in Saturday's $60,000 Humphrey S. Finney Stakes, then took up the challenge and won by a head bob. The 9 furlongs, for state-bred 3-year-olds, took 1:51.68.
Golden Gate Fields
Halo Cat stayed close to the leaders in Saturday's $60,000 Albany Handicap, forged to the lead a furlong out and coasted in first, 3 ¼ lengths ahead of San Nicolas. Radar Contact was only a head farther back in third. Halo Cat, a son of Southern Halo, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:09.42. Metatron, the favorite, finished seventh of eight. "He ran against Bonapaw in Chicago and that was tough on him," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "We gave him some time and he's responded pretty well."
In Sunday's $60,000 Camilla Urso Handicap for fillies and mares, pace-setting Onslaught was headed by Fertile in the stretch drive but came back to win by ½ length. Bullish Miss finished third. The 6 furlongs on a sloppy track took 1:09.96. "I thought she was going to hang on me," said winning rider Chad Schvaneveldt. "But when I hit her left-handed, she came on again."
Raymond's Dream dueled with Mike's Sister through most of Saturday night's $40,000 Zydeco Stakes before getting home first by a neck. Fust It was third, another neck back. Raymond's Dream, a 4-year-old daughter of Prospect Bay, ran 5 furlongs in 59.07 seconds. The favorite, Kwik Kash, raced evenly to finish fifth.
Queen Kelly got through on the inside and went on to win Saturday's $30,000 Southern Belle by 1 ½ lengths over Rubies N Roses. Itsmybag finished third. "She did it all on her own," said winning jockey Chandra Rennie. Queen Kelly ran the 6 furlongs in 1:12.18.
Sunday, Mr. Rex King -- isn't that redundant? -- dueled for the lead in the $30,000 Pelican State, then held off a late run by Witt Ante to win by a neck. Sevenforbish was third after contesting the pace. Mr. Rex King finished in 1:11.38.
Mr. Meso dueled with Wellfleet in the stretch run of Saturday's $30,000 Anthony DeSpirito Stakes for 2-year-olds, then drew clear in the late going to win by 3 lengths. Wellfleet held second with Comp third. Mr. Meso, a Mass-bred son of Mesopotamia, ran 6 furlongs in 1:13.36.
Trainer Jenine Sahadi's operation raided Phoenix successfully Saturday as Pina Colada found running room in the stretch and went on to win the $30,000 Chandler Handicap for 3-year-old fillies by 3 lengths over Princess Forever. No Turbulence was third. Pina Colada, a British-bred daughter of Sabrehill, was clocked in 1:29.61 for the 7 ½ furlongs.
Kris Havingfunnow broke near the back of the field in Saturday night's $30,000 Buffalo Bayou Stakes, worked through the field and won off by 1 ¾ lengths. Rasby was second and Thunder Fish third in the 1 1/16 mile turf event, clocked in 1:46.34. Kris Havingfunnow is a 4-year-old, Florida-bred son of Kissin Kris.
Mick led all the way to a comfortable, 1 ¾-length victory over Kickin Kountry in Sunday's $30,000 Clever Trevor Stakes for 2-year-olds. Mick, an Oklahoma-bred son of Lac Ouimet, led by as much as 5 lengths at the top of the lane and finished the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:17.62. Mav Cat was third.
Media Puzzle, a 6-year-old Theatrical gelding, cruised by the field with 2 furlongs to go in Tuesday's Melbourne Cup and went on to win the 142nd running of the fabled race. Mr. Prudent, a local, finished second but third and fourth placings went to European invaders -- Godolphin's Beekeeper in third and Vinnie Roe in fourth. Dermot Weld trains both Media Puzzle and Vinnie Roe. Winning rider Damien Oliver dedicated the victory to his late brother, Jason, who died a week earlier following a racing accident at Belmont Racecourse in Perth. "I'd surely give it back to get my brother back," Damien Oliver said of his Melbourne Cup win.