Next month's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic is starting to look like a fancy party that's still waiting for RSVP's from the honored guests.
Two of the logical contenders, Mineshaft and Perfect Drift, were in action during the weekend. But Perfect Drift long ago was declared a non-contender for the Classic - officially, the "Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge." And after Saturday's easy victory in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, Mineshaft's owner didn't sound too keen on the Classic, either, although the 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy is still considered likely to start in the Oct. 25 race at Santa Anita.
A third top contender, Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride, officially was declared out of the classic last week by his trainer, Ron McAnally.
Mineshaft, tied with Candy Ride for No. 1 in Classic division of the World Thoroughbred Rankings, was the easiest of winners at Belmont. Jockey Robby Albarado let him stay just back of the leaders, made his move on the turn for home and drew clear to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Quest was second and Evening Attire third, followed by State Shinto and a disappointing Moon Ballad. Mineshaft ran the 1 1/4 mile in 2:00.25.
"Every race, he exceeds my expectations," Albarado said. "Every time I ride him, I think that there can't be any more. And in every race, there is more and more and more. He's great for racing."
But Mineshaft's owner, Will Farish, calling the Jockey Club Gold Cup "a race I've wanted to win all my life," added, "I don't think this horse has anything more to prove. We've laid out our course and invited the other horses in the country to come. In the last few races, they've gone the other direction. ... I'm not ruling anything out."
Godolphin Racing Manager Simon Crisford said Moon Ballad's performance was "disappointing" and his status will be evaluated.
In the weekend's other Gold Cup, the $750,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup at Hawthorne Race Course outside Chicago, Perfect Drift did just what he was expected to do and trainer Murray Johnson persisted in his plans for what not to do.
The 4-year-old son of Dynaformer, coming off a victory over Congaree in the Kentucky Cup Classic in his last outing, collared Tenpins at the top of the stretch and eased out to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Aeneas was up for show money. Perfect Drift finished the 1 1/4 mile in 2:03.63.
Although Hawthorne's signature race has been a stepping stone to the Classic in recent years, trainer Murray Johnson repeated his intention not to send Perfect Drift to California. "We've achieved what we set out to do," he said. "Now we just have to sit back and see what we want to do next. I'm not sure that we want to send him to the hard tracks in California."
In other races with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships:
$2 million Nextel Distaff
-- Azeri's long winning streak came to an end Sunday in the $300,000 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita as Got Koko rallied from last to win by 1/2 length over Elloluv, with Azeri struggling to finish third. Elloluv then was disqualified to fourth, advancing Azeri to second-place money and Adoration to third. Got Koko, a 4-year-old daughter of Signal Tap, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.92. Said winning rider Alex Solis, "The other filly (Azeri) is a tremendous filly. But my filly is a great one, too." Trainer Bruce Headley said Got Koko will go on to the Breeders' Cup. Mike Smith, who rode Azeri, said he was "at a loss for words. I don't know what to say. That wasn't her." Azeri's trainer, Laura de Seroux, said, "We didn't see her customary break, smooch to her and go style, and I would have preferred to see that no matter what the perceived competition was. I think she's pretty grooved into that style."
$2 million John Deere Turf
-- Sulamani, with Jerry Bailey riding, came from last in a field of seven to win Saturday's $750,000 Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park by 2 3/4 lengths over Deeliteful Irving. Balto Star was third, another 3/4 length in arrears. Sulamani, owned by Godolphin Racing and trained by Saeed bin Suroor, got the 1 1/2 mile on firm turf in 2:27.51 despite some traffic troubles. Bailey said a rival "wasn't quite clear and I caught his heel. I've never had a horse, especially one like this that is so lanky, get back into a race after something like that happened. In these races, not much separates the horses. You need a good trip." Added Suroor: "He ran fabulous and we are very excited with the win. We just hope he makes that same move in the Breeders' Cup."
-- Storming Home, who won the Arlington Million last month only to be disqualified for a finish-line mishap that dumped jockey Gary Stevens to the turf, behaved perfectly in Sunday's $250,000 Clement L. Hirsch Memorial at Santa Anita, coming three wide into the stretch and wearing down pace-setter Johar to get the win despite a slow pace. Irish Warrior was third. "He behaved very well," said winning trainer Neil Drysdale. He has always behaved well here." Drysdale said the Arlington Million mishap may have been caused by "a photographer where he shouldn't have been." Asked about going forward to the Turf, Drysdale said, "That's the plan. Trainer Richard Mandella also said he will send Johar along to the big show. Stevens admitted Sunday's ride was special. "I haven't slept well since it happened, and not just because of what happened to me. There's a lot of hard work that has gone into this horse, from the trainer, to the assistant trainer to the groom, to the exercise rider, everybody. They love this horse, and to have that kind of prize money taken away, and the prestige of the Arlington Million taken away, it hurt everyone."
