With much emphasis on the $4 million Classic or rising stars in the 2-year-old events or the top European handicap horses racing in the $2 million Turf, the grass race for fillies and mares often is lost in the shuffle.
That race, the $1 million Filly & Mare Turf, or "DisTurf," was added to the program in 1999 -- the only modification in the 21-year history of the event. It is one of only three races on the card that does not have a sponsor. Yet, it always has full and competitive fields and offers tremendous betting opportunities. The trifecta has paid less than $1,000 only once in the five-year history of the race and returned $5,166 in 2001.
This weekend provided an early look at some of the fillies and mares who might be in the field for the sixth running of the DisTurf at Lone Star Park in Texas Oct. 30.
Foreign horses are always worth watching in this race, with the last three winners bred in England, France and Ireland. So Saturday's Vodafone Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood in England could be an important piece of the puzzle.
Trainer Sir Michael Stoute and jockey Kieren Fallon won the Nassau for the third time Saturday, as Favourable Terms just held on to beat the late run of Silence Is Golden.
Favourable Terms had dueled with favorite Chorist through most of the last few furlongs before gaining the upper hand. But as Silence Is Golden gained ground quickly, a head was the final margin. Chorist held on for third. "She is an admirable filly," Sir Michael said, adding back problems sometimes prevent Favourable Terms from showing her best.
Across the pond, Wonder Again saved ground into the stretch in Saturday's $500,000 Diana Handicap at Saratoga, then got through on the hedge to take the lead when asked by jockey Edgar Prado. Clear, the 5-year-old Silver Hawk mare quickly took charge and won by 5 3/4 lengths over Riskaverse. Ocean Drive was third and the favorite, Intercontinental, got home fifth. Wonder Again got the 9 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:48.99. Wonder Again has won seven of 17 races and trainer Jimmy Toner said she likely will rest until the $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont on Oct. 2. "She's had two races this month, so that's a lot," Toner said. "Now we'll just give her a chance to catch her breath a little bit."
And across the continent, Sweet Win lived up to her name in Saturday's $150,000 San Clemente Handcap for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar. After tracking the early pace, the Kentucky-bred daughter of King of Kings altered course in the stretch and finished on the rail, beating odds-on favorite Miss Vegas by a head. Victory U.S.A was third, just a nose farther back. Sweet Win, with Victor Espinoza up, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.11. "She has an unbelievable kick," said winning trainer Jeff Mullins. "It looks to me like she'll run all day." Espinoza said the filly "was running so fast at the end, I couldn't believe it." Sweet Win was making her first California start. She won two of four starts in Florida earlier.
And finally, across the border to the north, My Vintage Port posted her first win of the year in an upset of Sunday's $250,000 Wonder Where Stakes at Woodbine for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies. The bay filly collared pace-setting favorite Eye of the Sphynx in the stretch run and won by 1/2 length in 2:05.08 over a "good" turf course. Sheer Enchantment was third. Trainer Ken Parsley said he was only afraid the turf "would be a little soft out there today. But she handled it perfectly." My Vintage Port was Canada's 2-year-old female champ in 2003 and the Wonder Where was her first turf effort at Woodbine.
In other weekend racing with potential implications for the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Lone Star Park in Texas:
$4 million Classic, powered by Dodge
Choctaw Nation, a $40,000 claimer last winter, upset defending Classic champion Pleasantly Perfect in Sunday's $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. Getting 10 pounds from Pleasantly Perfect, Choctaw Nation rallied from next-to-last to get the lead inside the furlong marker. He went on to win by 3/4 length. During was third and Reba's Gold fourth. Choctaw Nation, a 4-year-old Louis Quatorze gelding, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42 1/5. Pleasantly Perfect was making his first start since winning the Dubai World Cup in March. Jeff Mullins, trainer of Choctaw Nation, said: "The only angle we had was the Dubai thing. Everybody knows that horses don't usually fire the first time back from Dubai." Pleasantly Perfect's trainer, Richard Mandella, said his charge "was too fresh. That's all. He was a little too anxious up there early." The top two are expected to meet again in the $1 million Pacific Classic in three weeks' time.
