Racing didn't get a Triple Crown winner as Empire Maker spoiled Funny Cide's bid in the Belmont Stakes. Instead, the sport appears to have inherited a spirited rivalry that could enliven the months leading up to the Breeders' Cup Classic this fall at Santa Anita.
The rivalry actually started within minutes of Funny Cide's upset victory over Empire Maker in the Kentucky Derby. Empire Maker, the regally bred favorite, couldn't catch Funny Cide that day and his jockey, Jerry Bailey, and trainer, Bobby Frankel, found the defeat tough to swallow.
Bailey said right after the Derby he still believed Empire Maker was the better horse, victimized by a more difficult trip in the Run for the Roses. After the tables were turned Saturday on a sloppy Belmont Park strip, Frankel and Bailey claimed vindication. And they said Sunday they're looking forward to continuing the rivalry through the year, with potential Horse of the Year honors hanging in the balance.
"You can never bee 100 percent sure, but I was very confident in him" said Frankel, who oozed confidence in Empire Maker throughout the week leading up to the Belmont. "I would have been very disappointed if (Funny Cide) beat me again."
Frankel said Empire Maker will go next in the Jim Dandy on Aug. 3 at Saratoga, then in the Travers on Aug. 23 - a race where he probably would face Funny Cide again.
"I think he's a very good horse," Frankel said of his rival. "I usually don't look to run against competition. I would usually like it to be as easy as possible. I'm looking forward to running against him."
Robin Smullen, assistant to Funny Cide's trainer, Barclay Tagg, said Funny Cide still should be respected for winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing third behind Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted after leading through much of the Belmont over a track he didn't like.
"Empire Maker was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. But Funny Cide beat him in Kentucky," Smullen said. "And then, for whatever reason, Empire Maker wasn't good enough to make the Preakness. But Funny Cide did - and he won big. So now, we come to the Belmont and Empire Maker wins one of the three races he was supposed to win."
Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sakatoga Stable, which owns Funny Cide, said the group will consider the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth on Aug. 3 as the Travers prep.
No Triple Crown. But the summer should be interesting.
In other racing during Belmont Stakes week at Belmont Park:
--Denon, another Frankel-Bailey proposition, won the day's second-biggest purse, the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap. After rating on the outside behind a slow pace, the 5-year-old son of Pleasant Colony rallied four-wide into the stretch, broke into the clear and held off Requette by 1/2 length under the wire. Dr. Brendler was third. Denon ran the 1 1/4 mile over the "soft" inner turf course in 2:14.16. "I said last week that was the softest course I had ever ridden on. This was softer," said Bailey. "We were all sinking into it." Bailey said he wasn't sure how much horse he would have for the stretch run, but, "When I asked, he really accelerated." Frankel also said he "didn't know what to expect from him. He's never run on ground like that before." Denon was fifth in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington Park.
--In one of the premier sprints of the year, Shake You Down surged to a clear lead in the stretch run of the $250,000 True North Breeders' Cup Handicap, then barely held off Highway Prospector to win by a neck. Vodka was third. Shake You Down, a 5-year-old son of Montbrook, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.59 for Michael Luzzi. He now has won four straight races since being claimed for $65,000 in March at Aqueduct by trainer Scott Lake. "This is a really fast horse," Luzzi said.
--For the 3-year-olds not capable of the Belmont's mile and half, there is the 7-furlong, $200,000 Riva Ridge Breeders' Cup Stakes. And it was Posse running down heavy favorite Midas Eyes in the stretch to win the race by a nose, with Halo Homewrecker third. Posse, a son of Silver Deputy, was clocked in 1:22.03 under Corey Lanerie. The Kentucky invader now has won three in a row, including the Lafayette at Keeneland, and four of his last five starts. "I like fast horses," said winning owner Bill Heiligbrodt. "And this is really a fast horse."
--Mariensky, running on just one week's rest after winning the Sheepshead Bay Handicap by more than 8 lengths, came from the back of the pack to win the $200,000 Just A Game Breeders' Cup Handicap by 2 lengths over Riskaverse. The favorite, Wonder Again, was a head farther back in third. Mariensky, a 4-year-old Gulch filly, finished the 1 mile over "soft" turf in 1:43.28.
--Alchemilla came four-wide into the stretch and just hit the line a nose in front of She's Got the Beat in the $65,000 Affirmed Stakes for fillies and mares. Alchemilla, a 4-year-old daughter of Deputy Minister, ran 1 mile under John Velazquez in 1:37.01.
--Bird Town won a stretch battle with Lady Tak to win Friday's $250,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a head. Final Round was third and the favorite, 2002 juvenile fillies champ Storm Flag Flying, continued her sophomore slide by finishing sixth. Bird Town, a daughter of Cape Town out of Dear Birdie, also won the Kentucky Oaks. Winning trainer Nick Zito said his filly may not try the New York "Triple Tiara" despite a new $2 million bonus - "The way it's set up, it could be $22 million," he said - and instead will point to the Alabama at Saratoga as his main goal.
