Already, with four months to go until this year's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, competition in the sprint division is heating up. Weekend action ranged from England to California:
--If a horse can travel from Australia to win not one but two races during the Royal Ascot meeting, finishing the second in course-record time, what can't he do? Said trainer Paul Perry after Choisir won the Group 1 Golden Jubilee on Saturday from the No. 20 post, "Johnny (Murtagh) jumped off and told me to leave Choisir in Britain because he is sure nothing in Europe will beat him." The Australian invader, who came to England because the Singapore races were called off this year, finished in record time of 1:12.23. Choisir also won the opening-day King's Stand Stakes, a Group 2 event. "He is a serious sprinter and now we will have to think about staying on for the July Cup at Newmarket," Perry said. Airwave, the favorite, got home second in the Golden Jubilee, 1/2 length back of Choisir. Morluc shipped in from the United States to finish last and jockey Gary Stevens said he didn't like the undulating ground. "He wants a dead flat track," Stevens said.
--In Saturday's $100,000 Aristides Handicap at Churchill Downs, Mountain General came five-wide into the stretch, was steadied at the three-sixteenths pole, then was bumped but still got up in time to nail Beau's Town at the wire. Pass Rush was third in the 6 1/2-furlong event, clocked in 1:16.01. "It was a very competitive field and I couldn't be any more proud of our horse," said Scott Blasi, assistant to winning trainer Steve Asmussen. Winning jockey Corey Lanerie said Mountain General, a 5-year-old son of Mountain Cat, overcame the traffic problems with talent. "He was tons the best and I'm just glad it worked out because he was the best horse," Lanerie said.
--Peeping Tom shipped in to win Saturday's $200,000 James B. Moseley Breeders' Cup Handicap at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts. The 6-year-old Eagle Eyed gelding tracked the early pace and drew clear from My Cousin Matt in the late going to win by 1 3/4 lengths. True Direction was third. Peeping Tom, with Shaun Bridgmohan up, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.42.
--They were sprinting in Iowa, too. Chindi came from last in a field of seven to win Saturday's $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap by a head over Private Horde with Sand Ridge third. Chindi, a 9-year-old El Prado gelding, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.63 under Tim Doocy.
In other weekend races with implications for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships on Oct. 25:
$3 million Classic
--Just in case anyone is under the mistaken impression that Empire Maker and Funny Cide are the only 3-year-olds to watch during the second half of the year, in Saturday's $300,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown, Wild and Wicked shot to the top ranks of the division with an impressive, pace-stalking victory over local favorite Hackendiffy. The son of Wild Again-Wicked Witchcraft, with Shane Sellers up, finished the 9 furlongs in 1:50.08. Midway Road, second in the Preakness, had a troubled trip early in the Ohio Derby and finished third. "He wasn't fully developed as a 2-year-old," said winning trainer Ken McPeek. "We gave him some time off, which made him stronger and better. This horse is physically very special."
--And north of the border at Woodbine, Wando dusted 11 rivals in Sunday's $1 million (Canadian) Queen's Plate. The son of Langfur led from gate to wire but hit the afterburners in the stretch and found no takers. He finished in 2:02.48, with stablemate Mobil in second and Rock Again third. "He sure is a wonderful horse," said winning owner Gus Shickendanz. "I always felt that Wando was the better horse, the stronger horse. But we never knew that he could go the distance. But he sure proved it." Wando came into the 144th running of the Queen's Plate off a five-week layoff. Before that, he was an easy winner in the Marine Stakes on May 17. The colt now is eligible for a bonus payout if he can win the other two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown – the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie and the Breeders Stakes on the turf at Woodbine on Aug. 9.
$2 million Distaff
--Reigning "Horse of the Year" Azeri won her 10th straight race in the $250,000 Vanity Handicap Saturday at Hollywood Park, dueling Silver Girl Blues into submission and then easing clear to finish 2 lengths in front. Bare Necessities was third. The 9 furlongs required 1:48.48. Azeri toted 127 pounds, giving 16 pounds to the runner-up, but jockey Mike Smith said that wasn't a deterrent to the 5-year-old Jade Hunter mare. "Galloping out, I went to pull her up and she took off," Smith said. "I had to get the outrider to come and get me." Trainer Laura de Seroux said Azeri's ability to relax helped overcome the weight differential. "She was just so relaxed and that's the way we like to have her," de Seroux said. "That bodes well for her – her longevity and her streak and that she lines out like this."
