Saturday's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic is shaping up as a true championship show, with Horse of the Year honors potentially at stake.
Officially the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge, the race has attracted the top older horses still in training, including last year's winner, as well as Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide. The Classic heads a nationally televised, eight-race championship program with $14 million at Santa Anita Park in Southern California - just down the road from the Rose Bowl.
Funny Cide has not raced convincingly since his loss to the since-retired Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes. He has not run at all since finishing a well-beaten third in the Haskell at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3. Sunday, he breezed 6 furlongs over the Belmont Park training track in New York in 1:13 3/5 - not a particularly fast time.
"It was perfect," said exercise rider Robin Smullen. "Fast is not always better and, on that track, I believe it was a pretty good work.
Smullen said Funny Cide should run well despite his layoff, provide he can relax off the pace in the Classic. "If he does not relax off the pace, he might get a little tired," Smullen added.
One of the West Coast contenders for the Classic, Congaree, breezed 6 furlongs Sunday at Santa Anita in 1:11 1/5 but trainer Bob Baffert said the Arazi colt is still "day-to-day" because of a patched quarter crack on his left hind foot. "If he didn't blow the patch, we're still okay," Baffert said. "But it's still a day-to-day deal."
A few miles south at Hollywood Park, Classic contender Medaglia d'Oro worked 6 furlongs on Sunday in 1:12 1/5 - fastest work of the day at that distance.
Another Classic contender with a chance at Horse of the Year honors, Perfect Drift, breezed 4 furlongs Saturday morning at Churchill Downs training center in 1:00. Although he couldn't see the full workout because of dense fog, trainer Murray Johnson said Perfect Drift "looked good going off and looked strong finishing. He was just perfect."
Volponi, winner of the 2002 Classic at Arlington Park, has not won since and will not be among the favorites on Saturday.
While Breeders' Cup prep races are in the books, there nonetheless was no shortage of meaningful racing during the weekend:
Phoenix Reach, invading from England, found room between horses at mid-stretch and went on to win Sunday's $1.5 million (Canadian) Pattison Canadian International by 3/4 length over Macaw. Brian Boru, who won the English St. Leger with Phoenix Reach third earlier this year, finished third himself in the International. Phoenix Reach, a 3-year-old son of Alhaarth, ran the 1 1/2 mile over yielding turf in 2:33.62 with Martin Dwyer in the irons. Trainer Andrew Balding said the addition of blinkers "certainly set him alight early on. I was just worried if he'd get the trip, running that keenly. But Martin did a great job." Dwyer said his mount was "buzzed off" by the pre-race hype. "And he jumped a bit keen," Dwyer added. "But I managed to get him in behind on the backstraight and he came home good. I had plenty of horse underneath me." Phoenix Reach was making just his fifth start in the International, the seventh leg of the World Series Racing Championship. Last year's winner, Ballingarry, was scratched Sunday morning with an infection in his right hind leg.
Also Sunday, Volga won a three-horse photo finish in the $750,000 (Canadian) E.P. Taylor Stakes, getting home a head in front of an onrushing Tiger Tail. Hi Dubai was third, just a nose farther back in a wild finish. The favorite, Walzerkoenigin, finished fifth but only 1 1/2 lengths behind Volga. Volga finished second in the E.P. Taylor two years ago and last year was third in the race. "It was really close," said winning rider Richard Migliore. "I didn't know if we had won or not. I rode with my head down trough the wire." Volga, coming off a fifth-place finish in the WinStar Galaxy at Keeneland just two weeks ago, ran the 1 1/4 mile on soft turf in 2:05.68.
Tusayan rallied from 10th position at the top of the stretch to win Saturday's $125,000 Bunty Lawless Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over pace-setting All Star Lover. Spanish Decree was third as only three lengths separated the top seven finishers in the 1-mile turf event. "Top of the lane, he fanned widest of all and just punched in nicely," said winning rider Emile Ramsammy. Added trainer Laurie Silvera, "How many horses do you know that have won three lifetime races and they've all been stakes?" Silvera said Tusayan, a 3-year-old, Ontario-bred son of Canyon Creek, is finished for the year.
Hawthorne Race Course
Saturday's $250,000 Hawthorne Derby turned into a wide-open affair when front-running longshot Blue Blood Boot took a left turn into the rail turning for home and went down. Megoman quickly inherited the lead but locally based False Promises then rallied between horses and went on to win by 1 length. Megoman held second and Beau Classic was up for third at odds of 85-1. The favorite, Lismore Knight, raced close to the leaders but had no rally. False Promises, a Florida-bred gelding by Jules, ran the 9 furlongs on the firm Hawthorne turf in 1:48.48, winning his third straight race. "I'm a little surprised he came this far this fast," said winning trainer Tony Granitz. "A month ago he almost died" from colic. Granitz said False Promises likely is done for the year and will rest in Florida. Neither Blue Blood Boot nor jockey Larry Sterling Jr. was injured in their fall. "He got spooked by something turning for home," Sterling said. "He ducked in when I tried to straighten him out."
