Only one of the "big guns" of Thoroughbred racing fired straight and true during the weekend, leaving a bit of a muddle concerning which horses might be headed in the right direction for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, now less than four months away.
Medaglia d'Oro was the star, winning Saturday's $750,000 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga by 1 length over last year's Classic winner, Volponi.
But Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide apparently forgot his running shoes when he shipped to Monmouth Park for Sunday's $1 million Haskell Invitational, where he finished third behind Peace Rules and Sky Mesa, beaten by 9 lengths and never in contention.
And Empire Maker, who spoiled Funny Cide's Triple Crown hopes by winning the Belmont Stakes, came up short in his comeback, too, finishing second in Sunday's $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes as Saratoga, a neck behind Strong Hope.
In California, Taste of Paradise upset Sunday's $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar as the longest shot on the board. And in England, top-rated Moon Ballad struggled home fifth behind longshot winner Reel Buddy.
Medaglia d'Oro, a 4-year-old son of El Prado, ran a deceptively impressive race in the Whitney. Stalking the longshot pace-setter, he moved when jockey Jerry Bailey asked him to turn for home. Then, when it appeared Volponi had his measure, Medaglia d'Oro found another burst of energy and edged clear. The 1-length margin could have been more if Bailey had wanted and the 1:47.69 time was good.
Bailey said when he asked his horse to run, "He gave it to me and he gave me everything he had." Frankel said Sunday morning the $500,000 Whitney at Belmont Park on Sept. 6 might be the next stop for Medaglia d'Oro.
Asked about Medaglia d'Oro's chances for Horse of the Year honors, Frankel said: "It's definitely a foregone conclusion that Horse of the Year - and even the best 3-year-old - is wide open. If he's not the best horse, he's the second-best to Mineshaft."
Frankel's comments about the 3-year-old division echoed loudly after Sunday's upsets, especially since he also trains Peace Rules, who led virtually all the way to a 1 3/4-length victory in the Haskell. Sky Mesa, making just his second start of the year, fell short with a late run. Previously undefeated Wild and Wicked finished fourth behind Funny Cide.
Funny Cide's jockey, Edgar Prado, had no explanation for the Derby winner's lack of run. "He just wasn't the same horse I rode in his previous races," Prado said.
Peace Rules hadn't run since finishing a well-beaten fourth in the Preakness after a tenacious third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Frankel, who also trains Empire Maker, said he may run both back in the Travers.
Empire Maker, running for the first time since the Belmont, came up just short in the Jim Dandy. After lagging near the back of the six-horse field, he made a three-wide move on the stretch turn and missed by only a neck to front running Strong Hope. Congrats was third.
"I don't feel bad about losing this race," Frankel said. "I think this race will set him up for the Travers. ... There's a chance that both horses may be going in the Travers. If Peace Rules does go in the Travers, that's going to make the race really interesting."
Strong Hope also is likely to advance to the Travers off his win in the Jim Dandy, said trainer Todd Pletcher. "He's a big horse that took a while to come to hand," he said. The Grand Slam contender came into the Jim Dandy riding a four-race winning streak including the Dwyer at Belmont in his last outing.
The San Diego Handicap was won on the front by Taste of Paradise, a 4-year-old son of Conquistador Cielo. With Victor Espinoza up, the Kentucky-bred went quickly to the lead and coasted home a 3/4-length victor over Gondolieri. The favorite, Joey Frano, faded to finish last of eight. Trainer John Sadler said Taste of Paradise may come back in the Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap Sept. 1.
And in Wednesday's Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in England, Moon Ballad had every chance to win with a wide trip into the stretch but could never get by the leaders and finished fifth. Reel Buddy, a 20-1 shot, was the winner under sentimental favorite Pat Eddery, who is winding up a 30-year riding career. All five top finishers, however, were closely bunched at the end.
Another item of note in the division: Milwaukee Brew, ducking the big guns for a while, easily won an allowance race on the Haskell undercard, swinging four-wide into the stretch and accelerating to win by 4 1/4 lengths.
In races pointing to the $1.5 million NetJets Mile (turf):
--Russian Rhythm, trained by Sir Michael Stoute and partnered by Kieran Fallon, won Saturday's Nassau Stakes at Goodwood in England by a neck over Ana Marie. Zee Zee Top was third. Russian Rhythm, a chestnut daughter of Kingmambo, finished in 2:04.80.
--Katdogawn, with Julie Krone aboard, had the best punch in the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 San Clemente Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar. The daughter of Bahhare easily outfinished Atlantic Ocean, who had the lead early in the stretch run. Katdogawn ran the 1 mile on firm turf in stakes-record time of 1:33.62. Trainer Jim Cassidy said he will keep Katdogawn at the distance, looking to an overnight stakes later at Del Mar.
--On the same program at Del Mar, Touch of the Blues came from off the pace to win the $75,000 Wicker Handicap by a nose over Inesperado. Suances was third. Touch of the Blues, a 6-year-old son of Cadeaux Genereux, ran the 1 mile on the grass in course-record time of 1:32.22. Trainer Neil Drysdale said Touch of the Blues, "an unlucky horse," will go to the Atto Mile at Woodbine.