-- Bowman Mill, a 6-1 outsider, upset Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Sky Classic Stakes at Woodbine, near Toronto. Bowman Mill and Lenny the Lender battled through a tight stretch duel before the issue was decided by a nose. Bowman Mill, a 5-year-old son of Kris S., trained by Michael Dickinson, ran the 1 3/8 mile over a "soft" turf course in 2:23.14. Mobil was third and Strut the Stage fourth. Bowman Mill survived an inquiry when the stewards determined a bumping incident between the first two finishers occurred after the wire. "He did duck in a little bit but we were two or three jumps past the wire," said winning rider Brice Blanc. "That's when the worst happened. My horse was getting a little tired. He ran hard all the way around and fought hard down the lane. He deserved to get a little tired."
$1 million NetJets Mile (turf)
-- At Ascot in England, Falbrav let Blatant make the early going in Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, then made his move with a furlong left and went on to win by 2 lengths over Russian Rhythm. Tillerman was third. Falbrav, ridden by Darryll Holland, scored his fourth Group 1 race of the season. Holland said he felt he could have taken Falbrav to the lead but found the pace-stalking trip more to his advantage. Falbrav is trained by Luca Cumani.
-- Mister Acpen led from gate to wire in Saturday's $200,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap, beating pari-mutuel favorite Fateful Dream by 1 1/4 length. Ninebanks was third in the "about" 1 1/8-mile event, run over firm turf. Mister Acpen, a Chilean-bred horse, trained by Kristen Mulhall, was clocked in 1:46.94. "We'll probably freshen him up a bit and wait for Hollywood Park," Mulhall said.
$1 million Filly & Mare Turf
-- Dimitrova, benefiting from a well-timed ride by Jerry Bailey, got clear of the pack in the final yards to win Saturday's $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park by 1 length over Walzerkoenigin. The odds-on favorite, Heat Haze, finished third, missing second by a nose, with a late run. Dimitrova, a 3-year-old Swain filly, finished the 1 1/4 mile over a firm inner turf course in 2:01.74. "The obvious direction is sending her back to California for the Breeders' Cup," said winning trainer Dermot Weld. Weld added that Bailey "gave her a beautiful ride in this race." Trainer Bobby Frankel was less generous in his assessment of Jose Valdiva Jr.'s ride aboard Heat Haze. "She was trying to run up there and he was trying to get her back in last. She'll go on (to the Breeders' Cup," he added.
-- Tates Creek stalked the early pace in Sunday's $500,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita, survived some traffic problems at the top of the stretch and got home first, 3/4 length ahead of Musical Chimes. Crazy Ensign was third. Tates Creek, a 5-year-old daughter of Rahy, ran the 1 1/4 mile on firm turf in 2:00.47 for Pat Valenzuela after slow early fractions. Humberto Ascanio, assistant to winning trainer Bobby Frankel, said his only concern in the race was that Tates Creek not get trapped by the competition. "I think she'll go on to the Filly & Mare Turf," he said. Neil Drysdale said he thought Musical Chimes "ran a lovely race. ... I think off this race justifies a try at the Breeders' Cup."
--Derrianne, making her first U.S. start after racing earlier in France, scored a pace-stalking victory in Saturday's $150,000 Martha Washington Breeders' Cup at Pimlico. The daughter of Cozzene ran the 1 1/16 mile over "good" turf in 1:46.53. "Sometimes the first time in the country, you don't know if they're going to break good," said winning rider Brice Blanc. Assistant trainer Nicholas Bachalard said Derrianne now "can go for higher echelon. She won a graded stakes today - a great accomplishment for her."