Well Fancied was just that in Saturday's $250,000 Empire Classic Handicap at Belmont Park and played the role perfectly. Dispatched as the solid favorite, the 5-year-old son of Prosper Fager went quickly to the lead and drew clear in the stretch run and held on to win by 1/2 length over Gander. Mr. Determined was third in the marquee event of Belmont's state-bred festival. Well Fancied finished 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.49 under Edgar Prado. "He's a fast horse but he does things easy," said Prado. "I was trying to save as much as I could for the stretch." Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said Well Fancied may run back in the Cigar Mile on Nov. 29. "He likes Aqueduct a lot and one turn is his game," said Dutrow.
In other state-bred stakes events at Belmont on Saturday:
--One N Three upset the $125,000 Hudson Handicap, rallying late and wide to beat Impeachthepro by 3/4 length with No Parole another 3/4 length back in third. One N Three, a 4-year-old Dixie Brass colt, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.26.
--Quiet Ruler scored a 20-1 upset in the $150,000 Mohawk Handicap at 9 furlongs on the inner turf. The 5-year-old Woodman gelding took charge on the turn when asked by jockey John Velazquez, opened up a big lead and, according to the Equibase chart, "rambled home" to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Salute Him. Haggs Castle completed a $5,924 trifecta. "He's a cool-weather horse that likes soft ground," explained winning trainer Russell Mueller of Quiet Ruler.
--Lady Bi Bi posted a more modest upset in the $150,000 Ticonderoga Handicap for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs on the inner green. The 4-year-old Lord Avie filly raced in mid-pack until the turn, then rallied three-wide and got home 1/2 length better than Brandala, with Beebe Lake third. Lady Bi Bi finished in 1:55.67 with Jose Santos in the irons.
--In the $125,000 Iroquois Handicap for fillies and mares at 7 furlongs, Princess Dixie rallied from last of 13 to win by a neck over She's Got the Beat. Grab Bag was along for third. Princess Dixie finished in 1:24.26 under Michael Luzzi. "I really got a perfect trip today," Luzzi confessed.
--Capeside Lady recovered from a bad stumble at the gate in the $100,000 Maid of the Mist Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, stayed close to the pace and was just up in time to beat Schemer by a neck. Clarksburg Queen was third. Capeside Lady, a daughter of Cape Town, ran the 1 mile in 1:41.37.
--Friends Lake stalked the early pace in the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow Stakes for 2-year-olds, survived some rough treatment on the turn and then rallied wide and drew off to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Pa Pa Da. Rb's Glitter finished third. The time was 1:36.39. Trainer John Kimmel said Friends Lake, by A.P. Indy, will be considered for the Remsen on Nov. 29.
In Sunday's $75,000 Pilgrim Stakes for 2-year-olds, Timo rallied in the stretch after stalking the pace and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Artie Schiller. Milestone Victory was third. Timo, a Kentucky-bred son of El Prado, ran 9 furlongs on the inner turf course in 1:57.47. The course was rated "yielding." Trainer Bill Badgett Jr. said jockey John Velazquez reported the course "really, really soft so I guess it's a matter of who liked it and who didn't." Badgett said Timo will go to New Orleans for the winter.
Calder Race Course
French Charmer squeezed through a hole on the hedge as the field entered the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Flying Pidgeon Handicap and surged to a 1 1/4-length victory over Lost Appeal. Drink a Toast was third in the 9-furlong turf event, clocked in 1:48.21. French Charmer, a 4-year-old French Deputy gelding, was ridden by Christopher DeCarlo. "I saw a little opening on the turn and kind of pointed my horse in there. He did the rest," DeCarlo said. "There's times when you do that and you get caught and then there's times it works out." Trainer Harry Benson said French Charmer will point for the $200,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap here on Dec. 27.
Dyna Da Wyna, with Pat Day aboard, wore down Mexican Moonlight in the late going to win Saturday's $100,000 Valley View Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 3/4 length. The favorite, Derrianne, was third. Dyna Da Wyna, a gray daughter of Doc's Leader, ran the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:43.54.
Sunday, Spice Island seized the lead a furlong out in the $150,000 Rood & Riddle Dowager Stakes and drew clear, winning by 6 1/4 lengths over Ocean Silk, the favorite. Peacefally was third. Spice Island, trained by John Pregman Jr. and ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, ran the 1 1/2 mile on the turf in 2:31.93. "We had a great trip," Said Velasquez. "And when we turned into the stretch, I had a lot of horse left." Pat Day said Ocean Silk "had absolutely no run on her mind at all. Everything she did, I had to make her do." Ocean Silk shipped to Keeneland after two wins and a second-place finish in the Yorkshire Oaks to show for her Euro career.
Political Attack was sent to the front on the turn for home in Saturday's $100,000 Sussex Handicap, then held off a late run by Estio to win by 3/4 length. The pace-setter, Stanzaic, held on for show money. Political Attack, a 4-year-old Hawk Attack gelding, ran 1 1/16 mile on a yielding turf course in 1:44.98. Six scratches reduced the field to seven starters.
