Monday's $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap drew a stellar and diversified field, including champion mare Azeri and Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide. But it was a Brazilian-bred who came calling in the stretch to win the headline event on an all-American holiday.
Pico Central, with Alex Solis in the irons, bobbled at the start of the Met Mile but jumped right up behind the leaders, taking an outside position. Solis asked him to run at the top of the stretch and the 5-year-old responded to take a clear lead with a furlong to go. He then dug in and held off the late run of Bowman's Band by 3/4 length. Strong Hope, the favorite, was third.
The stars fared poorly. Funny Cide finished fifth and Azeri faded to finish eighth after chasing the early pace.
Pico Central now has won four straight races since shipping to North America last year.
"He's a very special horse," said Solis. "He was in hand the whole way and at the eighth pole. I got down on him to ride him, and he went right on."
Trainer Pablo Lobo said the stalking style produced Pico Central's best race in Brazil, too, and he was confident in the Met Mile once he saw Solis appeared to have something left for the stretch run.
"I don't have anything planned," he added. "I'm going to return to California and he's coming back there on Wednesday. We'll see how he comes out of the race, then make some decisions."
Funny Cide trainer Barclay Tagg said the race proved his horse isn't a miler.
"He's not a miler. Sometimes, you have to prove it to everybody," Tagg said.
D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Azeri, said he didn't regret putting her against males.
"We took a shot daring to be great. ... I don't think we hurt anything. We'll be back." He said Azeri will return to filly-mare competition.
In other Memorial Day racing:
Belmont Stakes update
With Tapit and The Cliff's Edge out of the race, Saturday's Belmont Stakes looks a little easier for Smarty Jones's shot at the Triple Crown. The colt galloped Monday morning at his Philadelphia Park training base and trainer Scott Servis said the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner "was just aching to go. He pulled me around every step of the way. My hand and arm were so tired when we got back to the barn that I couldn't even drink my coffee." Servis said he expects Smarty Jones to arrive at Belmont Park late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Lone Star Park
Local horses won all seven stakes events on Lone Star's Memorial Day "Million" card, with trainer Steve Asmussen accounting for four of them. But that doesn't mean the day won't have an impact on this fall's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, to be run at Lone Star for the first time.
The day's biggest race, the $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap, went to Yessirgeneralsir. Under jockey Omar Figueroa, the Jim Jackson homebred went out to a quick lead and romped home 2 1/4 lengths in front. Sonic West, a Kentucky shipper, was second, with Spanish Empire third and the favorite, Kela, fourth. Yessirgeneralsir finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.29.
"If we can just keep him healthy it'd be neat with the Breeders' Cup coming here," said winning trainer Dallas Keen. "I think we might have something we could possibly run if we just keep him healthy between now and then and pick our spots. We've looked at the Pacific Classic."
Asmussen, teaming with jockey Shane Sellers, won the $200,000 WinStar Distaff with Academic Angel, the $100,000 Valid Expectations Stakes with Savorthetime, the $100,000 Beck Auto Group Turf Sprint with Mighty Beau and the $50,000 Carter McGregor Jr. Handicap with Term Sheet.
No Place Like It came from off the pace to win the $200,000 Pin Oak Stud USA Stakes and Canadian River took the $50,000 Harold V. Goodman Memorial Stakes. Eddie Martin Jr. rode both those winners.
Noches De Rosa was fastest of four starters in Monday's $350,000 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap for fillies and mares. The Chilean-bred 6-year-old, with Mike Smith aboard, battled for the lead with Quero Quero, got to the front with 1/16 of a mile to go and held on to win by 1 length over late-running favorite Megahertz. Quero Quero was third under the wire and Dimitrova completed the order of finish. Noches De Rosa ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.34. Winning trainer Richard Mandella said he was worried about the early pace duel.
"But I think Mike was just taking his time and not getting in a panic. And when he rallied her back up, boy she came! They were running." He said the Beverly Hills Handicap on June 27 is the next scheduled stop for Noches De Rosa.