--All things being equal, the Distaff might come down to Azeri and "the rest of them." That bunch could be headed by Sightseek, the easy winner of Saturday's $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handcap at rain-saturated Belmont Park. After tracking Take Charge Lady, Sightseek responded to the question from Jerry Bailey and drew off smartly to win by 5 lengths. Take Charge Lady held second over Mandy's Gold. Sightseek, a 4-year-old Distant View filly from the deep barn of trainer Bobby Frankel, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:40.89 on a sloppy track. "I just wish the Breeders' Cup was back East instead of Santa Anita," Frankel said. "I'm not sure how fond she is of Santa Anita." Sightseek has finished second in each of three starts at the California oval. Overall, she has five wins and four seconds from nine lifetime starts.
--At Delaware Park on Saturday, Devon Rose led most of the way to take the $100,000 Obeah Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths over Shiny Sheet. True Sensation was third. Devon Rose, a 4-year-old daughter of Devongate, ran 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:50.24. "As soon as she crossed the finish line, I called (owner Rick Englander) and the first words out of his mouth were 'Delaware Handicap,'" said winning trainer Allen Iwinski. "I think she has certainly earned the opportunity and the chance."
$2 million Turf
At Royal Ascot on Wednesday, Nayef closed well through the late going to win the Prince of Wales Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths over last year's Italian Derby winner, Raki. The only filly in the race, Islington, finished third. Naytef was clocked in 2:05.30 over "good to firm" going. Moon Ballad, who reportedly is being pointed to the Breeders' Cup Classic, led into the stretch but faded badly. Last year's winner, Grandera, finished seventh.
$1 million Mile (Turf)
--Patrol managed to harness his early speed in Saturday's $250,000 Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star Park and the tactic paid off handsomely. With Mike Luzzi at the controls, the Claiborne Farm hombred son of Lear Fan let Honorable Pic and Best of K C show the way. He then took charge on the turn and held off Slew The Red in the late going to win by 1 length. The 9 furlongs over a firm course went in a quick 1:48.75. "He was a little rank into the first turn, rightfully so because he's a speed horse," said Luzzi. "It took me a while to get him turned off but I finally did get him turned off. Turning for home, I had to turn him on again and he finished up nice for me."
-- Russian Rhythm won as she was expected to do in Friday's Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, backing up her earlier victory in the 1,000 Guineas. "She came there very smoothly and it was a top-class performance," said winning trainer Sir Michael Stoute. "I can't see any reason to go any further with her, at least at the moment. She is in the Sussex Stakes and that is the obvious race to look at for her. (Jockey Kieren Fallon) has always been adamant that a mile is her trip." Local bookmakers posted the 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Kingmambo at 14-1 for the Breeders' Cup Mile.
--Dubai Destination could represent Godolphin in the Mile this fall. The colt beat a quality field in Tuesday's Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, rewarding the time Godolphin gave him to straighten out some difficulties. ""Luckily, we were able to give him a long time in the winter in Dubai and now he has got over all his problems," said Sheikh Mohammed. "We never thought about retiring him." Dubai Destination also is pointing to the Sussex as a stepping stone to the Mile.
--Another for the Mile from Royal Ascot may be Zafeen, winner of the St. James's Palace Stakes by 1 length over Kalaman. Zafeen, a son of Zafonic, sat in mid-pack until the 2 furlong mark and then sprinted home best. "I would think that he'll go for the Sussex Stakes and all the mile races and take on the older horses," said trainer Mick Channon.
$1 million Juvenile
--Stalking Tiger remained unbeaten in three starts by winning Saturday's $100,000 Haggin Stakes at Hollywood Park. After battling through a quick early half mile with Patriot Dream, Stalking Tiger took charge in the stretch and won by nearly 3 lengths, finishing 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.94 under G.F. Almeida.
--Pearl of Love captured Wednesday's Chesham takes by 1 1/2 lengths over Tycoon. "We'll be taking a long-term view with him," said trainer Mark Johnson, "and give him a couple more runs. He's in the National Stakes in Ireland and it's quite rare that I enter them in that because of the cost and early entry date."
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
Nashinda, a full sister to 1998 Queens' Plate winner Archers Bay, dominated Saturday's $187,125 (Canadian) My Dear Stakes, drawing off in the stretch to win by 5 lengths. The daughter of Silver Deputy ran the 5 furlongs in 58.12 seconds. "She's been all on her own so far," said winning rider David Clark. "I haven't really asked her at all."