In other weekend racing:
On the Haskell undercard:
Annatoga stalked the pace set by Rebecca's Charm in the $75,000 Lady's Secret Stakes for fillies and mares, went by in the stretch and won by 3 lengths. Consort Music was third as the race took 1:44.05. Mooji Too won the $75,000 Regret Stakes for distaffers at 6 furlongs, sitting right behind the leaders before closing to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Fly Me Crazy. In Hand came from last of nine to win the $75,000 Ocean Place Resort Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 mile on the turf. Sigint was second by a head after leading briefly. Fashion Girl was promoted to the win in the $60,000 Colleen Stakes for 2-year-old fillies when first-place finisher Standswithafist was set down to second for interference. It's a Monster won the $75,000 Teddy Drone Stakes by 3/4 length over native Heir, running 6 furlongs in 1:09.66. And Eltawaasul came from off the pace to upset the $75,000 Battlefield Stakes at 9 furlongs on the grass, winning by 3/4 length over American Freedom.
On Saturday, Follow Me Home dueled for the lead through most of the $50,000 Trenton Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then drew clear and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Randaroo was along late to take second. Follow Me Home, a daughter of Cobra King, ran 5 furlongs in 58.13 on a muddy track.
Zavata sprinted away down the stretch to win Saturday's $150,000 Amsterdam Stakes for 3-year-olds by 5 1/4 lengths over Great Notion, with Trust N Luck third. Posse, the heavy favorite, ran from last to finish fourth. Zavata, a son of Phone Trick, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.64.
French Charmer used a pace-stalking trip to win Saturday's $150,000 John D. Shapiro Memorial Breeders' Cup Handicap by 1 length over Rock Slide. Roxinho was third. The race, run on soft turf, took 1:55.56.
Patton's Victory inherited the win in Saturday's $75,000 Prairie Meadows Handicap when first-place finisher Northwest Hill was set down to second. The stewards ruled the jockey aboard Northwest Hill struck Patton's Victory in the head with his whip as the field entered the stretch. Patton's Victory is a 5-year-old Patton gelding. The 9 furlongs on a fast track took 1:48.06.
Wake At Noon, 2002 Canadian Horse of the Year, won Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Seagram Cup Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths over Anglian Prince. Mark One was third. Wake At Noon, a 6-year-old son of Cure The Blues, finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.92, leading throughout. "He's a good horse," said winning trainer Abraham Katryan.
Saturday, Chopinina battled down the stretch before winning the $200,000 (Canadian) Royal North Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths over Alpha Heat. Leading Role was third. Chopanina, a 5-year-old daughter of Lear Fan, ran the 6 furlongs on "soft" turf in 1:12.19.
Keiai Sakura lost and regained the lead twice before winning Saturday's $75,000 Audubon Oaks by 1 1/4 lengths over Evil Eye Aly. Dress to Impress was third. Keiai Sakura, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Petionville, finished the 1 mile in 1:39.43 on a muddy track.
Only three 3-year-old fillies faced the starter in Saturday's $75,000 Denise Rhudy Memorial Stakes after the event was moved off the turf. Of those, Broad Hopes was - clearly - the best, winning by 19 3/4 lengths. Gentlemen's Lady was second, with another 10 3/4 lengths over Violet Eyed Diva as the placing judges caught an easy one. Broad Hopes, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Broad Brush, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:53.08
Calder Race Course
Scapade took command on the far turn in Saturday's $50,000 Convenience Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then drew off to win by 11 lengths over Dakota Light. Formal Miss was third in the restricted event. Scapade, a daughter of Skip Trial, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.43 on a sloppy track.
Cabildo Bag ran from near the back of the field and got up in time to win Sunday's $50,000 Rebel Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 1 1/4 length over Crypto's Best. The favorite, Royal Pet, finished third. Cabildo Bag, a daughter of Bag, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the fast track in 1:06.05.
Saturday, Tiva's Little Sis overhauled Heart of the Cat in the late going to win the $50,000 Chapel Belle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1 length. Tincan Too was third. Tiva's Little Sis, a daughter of Labeeb, ran the about 1 1/16 mile on the grass in 1:43.07.
Handy N Bold survived a hot pace duel and went on to win Sunday's $50,000 Governor's Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths over Salt Grinder. Flying Notes, who failed to stay with the winner, held on for third. Handy N Bold, an 8-year-old Bold Laddie gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.20. The favorite, Total Limit, struggled home fifth of six after also contesting the early pace.
Golden Rhythm took charge in the stretch run of Sunday's $50,000 Margarita Breeders' Cup Handicap, drawing clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Academic Angel. Caustic Remark was third. Golden Rhythm, a 5-year-old Rhythm mare, got the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:44.31.
Al's Dearly Bred shipped in from Chicago to win Saturday's $40,000 John Bullit Stakes. Running from off the pace, Al's Dearly Bred took charge in the stretch and won handily. He now has won all four of his starts at the Minnesota oval.