The multi-race, restricted-stakes programs usually produce big and competitive fields with good betting opportunities and often take on significance for year-end honors in the individual states.
In addition, they extend interest in the racing season, which otherwise might drop off significantly as Breeders' Cup fades in the rear-view mirror of memory and Thanksgiving looms on the near horizon. And, of course, they offer significant purse money for owners who otherwise struggle to make ends meet.
The weekend's offerings included Saturday's Cal Cup weekend at Santa Anita's Oak Tree Meeting and the Phil Georgeff Festival of Racing at Hawthorne Race Course and Sunday's New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct.
Cal Cup XIV came just two weeks after Breeders' Cup XX but without the rain of ashes from the now-extinguished Southern California wildfires and without a single starter from Richard Mandella's barn.
--This year's Cal Cup even had a Breeders' Cup connection when Tizbud upset the $250,000 Classic with a strong move down the stretch, beating Kedington by 2 lengths and Commander's Flag by an additional head. Tizbud is a 4-year-old full brother to Tiznow, the only two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic (2000 and 2001). The win was only the second of the colt's six-race career -- interrupted for surgery on his right front leg -- and only his second start since last January. "The big thing today is we really believe this horse wants to run a mile and an eighth, a mile and a quarter," said winning trainer John Sadler. Tizbud completed Saturday's 9 furlongs in 1:48.08 and Sadler said to watch for him in the Native Diver at Hollywood Park and the Sunshine Millions Classic in January.
--Lennyfromalibu, despite pressure from Menacing Dennis, strolled through reasonably soft early furlongs in the $175,000 Cal Cup Mile, then had plenty in reserve to hold off a late bid by Continental Red and win by 2 lengths. Menacing Dennis held third. Lennyfromalibu, by Unusual Heat, ran the 1 mile on the green course in 1:34.85 under Ryan Fogelsonger. "He got out there and felt like he was just in a good, strong gallop," said Fogelsonger. "When I said, 'Go,' he gone." Continental Red's trainer, Ian Jory, lamented the lack of pace. "We just can't get any luck," he said.
--Green Team, claimed for $32,000 in July, charged from near the back of a seven-horse field to win the $150,000 Cal Cup Sprint by 2 lengths over Summer Service. Trapper was third. Green Team, a 4-year-old Huddle Up gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:07.98 for jockey Victor Espinoza. "He's been a Cinderella horse for us," said winning trainer Jeff Bonde.
--Royally Chosen, with Alex Solis up, came from just off the pace to capture the $150,000 Cal Cup Matron by 3 1/2 lengths over Summer Wind Dancer. Bartok's Blithe was third. Royally Chosen, a 5-year-old daughter of In Excess, scampered the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.02. "That was and Alex Solis special," said winning trainer Bruce Headley, referring to the ride.
--In the $150,000 Cal Cup Distaff at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the grass, Blind Ambition raced on the outside down the hill, gave chase in the stretch and won off by 2 1/2 lengths despite drifting in during the late going. Bold Roberta was second and Sweetcakesanshakes finished third. Blind Ambition, a 5-year-old Political Ambition mare, got home in 1:12.27. "When I walked out into the paddock, I thought I had the wrong race because she's so big and beautiful," said winning rider Julie Krone. "I thought she was a colt." Trainer Marty Jones said Blind Ambition responded well to some time off after being sluggish at Del Mar.
--Moscow Burning tracked the leaders in the $100,000 TVG Cal Cup Distance Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 mile on the turf, then took charge and opened up in the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Ardum Relaunch was second and Valentine Dancer third as the favorite. Moscow Burning, a 3-year-old daughter of Moscow Ballet, finished in 2:00.91. Jockey Ryan Fogelsonger said the race went according to plan.
--He's the Rage, a son of Soft Gold, dominated eight rivals in the $125,000 Cal Cup Juvenile. With Victor Espinoza up, the colt rated behind the leaders, came out four wide into the stretch and won by 4 lengths, finishing the 1 1/16 mile in1:44.65. Black Horse Money was second and Don'tsellmeshort finished third. "It was a question of running here or in a maiden race," said winning trainer Jim Cassidy. "I thought he was good enough to get a big piece of this. I didn't know how good he was."
--In the $125,000 Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies, House of Fortune challenged front-running Silent Sighs at mid-stretch, got by and won by 1/2 length. Coke's Melody was third. House of Fortune, one of the more experienced of the 11 starters with three previous races, got the 1 1/16 mile under Alex Solis in 1:42.61. She is by Free House. "I wasn't concerned through the stretch," said winning trainer Ron McAnally, who saddled his first Cal Cup contestant. "With this filly I had total confidence." He said she will get a rest.
--It's unclear why a New York-bred colt by Tomorrow's Cat would be named West Virginia. It's clear the colt has some ability as he led all the way to a 2-length victory over Eyeofthehunter in Sunday's $125,000 Great White Way Division of the Stallion Stakes. Under Jerry Bailey, West Virginia repelled a stout challenge before opening up a clear margin and finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.39. "We might think about the Remsen (9 furlongs on Nov. 29)," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "He probably wants a little more ground, so we'll keep our options open."