--Rodeo Licious led from gate to wire in Thursday's $75,000 Fashion Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The daughter of Rodeo ran 5 furlongs in 58.19 seconds on a muddy track. "These are young horses. Let them chase you," reasoned winning rider Richard Migliore.
--On Sunday, Shawklit Mint led only two rivals through all 6 1/2 furlongs of the $150,000 Vagrancy Handicap for fillies and mares. With Richard Migliore calling the shots, the 4-year-old daughter of Air Forbes Won scored by 1 3/4 lengths over Shine Again with Gold Mover last. The race was clocked in 1:15.38 on a muddy surface.
--Winners of Sunday's $250,000 New York Stallion Stakes events were Bo Bo's Vice (Cab Calloway Stakes for colts and geldings) and Beautiful America (Statue of Liberty Stakes for fillies). Bo Bo's Vice, a son of Raffie's Majesty, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.62 on a muddy track for Jorge Chavez. Beautiful America was clocked in 1:42.42 under Jose Santos.
In other weekend racing:
A New York-bred won the Kentucky Derby but a Kentucky-bred won the Vodafone Epsom Derby. Kris Kin, making just his fourth career start, got through a small opening on the inside during the stretch run, angled out under a an energetic ride by Kieren Fallon and won by 1 length over the pace-setter, The Great Gatsby. Alamshar was third and previously unbeaten favorite Refuse to Bend bent badly, getting home 13th of 20 starters. Kris Kin, a son of Kris S., was supplemented to the field on Monday for $135,000. Sold at the September 2001 Keeneland yearling sale for $275,000, the colt won $1.4 million Saturday for his owner, Saeed Shuail. The race went in 2:33.35 on "good" footing. "I had initially earmarked him for the French Derby," said winning trainer Michael Stoute, "as I thought Chantilly would suit him better. But that looked a good race this year so we decided to supplement him for this." Fallon said he was "a bit worried" by traffic at the top of the straight. "But I just let him find himself and everything turned out okay."
Senor Swinger certainly has had an interesting spring. Purchased in March by trainer Bob Baffert to give Bob and Beverly Lewis a chance in the Triple Crown races, the El Prado colt showed little in the Wood Memorial and was dropped from Kentucky Derby contention to start, instead, on the grass in the Crown Royal American Turf the day before the Run for the Roses. In his first start on the green course, Senor Swinger was the easiest kind of winner so Baffert ran him back on the main track in the Preakness, where he finished fifth, beaten 12 1/2 lengths. Lesson apparently learned - finally - Baffert had the colt back on the grass in Saturday's $200,000 Jefferson Cup. Of course, he won by 5 1/2 lengths, with Remind second and Rapid Proof third. With Robby Albarado up, Senor Swinger swung five-wide into the stretch and drew off easily, running 9 furlongs on firm footing in 1:47.54. "The thing this horse has in his favor is his acceleration," said Baffert assistant John Good. "He was back there but that's his running style, no matter what."
Quero Quero upset Saturday's $200,000 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-old fillies, outrunning Atlantic Ocean in the final sixteenth to win by a neck. Sharpbill was third. Quero Quero, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Royal Academy, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.34. "I just waited until I had to move," said winning jockey Tyler Baze. I even let a couple of horses go by me. But when I asked her and got her to the outside, she just blew up."
Madame Pietra, with Patrick Valenzuela up, came from off the pace to win the Desert Stormer Handicap for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Bear Fan. Jetinto Houston, the favorite, finished third after leading early. Madame Pietra, a 6-year-old daughter of Roy, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.71.
Sunday, Yogi's Polar Bear drew clear in the stretch drive to upset the $75,000 Cinderella Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. With Victor Espinoza up, the Florida-bred daughter of Lucky Lionel beat Smoke Break by 3 lengths with Outrageous Oyster third. The favorite, Hot Weekend, struggled home sixth. Yogi's Polar Bear ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.57.
Too Late Now remained undefeated in four starts with a pace-setting victory in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Labatt Woodbine Oaks. The filly grabbed a 2-length lead at the top of the stretch and had to hold on to beat Seeking The Ring by a neck. The 9 furlongs went in 1:53.05. Too Late Now, unraced as a 2-year-old, won the Selene Stakes in her first effort above the allowance level. "She was jogging in the snow up to her stomach up in Everett back in early February and was an unraced maiden," said winning breeder and trainer Jim Day. "How she's gone from there to an undefeated Oaks winner is pretty special."
Winning Chance dominated a quality field in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Matron Stakes, cruising home 6 lengths in front of runner-up Ginger Gold. Small Promises finished third. Winning Chance, who has won all three starts in 2003, is a 4-year-old daughter of 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic winner (at Woodbine) Alphabet Soup. She ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.72. "We knew we were going to be real tough today," said trainer Todd Kabel, "and obviously she ran to the way she's been training."