In other weekend racing:
Calder Race Course
Hear No Evil broke from the No. 1 post in Saturday's $100,000 Unbridled Stakes for 3-year-olds, went out to the front and finished No. 1 under the wire. Whos Crying Now was second, 3 lengths back, and King Cassis was third. Hear No Evil, a son of Carson City, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.72. Winning trainer Jim Hatchett pointed out Hear No Evil can run on grass and sprint, as well as running middle distances. "So there are plenty of options to consider for him," Hatchett said.
Princess Dixie went quickly to the front in Sunday's $100,000 Mount Vernon Handicap for NY-bred fillies and mares, opened a daylight lead and then held on to beat Along Came Mary by 3/4 length. Moonlightandbeauty was a distant third. Princess Dixie ran 1 1/8 mile on a muddy track – the race came off the turf – in 1:49.14.
Jaramar Rain took charge of Sunday's $100,000 New Castle Handicap in the stretch drive, romping to a 9 1/4-length victory over Alternate. Katzen was third and the only other starter, Jarawara, was eased in the stretch run. The race came off the turf, resulting in eight scratches.
Stylish Sultan grabbed the lead at the quarter pole in Saturday's $75,000 Massachussets Thoroughbred Breeders Handicap for state-breds and drew clear to win by 6 1/2 lengths over Money Magnet. Weepecket was third. Stylish Sultan, a 4-year-old son of Sundance Ridge, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:47.51.
Follow Me Home lived up to her name, leading seven rivals to the wire in Saturday's $50,000 Crank It Up Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Cobra King stalked the early pace, went for the lead on the turn and won by 2 lengths over Trupon On. The favorite, Uphill Skier, finished third. The 5 furlongs took 57.93 seconds over a sloppy track.
Also Saturday, Lake Kinnert came from off the pace to win the $60,000 Post Deb Stakes for fillies and mares. The daughter of Mister Baileys reported home 3/4 length ahead of pace-setting City Fire. Double Scoop was third.
Act of War upset defending champion Mystery Giver in Saturday's Cardinal Stakes – culmination of the six-event Prairie State Festival for Illinois-breds. Act of War, with Curt Bourque up, got home 2 lengths ahead of Mystery Giver, who then was disqualified to ninth for intereference early in the race. That moved Scooter Roach up to second and Ivan Jay Perry to third. Trainer Gene Cilio handles both Act of War and Out of My Way, who captured Saturday's White Oak Handicap. Out of My Way, a 6-year-old gelding, scored by 3 1/2 lengths over Take Achance On Me.
Trainer Chris Block, who always makes the most of the state-bred festivals, sent out Keeping the Gold to win the Purple Violet by 1 length over the favorite, Julie's Prize. Keeping the Gold, a daughter of Langfuhr, ran the 1 mile in 1:36.48. In the 6-furlong Isaac Murphy Handicap, Summer Mis won by 1 1/4 lengths over Seven Brides in 1:10.62.
Last year's Illinois champion 2-year-old, Wiggins, won the Springfield Stakes by 5 lengths over Home of Stars, scoring his first stakes victory as a 3-year-old. And trainer Michelle Boyce saddled the exacta in the Lincoln Heritage Handicap as Kate the Great fended off a late challenge from Ellie's Rose for the victory.
Take Me Up caught stablemate Le Numerous in the final strides of Sunday's $70,000 Cyclones Handicap for Iowa-breds, winning by a neck. Legendary Larry was third. Take Me Up, a 5-year-old Take Me Out gelding, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.06.
Perfect Moment settled behind the leaders in Saturday's $40,000 Canterbury Park Oaks, swung wide to clear the leaders turning for home and then held off Tulupai for a 1-length victory. Perfect Moment, an Iowa-bred daughter of Dazzling Falls, ran the 1 1/16 mile on the green course in 1:44 3/5.
News and notes
Edgar Prado took third in a photo finish in the last race of Friday night's All-Star Jockey Challenge but that was enough to make him the winner of the competition and its first repeat winner. Earlier, Prado posted one first and one second in the competition, in which jockeys and horses are randomly paired. "Every single crumb helps because we're running for points and running for a prize," Prado said. Shane Sellers was second in this year's competition....Grand Delight was named Hong Kong's "Horse of the Year" at ceremonies Saturday night at the Academy for the Performing Arts. Electonic Unicorn, last year's "Horse of the Year," was voted "Most Popular Horse" and also champion miler. Grand Delight was selected champion sprinter. Precision took honors as both champion middle distance horse and champion stayer.