But, after the 5-year-old son of Arazi won Saturday's $350,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, trainer Bob Baffert was quick to suggest year-end honors are still in order.
"I think he should be champion sprinter," Baffert said by telephone from California. "He beat Aldebaran in the Carter and I think he can go 6 furlongs with the best of them."
As an added inducement to the Eclipse Award voters, Baffert said owners Bob and Janice McNair "are in the business of racing horses and when you have a racehorse like him, you hate to see him go to the breeding shed."
In the Cigar Mile, Congaree stuck close to the early pace, took charge when asked by jockey Jerry Bailey, and won by 5 1/4 lengths over Midas Eyes. Toccet was third. Congaree ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.30.
The Eclipse Award for top sprinter could be up in the air after longshots Cajun Beat and Bluesthestandard finished 1-2 in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Congaree, however, has raced at less than 1 mile only once this year - his 3 1/2-length victory over Aldebaran in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct back in April -- and won the Hollywood Gold Cup over Milwaukee Brew going 1 1/4 mile in July. Those are unlikely credentials for a champion sprinter.
In other weekend racing:
Quest lost a close decision to Evening Attire in Friday's $500,000 Clark Handicap only to have the stewards reverse that order of finish because of interference in the stretch run. It was the first DQ for win in the history of the race, which dates back to 1875 and was run for the 129th time. "He came out at the top of the stretch about two or three lanes wide and that's when it happened and he bothered me," said Quest's rider, Javier Castellano. He added the interference "cost me the race right on the wire." Evening Attire's jockey, Cornelio Velasquez, said Quest started it. "I think my horse was coming out a little bit but he (Quest) bumped the behind of my horse before that," Velasquez said." The 9 furlongs on a sloppy track went in 1:52.42 and Aeneas was third.
Trainer Carl Nafzger saddled the exacta in Thursday's $300,000 Falls City Handicap for fillies and mares as Lead Story caught stablemate Mayo on the Side in mid-stretch and went on to win by 6 1/4 lengths. Cloak of Vagueness was third. Take Charge Lady finished fifth and likely will be retired. Lead Story, a 4-year-old daughter of Editor's Note, picked up her seventh win in 29 starts. "She's not the most talented filly in the world," said Nafzger. "But she's the most honest filly you ever had." Take Charge Lady had finished first or second in 18 of 21 starts before the Falls City but got home sixth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. "It's time," trainer Kenny McPeek said of her likely retirement with earnings of nearly $2.5 million.
In Saturday's $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club for 2-year-olds, The Cliff's Edge seized the lead at the top of the stretch and then held off Gran Prospect in the final yards to win by 3/4 length. Proper Prado was third. With Shane Sellers up for trainer Nick Zito, The Cliff's Edge ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.50. He was dispatched as the 4-5 favorite on the strength of a 7 3/4-length victory last month in the Iroquois Stakes and now takes a place as an early favorite for next May's Kentucky Derby even though the last KJC winner to go on to wear roses was Cannonade in 1974. "Over the moon. Over the moon," exulted Zito.
In the companion $200,000 Golden Rod for 2-year-old fillies, Be Gentle went right to the front for jockey John McKee and won by 1 length over Lotta Kim with Dynaville third. A daughter of Tale of the Cat, Be Gentle ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.91, scoring her third stakes victory of 2003. She tossed in a clinker in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, finishing 11th. "We just got a nice trip today and we didn't get one in the Breeders' Cup, unfortunately," said winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Posse rallied from last at the top of the stretch to win Thursday's $60,000 Thanksgiving Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths. Aloha Bold was second and Price of Honour third. The track was sloppy after day-long rains - a bonus for Posse, who has won all three of his off-track starts this year. He came into Thursday's race off a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and is scheduled to be retired after competing in the Dec. 26 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita.
Heat Haze rallied from last in a field of 14 to win Sunday's $500,000 Matriarch Stakes, one of a pair of Grade I events that capped the weekend Turf Festival. With John Velazquez up, the 4-year-old Green Desert filly weaved through traffic to get a clear run, then just beat Musical Chimes to the wire by a neck. Dedication was only a nose farther back in third while the favorite, Etoile Montante, struggled home 11th. The 1 mile went in 1:34.43. "It was one of those trips where I got lucky," Velazquez said of his traffic navigation. "Once she got through, she punched really hard." Added trainer Bobby Frankel, "An absolutely perfect ride. If we had got into any kind of trouble, we were beat. And coming from 14th to win, you've got to be really lucky." Heat Haze finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf in October.