--Tomorrow's Cat also sired the winner of Sunday's $125,000 Fifth Avenue Division - So Sweet a Cat. She sat behind the early pace, came three-wide into the stretch and won by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, French Dish. Delia's Gone (One More Round...an old folk song) was third. So Sweet a Cat ran the 6 furlongs in a slow 1:13.42 under John Velazquez. Winning trainer Ralph D'Allessandro said the filly may run in the East View on Dec. 7 but more likely will go to Florida for a rest.
--In the $100,000 Cormorant Division, Quantum Merit took total command turning for home and coasted in, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Pogolotti Hill. No White Flags was third. Quantum Merit, a 4-year-old Hansel gelding, ran the 1 mile on "soft" turf in 1:39.28. "He was much the best and I enjoyed the ride," said winning jockey Richard Migliore.
-- Ma Femme went out to a quick advantage in the $100,000 Perfect Arc Division for fillies and mares and won unchallenged, finishing 2 1/4 lengths in front of Board Elligible. Multiple Wins was third. Ma Femme, a 5-year-old daughter of Husband, got the 1 mile on "soft" turf in 1:40.18. Winning rider Julio Pezua said the mare needs to run. "If you take a hold of her, she'll try to get out," he said. Trainer John Hertler said Ma Femme likely will get a break until the spring.
Hawthorne Race Course
--Favorites won five of the six races in the Phil Georgeff Illinois Festival of racing, none with more domination than Julie's Prize in the $100,000 Illini Princess Handicap for fillies and mares. Taking the lead turning for home, Julie's Prize won by 11 1/2 lengths in stakes-record time of 1:44.01. Moon Shine Time was the distant second and Samantha B. finished third. "All I had to do was hang on," said winning rider Larry Sterling Jr. Trainer Anthony Mitchell said Julie's Prize "will be headed for South Carolina" to spend the winter.
--Wiggins was out on the lead in the $100,000 Robert F. Carey II Handicap and never looked back, winning by 2 lengths over Scooter Roach. Baker Road was third. Wiggins, with Eusebio Razo Jr. aboard, finished in 1:43.89, picking up his fifth victory of the year. Disregarding instructions to sit off the pace, Razo said, "The first part of the race was kind of slow, so I took advantage of the situation." Trainer Anthony Granitz said he considered shipping Wiggins to Oklahoma. "But we decided we wanted to race him in Illinois. It is good for everyone here to see him."
--Bulldog George won a speed duel with Silver Bid to take the $100,000, 6-furlong Lightning Jet Handicap by a neck in stakes-record time of 1:09.50. Classic Appeal was third. Out of My Way, the only losing favorite on the stakes card, stumbled badly at the start and could not get into contention. "We can fun at Fairmount all year and not make this kind of money," said Bulldog George's Jimmy Wiser.
--Summer Mis shouldered 127 pounds in the $100,000 Powerless Handicap for fillies and mares but didn't seem to mind. Cruising home first by 2 3/4 lengths over Gracility, Summer Mis picked up her fifth straight win. Cashmere Miss was third. The 6 furlongs took 1:10.48. "She handled the weight," said winning trainer Anthony Mitchell. "But I do not ever want to subject her to anything like that again." He said Summer Mis will run again in the Top Flight in New York before taking a winter vacation.
--In the $100,000 Sun Power, for 2-year-olds, Jaguar Friend disposed of early challenger Matthew's Blessing, then held off a late bid by Sir Fidgity to win by a neck. Iron Rogue was third with a late run. "He hasn't learned to focus yet," said winning jockey Randall Meier. "I think he wants to go further."
--No Beans came down from Canada to win the $100,000 Showtime Deb Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. After racing behind the pace, No Beans found room between rivals with a sixteenth of a mile to go and won off by 1 length. Journey Fever came up the rail to take second and Keep This Cat held third after taking the early lead. No Beans raced with blinkers for the first time and jockey James McKnight said the equipment change "seemed like it worked. ... She was more attentive about her business." Added trainer Scott Fairlie, "I'm definitely coming back here next year for these Illinois-bred stakes."
In other weekend racing:
Makybe Diva got running room when she needed it, a furlong from the finish line in last Tuesday's $3 million Melbourne Cup, and charged home to win by 1 1/4 lengths over She's Archy with Jardine's Lookout third. The favorite, Mamool, from the Godolphin Racing machine, tossed in the towel after 10 furlongs and finished last of 23. Trainer Saeed bin Suroor said the colt returned "unsound." Another pre-race favorite, Mummify, was scratched with a fever. Makybe Diva, a 5-year-old daughter of Desert King, is only the 12th distaffer to win the Melbourne Cup in 143 runnings. Jockey Glen Boss won the historic event for the first time.