$1 million Sprint
Ghostzapper was who you're gonna call in Saturday's $500,000 Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park - at least if you're gonna cash. The 3-year-old son of Awesome Again, winner of the 1998 Classic, trailed all nine rivals through the early furlongs but came four-wide into the stretch, passed them all under the urging of Javier Castellano and won by a dominating 6 1/2 lengths over extreme longshot Aggadan. Posse was third and the favorite, Gygistar, finished fourth. Ghostzapper, trained by Bobby Frankel, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.72, just one tick off the Belmont Park record. Frankel, who has several candidates for the Sprint, said that race "is a different story going three-quarters at Santa Anita with the dirt hitting him in the face. ... He doesn't like dirt in his face and, at Santa Anita, they don't throw back sand. They throw back clods." Gygistar's rider, John Velazquez, said his horse "ran good" but added, "I couldn't get through when I wanted.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
--Cactus Ridge stumbled slightly at the start of Saturday's $150,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity at Arlington Park. But once he got his feet under him, the Hennessy colt took complete charge, winning by 3 lengths in stakes-record time of 1:35.44. Glittergem was second and Texas Deputy third. Cactus Ridge remains undefeated in four starts, including earlier stakes races at Canterbury Park and Ellis Park. "I think he has enough pedigree top and bottom to stretch to a mile and a sixteenth for sure," said winning trainer Bret Calhoun. "For weeks to the Breeders' Cup is perfect timing."
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
-- In Sunday's $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita, Halfbridled went out to an early lead under Julie Krone and found no challengers, coasting home first, 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Tarlow. Hollywood Story was third. Halfbridled, a daughter of Unbridled, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43. 72. "She is truly amazing," Krone said. Trainer Richard Mandella added, "I feel pretty confident in her. I said from the start she's a pretty special filly, so I think I'll stick with that. I hope we can keep everything healthy." John Shirreffs, who trains both Tarlow and Hollywood Story, said he might run both of them back in the Juvenile Fillies.
-- Zosima came from just behind the leaders to win Saturday's $100,000 Lassie on closing day at Arlington Park. The Capote filly, with Pat Day up, scored by 1 length over Everyday Angel. Crypto's Best was third. Zosima finished in stakes-record time of 1:36.58. "I think she's getting better and better with time," said Dave Duggan, assistant to winning trainer Eoin Harty. "If she's going good, she'll run (in the Breeders' Cup)."
In other weekend racing:
Private Lap made a private race out of Saturday's $200,000 Caesar Rodney Handicap after the event was moved from the turf to the sloppy main track. Seven horses were scratched, leaving a quartet. Private Lap went quickly to the fore, was never challenged and won by 2 3/4 lengths over Changeintheweather. Run to Victory, despite his name, was 15 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Private Lap, a 4-year-old son of Private Terms, completed the 9 furlongs in 1:48.89 under Tony Black.
Crafty Shaw went quickly to the fore in Saturday's $100,000 Turfway Park Fall Championship Stakes and extended his margin through the stretch, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Cat Tracker. Cappuchino was third. Crafty Shaw, a 5-year-old son of Crafty Prospector, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.89.
Willow Bunch led four rivals a merry chase in Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) La Lorgnette Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then drew clear in the stretch to win by 4 lengths over One Only Knows. The daughter of Affirmed ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.79. Willow Bunch now has won three in a row since finding a home on the turf.
Runaway victories were the order of the day in 7-furlong races for NY-bred 2-year-olds. Flagshipenterprise, with Mark Guidry riding, scored by 4 1/2 lengths over Bond Arbitrage in the $100,000 Bertram F. Bongard Stakes for 2-year-olds, with Saratoga Episode third. Flagshipenterprise, by Avenue of Flags, was clocked in 1:24.35. In the $100,000 Joseph A. Gimma for 2-year-old fillies, Capeside Lady took the early lead and shook off six rivals to win by 9 lengths in 1:23.90. Fait Accompli was second and Clarksburg was third.
Mooji Moo led from gate to wire in Saturday's $50,000 Red Cross Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Golden Made. Bruanna was third. Mooji Moo, a 4-year-old daughter of Jeblar, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.23.
Also Saturday, Feisty Bull led all the way in winning the $50,000 Navajo Princess Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the grass. Feisty Bull led by as much as 5 lengths before coasting home 3 1/4 lengths to the good of Nault. Sonn D'Oro was third. Feisty Bull, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Holy Bull, ran the 1 1/16 mile on "good" turf in 1:45.23.
Joe Six Pack could have been renamed "Joe Six Lengths" after Saturday's $40,000 Minstrel Stakes for 2-year-olds because that's how much he won by. In fact, after stalking the early pace, the son of Silver Deputy drew clear and won by 6 1/2 lengths over Next Bandit, with Britt's Jules third. Joe Six Pack, trained by Cole Norman, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.74.
Hawthorne Race Course
Coach Jimi Lee, with Pat Day in the irons, sat second until the field turned for home in Sunday's $40,000 Zany Tactics Stakes, then got to the front and edged clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Cashel Castle. Silver Bid was third. "They made a race of it for awhile," Day said. "But we started to draw away near the wire. It's always my intention to keep something for the finish and it makes it easy when you're on the best stock." Coach Jimi Lee ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.14.