In Sunday's co-feature, Sweet Return upset the $600,000 Hollywood Derby, leading most of the way on a relaxed pace to a 1/2-length victory over Fairly Ransom. The favorite, Kicken Kris, was 1/2 length farther back with Silver Tree and Bis Repetitas right on his heels. Sweet Return, with Julie Krone riding, finished the 1 1/4 mile in 2:04.27. Ron McAnally trains the top two finishers. "I told Julie, the main thing was to try to get him to relax," McAnally said. "She did what she felt was right and she was right.
Redattore got the lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Citation Handicap and held off a late run by pari-mutuel favorite Irish Warrior to win by 1/2 length. Mister Acpen was third. Redattore, a Brazilian-bred 8-year-old, finished 1 1/16 mile of firm turf in 1:40.74 with Krone at the controls. Krone said Irish Warrior was the last horse she wanted to see making a stretch bid. "But 'Red just stayed ahead of him, kept his ears pinned and just did as much as he had to do." Gary Mandella, speaking for winning trainer Richard Mandella, said he has had trouble keeping Redattore healthy to race. "He was awfully good today. We're proud of him," he added.
Krone also guided the winner - Irish-bred Castledale -- in Saturday's $100,000 Generous Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 mile on the turf. After stalking the early pace, the Peintre Celebre colt got a clear lead in the stretch and then just held on to defeat the favorite, Dealer Choice, by a nose. Lucky Pulpit was third. Castledare ran 1 mile in 1:35.43. It was Castledare's first U.S. start but trainer Jeff Mullins noted Krone had worked the colt. "She knew what to do," he said.
Watchem Smokey saved ground through the early going in Thursday's $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes, came out for racing room at the top of the stretch and scored a 1-length victory over Our New Recruit. Hasty Kris was third and the favorite, Avanzado, faded to finish fifth. Watchem Smokey, a 3-year-old son of 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.93 - another Turf Festival win for Krone. "When he warmed up, he was full of himself," Krone said. "I was thinking, 'He's going to run good today.'"
Friday, King Robyn had to battle for the lead in the $150,000 Hollywood Turf Express but once he got it, the 3-year-old son of Robyn Dancer didn't let go, winning by 1/2 length over Geronimo. Golden Arrow was third. The 5 1/2 furlongs took 1:02.08 on firm turf. "I just kept him in the bit the whole way," said winning jockey Tyler Baze, "and he ran awesome."
Also Friday, Mambo Slew rallied from just off the pace to win the $100,000 Miesque Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at 1 mile on the lawn. With Mike Smith up, Mambo Slew finished in 1:36.17. Smith said he actually moved too quickly to the lead, forced by another horse on his outside. "I'll know her a little better next time. I can wait a little longer," Smith said.
Bossanova went quickly to the lead in Thursday's $100,000 Fall Highweight Handicap and held on at the end to win by 1/2 length over Papua. Savoy Special was third in the unique event, which requires horses to carry unusually high weights. Bossanova, a 3-year-old son of Pine Bluff, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.06, toting 128 pounds. Papua lugged 132. "He was very relaxed today and I was confident in the stretch," said winning rider Edgar Prado.
Randaroo took Friday's $150,000 Top Flight Handicap, stalking the early pace and then taking command in the stretch to win by 2 lengths over Beauty Halo. Focus Hocus was third. Randaroo, a 3-year-old daughter of Gold Case, ran the 1 mile in 1:36.49 under Heberto Castillo Jr. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he will look at the La Canada series at Santa Anita for Randaroo.
Ashado was a bit of a longshot when she finished second to Halfbridled in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies five weeks ago. In Saturday's $200,000 Demoiselle Stakes, she was the odds-on favorite. Still, at the wire, Ashado was only a nose in front of La Reina, with Dr. Kathy only 1/2 length further back in third. Ashado, a daughter of Saint Ballado, ran 9 furlongs in 1:52.88 under Jerry Bailey, who tied Mike Smith's 1994 season record of 68 stakes victories. Trainer Todd Pletcher said he was worried about running Ashado back after the Breeders' Cup. "Obviously, I think it was the right decision now. She'll go to Florida on Monday. We're going to work out a schedule that targets the Kentucky Oaks."