Bowman's Band and Private Lap turned Saturday's $100,000 Brandywine Handicap into a match race. Stalking Private Lap in the early going, Bowman's Band edged to the lead with 3 furlongs left in the 1-mile race and battled through the stretch to win by a neck. After Private Lap, it was 20 lengths back to Justification in third. Bowman's Band, a 5-year-old son of Dixieland Band, was clocked in 1:36.64 on a sloppy track.
Golden Ticket splashed right to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Greenwood Cup Handicap and drew off to win by 10 1/4 lengths over the even-money favorite, Asong for Billy. Yankee Doodle Boy was third. Golden Ticket, a 5-year-old Deposit Ticket gelding, ran 1 1/2 mile on a sloppy track in 2:31.61.
Pickupspeed did just that in the closing furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Jennings Handicap for Maryland-breds. The 6-year-old Broad Brush gelding trailed all five rivals through 6 furlongs, then passed them all as the field turned for home and was just along in time to beat Acrolect by a neck. Polish Pride was well back in third at the line. Pickupspeed completed the 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:52.07. Local favorite P Day was one of three scratches amid bad weather.
Lone Star Park
Next Bandit scored a gate-to-wire victory in Saturday's $150,000 Texas Thoroughbred Association Sales Futurity and Bluegrass Sara won the companion $150,000 filly division by 2 1/2 lengths. Next Bandit, a 2-year-old son of Time Bandit, ran the 5 furlongs in stakes-record time of 55.28 seconds, remaining undefeated. Bluegrass Sara tracked the early lead before taking over her race. She finished in 57.80.
Docent didn't lead the tour in Saturday's $75,000 Slipton Fell Handicap. But the 5-year-old son of Waquoit did reach the lead early in the stretch and then held on to beat X Country by a head. Prison Boy was third, followed by Tour the Hive and Niner's Echo. Docent, a Pennsylvania-bred, completed the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41.36.
Wildwood Royal shipped in from Illinois to win Saturday's $50,000 Panthers Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, leading from gate to wire. Moonlight Sonata was second and the heavy favorite, Ruby's Reception, could do no better than third. Wildwood Royal ran the 1 mile on a sloppy track in stakes-record time of 1:36.97. "The old saying is, if a horse will run on the grass, they like the mud and vice versa," said winning trainer Jimmy Zook. "I think she likes the grass." He said he hopes to bring Wildwood Royal back for the Iowa Oaks on the Fourth of July.
More than half the field took an unscheduled day off when Saturday's $50,000 Wolf Hill Stakes was moved from the grass to a sloppy main track. That left Native Heir to score a gate-to-wire, 3/4-length victory over Jeb's Wild, with Go Rail Go third. Native Hein, a 5-year-old, Virginia-bred gelding by Makin, ran the 5 furlongs in 57.10 seconds.
The "house horse," Apt to Be, waited nicely behind the quick pace in Saturday's $45,000 Dr. Fager Stakes, then took charge in the final furlong to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Dulce de Leche. Stormy Impact finished third. Apt to Be, owned by Arlington Chairman Richard L. Duchossois, ran the 1 mile in 1:35.75 - fastest time of the meet but well off the then-world record of 1:32 1/5 established by Dr. Fager at Arlington on Aug. 24, 1968. "The race set up just the way we thought," said winning rider Eusebio Razo Jr. "Once he got to the lead, he was waiting for someone to come to him but nobody did."
Sunday, Character Witness scored a gate-to-wire victory in the $45,000 Awad Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Dumaani gelding, with E.T. Baird up, got home 3 lengths to the good of Megoman. The odds-on favorite, Herculated, finished third. The race is named for the brilliant winner of the 1995 Arlington Million who, according The Blood-Horse Stallion Register for 2003, now stands at the Northview Stallion Station in Maryland for $3,500 live foal.
The Downs at Albuquerque
Moro Grande scored a major upset in Sunday's $100,000 Downs at Albuquerqe Handicap, leading most of the way to a 1-length victory over Funny Meeting. Nate's Colony, the favorite, checked in third. Moro Grande, a gray, Colorado-bred son of Fuzzy, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.42. He was headed midway through the race before finding another gear.
Fame Ina Minute took back behind the early leader in Saturday's $40,000 Albuquerque Derby, came outside to gain the lead at the half-mile mark and coasted home a 2 1/2-length winner over Novel T Dreamer. Latenite Trick was third as the favorite. Fame Ina Minute, a California-bred son of Western Flame, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.59.
Quote Me Later stuck close to the leaders until they turned into the stretch in Saturday's $35,000 St. Paul Stakes for 3-year-olds, then sprinted to the lead and held on to win by a neck over late-running Bohunk. Hero's Pleasure also made a late run to take third. The favorite, Bone Dog, broke down while making his bid in the stretch and was vanned off. Quote Me Later, an Arkansas-bred colt by Bold Anthony, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:11.23.
News and Notes
The "Claiming Crown," one of the year's most interesting days of racing, has drawn nearly 300 nominations, including a half-dozen stakes winners. The fifth running of the series, to be contested on July 19 at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, includes six added-money events with total purses of $550,000 for horses entered to be claimed during the previous year. The list of intended starters shows horses shipping in from 14 states.