The Herc got the early lead in Saturday's $75,000 Sunny Slope Stakes for 2-year-olds, was headed and then exchanged bumps before prevailing by a head over Voladero. Longgonetrevorsean (why does the Jockey Club allow these names?) finished third. The Herc, a Kentucky-bred son of Lord Carson, covered 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.51, toting Kent Desormeaux. This was an old-fashioned horse race," Desormeaux said. "They locked into each other leaving the gate and it was a heated battle to the wire." It was a such an old-fashioned horse race that the stewards posted the "Inquiry" sign and took a closer look before certifying the finish.
In Sunday's $75,000 Anoakia Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, favorite Wind Flow challenged for the early lead, got to the front heading for home and won by 5 lengths over Hot Weekend with Quanah County third. Wind Flow, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Indian Charlie, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.62 for Corey Nakatani. Trainer Caesar Dominguez said he will try to stretch the filly out to a mile and see what happens.
Angel Gift, the odds-on favorite in Saturday's $60,000 Golden Poppy Handicap, edged clear of the field on the turn and won off by 5 lengths over Rhiana. Meguial was third, 6 lengths farther in arrears. Angel Gift, a 5-year-old Allen's Prospect mare, got the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:42.78. The mare also won the Golden Poppy last year but has not won since. "She wanted to go as soon as we got to the backstretch and I said, 'okay,'" reported winning rider Russell Baze.
Market Report led from gate to wire in Sunday's $60,000 Bay Meadows Juvenile, setting a moderate pace and finishing the 1 mile in 1:37.04. Hajji's Honor was second and Skipaslew was third. The favorite, Corvallis Dee, was victimized by the slow pace and finished fourth. Winning rider Chad Schvaneveldt said Hajji's Honor headed Market Report midway through the stretch, "But when I hit my horse left-handed, he really dug in and fought back."
Laurel Race Course
Gators N Bears scored a front-running, 3/4-length win in Saturday's $40,000 Sonny Hine Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Stormy Atlantic colt got home in 1:08 4/5 under Rick Wilson, with Super Fuse second and the First Blush third. "Today he pulled me to the lead," Wilson said. "He went to waiting once he got to the lead but when I got down and asked him hard, he gave it to me." Gators N Bears has a 3-2-1 record in six starts at Laurel.
Warleigh led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $40,000 Alliance Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths over Skate Away. Dash for Daylight was third in the 1 1/16-mile turf event for 3-year-olds and up. Warleigh, a 5-year-old son of Lord at War, was timed in 1:42.47.
Angelic Aura was always close to the pace-setter in Saturday's $40,000 Princeton Stakes for 3-year-olds, then got to the front in the stretch and won by a head over a late-closing Poppy's Image. Implicit was third after an early duel with winner. Angelic Aura is a Florida-bred son of Concerto. He ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.48.
Also Saturday, Lovely Fiona took the wide route to victory in the $40,000 Girl Power Handicap. After tracking a pace duel, jockey Chuck Lopez brought Lovely Fiona to the center of the track and was up to win by a nose over Whoop's Ah Daisy. The winner, a 3-year-old daughter of Not For Love, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09 4/5.
Self Flit got the lead with a furlong to go in Sunday's Group 3 Sha Tin Trophy and went on to win by 1 1/4 length over the favorite, Elegant Fashion, winner of the Hong Kong Derby. Hidden Dragon was third and Dr More held fourth. Trainer Ivan Allan said he hopes the victory will translate into an invitation to the Japan Cup next month. "He's proven himself a good horse and he is much better over 2400 meters," Allan said. "He won the Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Mile last year and he finished second in the Hong Kong Derby to Elegant Fashion, who he has beaten today. That's good form and I hope they invite us to take part," Allan said. However, Allan would not commit to returning from Japan to participate in the Hong Kong International races in December, adding, "Let's just cross one bridge at a time."
News and notes
--Basketball player Manute Bol stands 7 feet, 7 inches tall, making him an unlikely candidate for jockey stardom. That didn't stop Hoosier Park from suiting Bol up in silks and white jockey pants (with a 48-inch inseam!) on Saturday night in a promotion to benefit the Ring True Foundation, which benefits his native Sudan. The plan was to put Bol up on Alpena Magic, a 13-year-old veteran racehorse. The horse wouldn't cooperate. "He has never seen a jock this big before," said trainer Bill Hicks. Bol commented, "There are so many young girls and boys (in the Sudan) that were left without parents. ... I want to do everything I can to provide a better life for them."
--The Dubai Racing Club has a new Web site catering to its expanded 2003-04 program. The site, dubairacingclub.com, will feature information about the season opening Nov. 6, including the new Dubai International Racing Carnival, which kicks off Jan. 29 and includes the 2004 Dubai World Cup and associated features on March 27. The site also offers ticket sales for the live racing.