In the very next race, the $200,000 Remsen for 2-year-olds, Bailey eclipsed Smith's record, riding Read the Footnotes to a decisive, 3 3/4-length victory over Master David. The outcome was never in much doubt as Read the Footnotes, a son of Smoke Glacken, led by as much as 6 lengths before coasting home in 1:50.62. Looking forward to the spring classics, winning trainer Richard Violette Jr. noted, "Winning this race is a big advantage for next year because he has already won a mile and an eighth and has two-turn experience. We won't be experimenting....Some nice horses have won the Remsen and the Kentucky Derby but 2-year-olds have to graduate and be nice 3-year-olds." Bailey said it was "a load off my back" to set the record. But he added, "When you are riding for guys like Bobby Frankel and Bob Baffert, you're going to win races."
Sunday, Queen's Triomphe scored a stunning upset in the $75,000 Montauk Handicap. The longest shot in the field of nine state-bred distaffers at 64-1, the 4-year-old Cure the Blues filly stalked the pace, made her move on the turn and won by 2 1/4 lengths over Message Red. Princess Dixie was third. "I was not happy about being 60-1 but she got the job done," said winning trainer Tom Bush.
Calder Race Course
Timo, sent to post position No. 12 at nearly even money, lagged next-to-last in Saturday's $100,000 Mecke Stakes until the field neared the stretch. Then, he swung wide under urging from Eibar Coa and picked them all up, winning by 1/2 length over Imperialism. Cool Conductor was third. Timo, a Kentucky-bred son of El Prado, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.24. It was the second stakes victory for Timo, who captured the $75,000 Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park earlier. "We'll take him back to New Orleans," said trainer Bill Badgett Jr., "but seriously consider coming back for the Tropical Park Derby" on Jan. 1.
In the 2-year-old filly companion, the $100,000 Hollywood Wildcat, Vous also came from well off the pace to score a narrow win - by a head over Honey Ryder (extra points for those who recognize the James Bond reference!). Chelsea's Pearl was third. Vous, a Florida-bred daughter of Wild Rush, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.37 with Joe Bravo in the irons. "It's great to have a horse that can run in mud or on turf," said winning trainer Tim Hills. "This gives us a lot of options. We'll seriously consider the Tropical Oaks" on Jan. 1.
Golden Gate Fields
Tropical Blossom started last of eight in Saturday's $60,000 Star Ball Handicap for fillies and mares, got the inside path in deep stretch and got home first, 1/2 length ahead of Bartok's Blithe. Lindsay Jean was third while the favorite, Lacie Girl, could do no better than seventh. Tropical Blossom, a 5-year-old Thunder Gulch mare, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.66. Tropical Blossom lost to Got Koko by a head in August at Del Mar but ran poorly six weeks later at Santa Anita. "She's a nice mare and she's been running against the best," said trainer Julio Canani. He said he might ship the mare east. "I think she'll really like the mud," he added.
Star Cross lagged near the back of the 12-horse field in Friday's $75,000 Forty Niner Handicap until the second turn. Then, when Frank Alvarado swung the 6-year-old son of Southern Halo five-wide for running room, he responded with a quick burst that got him home first, 1 length better than Truly a Judge. Long Gone Con was third after leading from the break. Star Cross finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.26. "I let him settle and then he made a strong, wide move," said Alvarado.
As racing moved up the Ohio River from Louisville to Florence, Halory Leigh had to go five-wide to find racing room in Sunday's $40,000 Holiday Inaugural. But when she got daylight, Halory Leigh got the lead a furlong from home and went on to beat favorite Don't Countess Out by 4 1/4 lengths. Don't Countess Out stumbled at the start. Halory Leigh finished the 6 furlongs in 1:10.29.
It was a spooky exacta in Sunday's $125,000 New Mexico Racing Commission Handicap as Shemoveslikeaghost posted an upset victory over favorite Ghost Chatter. Scarzane was third. Shemoveslikeaghost, a daughter of Ghostly Moves, finished the 6-furlong event for state-bred distaffers in 1:10.10.