Lead Story upset Saturday's $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff at odds of 35-1, coming from the back of the pack to win by 1/2 length over 4-5 favorite Awesome Humor. Lead Story, a 4-year-old daughter of Editor's Note, finished the 1 mile in 1:36.55. "I had a perfect trip," said winning jockey Calvin Borel. "I was last and I got through on the fence all the way until it was time to go, then I wheeled around and saw two horses were on the lead." When he got to Larry Melancon aboard Awesome Again, Borel said, "I knew I had him because my filly, she don't stop." Ian Wilkes, assistant to winning trainer Carl Nafzger, said of the come-from the clouds performance, "That's her style. That's her strength. The quicker they go, the further back she gets." He said Lead Story might run back in the Falls City Handicap.
No Comprende got the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Slots Club and held on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Mobil even though winning jockey Patrick Husbands dropped his whip late in the race. Parose was third. The 1 1/16-mile event was clocked in 1:43.93. "He ran a very good race," said Husbands. "It was a pleasure being back on him." No Comprende, a well-traveled 5-year-old, picked up his seventh career victory.
Silver Bird took wing in the stretch run of Sunday's $150,000 Glorious Song Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, flying off to a 4 1/2-length win over Duet. Sweet Problem was third in the 7-furlong event, clocked in 1:23.07. Silver Bird is an Ontario-bred daughter of Lit de Justice. "The race set up perfectly for us," said winning rider Jim McAleney. "There was a ton of speed to chase and we sat in behind and waited for the right spot and the right time."
Caught in the Rain won a three-way photo in Saturday's $100,000 Athenia Handicap for fillies and mares. Coming from behind front-running favorite Something Ventured, Caught in the Rain rallied five-wide and got to the line a nose in front of Lojo, who in turn was a nose in front of Coney Kitty. Something Ventured held fourth. Caught in the Rain, a 4-year-old Petionville filly, ran the 1 1/16 mile on "soft" turf in 1:47.05. "I went out in search of better ground, "said winning rider Richard Migliore, explaining the wide trip. "I didn't think she was going to get there in time," added winning trainer Guadalupe Preciado.
Tuesday, La Reina fought for the lead with Eye Dazzler in the $100,000 Tempted Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, then took charge to win by 3 lengths. Sisti's Pride was well back of the top two, finishing third. La Reina, a daughter of A.P. Indy out of the Mr. Prospector mare Queena, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.15. Trainer Shug McGaughey said the filly is expected to return in the $200,000 Demoiselle on Nov. 29. "I thought that was a very nice effort," he said of Saturday's race.
Joe Six Pack remained undefeated in three career starts with a 2-length victory in Saturday's $100,000 Jean Laffite Stakes for 2-year-olds. Mr. Jester was second and it was another 25 (twenty-five) lengths back to Vic Mason for the show money. Joe Six Pack, a Kentucky-bred Silver Deputy gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.78. He is owned by Gary and Mary West and trained by Cole Norman.
Absent from the Cal Cup, Breeders' Cup hero Richard Mandella returned to the winner's circle a day later, saddling Crazy Ensign to victory in Sunday's $70,000 Avigaition Stakes. The 7-year-old mare, dispatched as the favorite, came from last in the field of seven to win by 1/2 length over Garden in the Rain. Adalgisa was third. Crazy Ensign ran the 9 furlongs on the firm turf in 1:46.17."We knew there was too much pace in the race," said Mandella. Alex Solis rode his 21st winner of the meeting.
Golden Gate Fields
More Crafty sat behind a pace duel, then won a stretch battle with pari-mutual favorite My Captain to take Saturday's $60,000 Albany Handicap by 3/4 length. Texas Chili was third. More Crafty, a 5-year-old son of Crafty Prospector, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.55. "I had plenty of horse the whole way and had no trouble gathering them in," said winning jockey Kevin Radke. "This horse dragged me around there and when I asked him, he took off like a scalded cat."
In Sunday's $60,000 Camilla Urso Handicap, Ema Bovary was blocked behind a wall of rivals entering the turn, found room between horses and went on to win by 4 lengths over Devil Dancing. Pheiffer was third. Ema Bovary, a 4-year-old daughter of Edgy Diplomat, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.76 on a wet-fast track. "I think she'll get a mile but we'd like to look around for a sprint somewhere," said winning trainer Larry Ross.
White Mountain Boy was placed first in Saturday's $60,000 Rollicking Stakes after Hands On drifted across his path in the final yards of the race. "I thought I was clear," said Hands On's jockey, Jozbin Santana. "I didn't think someone would try to come outside of me." White Mountain Boy, making only his second career start, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:25.14.
Private Lap wasn't lapped in Saturday's $55,000 Shecky Greene Stakes but he was headed briefly by Distinct Vision. No matter. The 4-year-old son of Private Terms rallied and got home first, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Distinct Vision. Acrolect was third. Private Lap, a 4-year-old son of Dynaformer, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.57.
News and notes....
Those boosting Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Halfbridled for Horse of the Year honors got a vote of confidence from the Santa Anita media Sunday. In results dominated by Breeders' Cup horses and people, Halfbridled was voted "Oak Tree Horse of the Meeting."...The John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf, which resulted in the first dead-heat for win in the 20-year history of the Breeders' Cup, was voted "Race of the Meeting."