In the $350,000 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile, Designed for Luck stalked the early pace, took the lead in the stretch and had enough to hold off Singletary and win by 1 1/2 lengths. Tsigane was third. The favorite, Sweet Return, finished fifth. Designed for Luck, a 7-year-old Rahy gelding, was clocked in 1:32.81. "He ran a super race," said winning jockey Patrick Valenzuela. "He finished strong, just outran them from the head of the stretch on home."
In Monday's third stakes, Taste of Paradise rallied in the stretch to win the $75,000 Ack Ack Handicap for 3-year-olds and up by 3/4 length over the favorite, Buddy Gil. Black Bart was third. Taste of Paradise, a 5-year-old son of Conquistador Cielo, ran the 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:28.02.
Silverfoot scored a mild upset in Monday's $100,000 Louisville Handicap, rallying from a stalking position to catch Rochester at the wire. The favorite, Ballingarry, was third with a late run up the outside. Silverfoot, with Robby Albarado up, ran the 1 3/8 mile on yielding turf in 2:17.63. He is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of With Approval.
Calder Race Course
Twilight Road took charge in the stretch in Monday's $100,000 Memorial Day Handicap, drawing off to win by 5 1/4 lengths over Hear No Evil. Gold Dollar was third and the favorite, Supah Blitz, never reached contention and finished seventh. Twilight Road, a 7-year-old Cahill Road gelding, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.79. Winning jockey Phil Teator said Twilight Road "grabbed the bridle and started running" when he angled him out on the turn. "There wasn't much I had to do. He responded very well when I hit the button."
Icy Atlantic came wide into the stretch in Monday's $100,000 Jersey Derby, got the lead with a furlong left and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Commendation. Grand Heritage was third. Icy Atlantic, the pari-mutuel favorite, ran the 1 1/16 mile on "good" turf in 1:44.51. He is a son of Stormy Atlantic out of the Frosty the Snowman mare Frosty Promise.
Not everyone was watching Smarty Jones prepare for the Bemont on Monday. In the day's feature race, the $100,000 Turf Monster Handicap, Abderian rallied from the back of a 10-horse field to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Testify was second and Shades of Sunny third while the favorite, Take Achance On Me, faded from the pace to finish fifth. Abderian, an Irish-bred gelding by Machiavellian, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.53 seconds.
Yougottawanna led from gate to wire in winning Monday's $100,000 Seabiscuit Breeders' Cup Handicap. With Russell Baze at the controls, the 5-year-old Candi's Gold gelding set a comfortable pace and got home 3/4 length ahead of Gold Ruckus. Snorter was third. Yougottawanna ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:40.08.
Salzurita challenged for the lead on the turn for home in Monday's $75,000 Decoration Day Handicap, then quickly took charge and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Chef's Choice. Strike Rate was third. Salzurita, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred mare by Interprete, finished the 1 mile on a muddy track in 1:41.03.
In the companion $75,000 I.C. Light Memorial Day Handicap, Gin and Sin broke on top, gave way to Doc D, then came again in the stretch and won by a neck. Horrible Evening was 14 1/2 lengths back in third at the finish. Gin and Sin, a 4-year-old gelding by Go for Gin, finished the muddy mile in 1:37.74.
Proper Prado was the odds-on favorite in Monday's $50,000 Prairie Mile and just did get the job done, catching pace-setting longshot It's Lucky at midstretch and hanging on to win by a head. Ruba Dub Dub was well back in third. Proper Prado, a 3-year-old son of El Prado, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.77.
Waupaca led most of the way to a 2-length victory in Monday's $50,000 Barksdale Handicap. Storybook Kid rallied from last to take second and Sea Dub was third. Waupaca, a 4-year-old son of Forest Wildcat, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.25. Waupaca is a small, central Wisconsin town with a chain of cool, clear lakes nearby.
Intern inherited the victory in Monday's $40,000 Mister Gus Stakes when first-place finisher Stormy Impact was disqualified to third for interference in the stretch with Missme. Intern, an 8-year-old son of Dynaformer, came four-wide into the stretch and just missed the win on his own. He finished the 1 mile in 1:35.97 on the main track after the event was shifted from the turf.