Homemaker rallied between horses heading for home in Friday's $50,000 Princess Handicap and rolled home first, 4 3/4 lengths ahead of Satine. Rama Lassie was third in the 6-furlong test for 2-year-old fillies. Homemaker, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Afternoon Deelites, finished in 1:09.48.
Saturday, This Cat's for You pressed the early pace in the $50,000 KLAQ Handicap, got the lead in mid stretch and worked clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Sky Diver. Source was third in the 5 1/2-furlong event, clocked in 1:02.84. This Cat's for You is a Colorado-bred, 3-year-old son of Just a Cat.
Chris's Bad Boy set a track record for 6 furlongs - 1:08.05 - in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Kennedy Road Stakes. The son of Marquetry led from the git go and won off by 6 3/4 lengths. Davids Expectation was second and My Lucky Strike third. Winning rider Jono Jones said he knew Chris's Bad Boy was running well but had no idea he would maintain the clip long enough to break the four-year-old record.
Sunday, Winter Whiskey dueled with Spider Canyon through most of the 1 1/16 mile of the $125,000 (Canadian) Kingarvie Stakes for Ontario-bred 2-year-olds. But in the stretch run, Winter Whiskey had more juice, winning off by 3 1/4 lengths. Spider Canyon was easily second and Rodeo Fun was third. Winter Whiskey, a son of Whiskey Wisdom, finished in 1:46.15.
Also Sunday, Hydrogen upset the $125,000 Valedictory Handicap, dueling Affirmed Feeling to the wire and putting a nose in front at the right time. Parose was third and the favorite, Fisher Pond, finished sixth. Hydrogen, a 4-year-old Pleasant Colony colt, ran the 1 3/4 mile event in 3:00.29 under Emile Ramsammy.
Britt's Jules drew off in the stretch to win Saturday's $40,000 Delta Beau Stakes for 2-year-olds by 4 lengths over Iron Expectations. The favorite, Kipper's Night, was third. Britt's Jules, a Florida-bred son of Jules, ran 5 furlongs in 58.73 seconds.
Edgerrin scored his third win without a loss in Saturday's $35,000 South Bend Stakes for 2-year-olds. The Indiana-bred went right to the lead under jockey Randy Zimmerman and drew off to win by 6 lengths. H Potter was second and Highway Hero was third.
Fleetstreet Dancer, a longshot invader from California, found another gear in deep stretch and held off favorite Admire Don to win Saturday's $2.3 million Japan Cup Dirt at Tokyo Racecourse. With Jon Court up, the Smart Strike gelding finished the 1 5/16-mile event in course-record time of 2:09 1/5. Fleetstreet Dancer stayed close to the pace and got the lead turning for home. He was headed by Admire Don but rallied to win by a nose. Hagino High Grade was well back in third.
United Arab Emirates
Proven, a 4-year-old son of Benny the Dip, won a stretch battle with Dubai World to take Friday's $550,000 Shawell Thoroughbred Conditions by 1/2 length at Jebel Ali Racecourse. Proven, ridden by Paul Hanagan, tracked the early pace in fifth position. It was only in the final 150 meters that the winner got to even terms with Dubai World and only in the final strides that he got the advantage. The 2,200 meters took 2:16.75. "I think he could end up as a Duty Free horse," said winning trainer Paddy Rudkin. "Our main aim is to bring him back for a big race here and take it step by step. This is his ideal trip."
News and notes
Thirty-seven international horses, including 20 individual Grade or Group I winners from 12 racing jurisdictions, have been selected to compete in the Hong Kong International Races Dec. 14. "The Hong Kong International Races are unique in how it continues as a meeting point for the very best in international racing," said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, executive director of racing for the Hong Kong Jockey Club. The four races, worth a total of $7.28 million in purse money, attracted such stars as Falbrav, Rakti, Ange Gabriel, Lohengrin and Fields of Omagh. The featured race of the day, the $2.3 million Hong Kong Cup, also culminates the World Series Racing Championship....Ipi Tombe, a Zimbabwe-bred, South African-trained mare, was named Emirates Racing Association's Nashwan Thoroughred Horse of the Year on Saturday night. Ipi Tombe won all three startes in the UAE, including the Dubai Duty Free in record time, and also won in the United States before injury ended her season.