-- They came from hither and yon to contest Saturday's $350,000 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park outside Chicago and it was the longest shot in the field, Eye of the Tiger, who came away with the top prize. The 4-year-old American Chance colt, who had been racing at Belmont for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, raced wide through the whole race. At the top of the stretch, he made contact with the favorite, Olmodavor, before going on to win by a head. Olmodavor's rider, John McKee, claimed foul but the stewards let the result stand. Congrats, the pace-setter, held on for third. Eye of the Tiger finished the 1 3/16 mile in 1:56.87. Winning rider Eusebio Razo Jr. admitted he made contact with Olmodavor but said he "didn't think there was any problem with that." McKee said the incident "cost me 2 or 3 lengths. Absolutely, he cost me the race." Eye of the Tiger won for the second time in eight starts this year. He was a close third in the Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct back in April.
$2 million Distaff
Azeri rebounded from three straight defeats to win Sunday's $250,000 Go For Wand Handicap at Saratoga. With Pat Day up, the two-time champion mare went straight to the lead and would let the favorite, Sightseek, get by her. After turning back the challenge, Azeri went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Her final time was a stakes-record 1:47 4/5, just 4/5 of a second off the track record. Storm Flag Flying was third. "We've had more than one horse that people have written off and have come back to win big," said winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "We'll enjoy this one. We're not going to do too much more between here and the Breeders' Cup." Azeri pushed her earnings to $3,569,820 -- a North American record for female horses.
$1 million Sprint
At Saratoga, Society Selection came from far back in a field of 12 3-year-old fillies to win the $250,000 Test Stakes by 6 1/4 lengths over Bending Strings. Forest Music held on for third after leading the way and the favorite, Friendly Michelle, finished fourth, apparently not liking the muddy, sealed track. Society Selection, a daughter of Coronado's Quest, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.69 under Edgar Prado. Rather than keep his filly sprinting, trainer Allen Jerkens said he plans to stretch her out for the 9-furlong Gazelle at Belmont Sept. 11.
$1 million Mile (Turf)
Silver Tree, enjoying the outside position, won a three-way stretch battle in Friday's $150,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga. Nothing to Lose raced neck-and-neck down the stretch with Silver Tree but came up a neck short. Irish Colonial was another 1/2 length back in third and the early leader, Union Place, was only a neck behind him in fourth. Silver Tree, a 4-year-old son of Hennessy, ran 9 furlongs on a yielding inner turf course in 1:49.66. Winning jockey Jerry Bailey said he allowed Silver Tree to settle off the early pace because, given the soft turf, "I thought it was an advantage to be near the back." Trainer Bill Mott said the Atto Mile at Woodbine and the Fourstardave at Saratoga are under consideration as Silver Tree's next start.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Afleet Alex dominated Thursday's $150,000 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, tracking the leaders on the outside, swinging five-wide into the stretch and then kicking loose to win by 5 1/4 lengths. Flamenco was second and Consolidator was third. Afleet Alex, a Florida-bred Northern Afleet colt, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.33 for Jeremy Rose. The colt won his first two starts at Delaware Park. "When they run those kinds of races, you've got to put him where you can find out what they have," said trainer Tim Ritchey. "He's a nice horse. We'll find out if he's a very nice horse in the near future." That could be the $250,000 Hopeful Aug. 21. Flamenco also is pointing to that race, said trainer Todd Pletcher.
-- Of course he's bred in Kentucky, even though he's based at Fort Erie. Wholelottabourbon rallied strongly through the stretch Saturday to win the $125,000 (Canadian) Colin Stakes at Woodbine by 4 1/2 lengths. The local favorite, Quite a Ruckus, broke on top but then trailed the winner the rest of the way home. Killenaule finished third. Wholelottabourbon, a chestnut gelding by Foxtrail from the Lit de Justice mare Regretfully, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:11.19. In three lifetime starts, the gelding has two wins and a second-place finish in the Victoria Stakes. "Obviously, he's maturing into a nice horse," said winning rider Francine Villeneuve.
-- Stablemates Park Avenue Ball and Doctor Voodoo finished 1-2 in Saturday's $60,000 Tyro Stakes at Monmouth Park, with 2 1/2 lengths between them. It was another 2 1/2 lengths back to On the Porch in third. Park Avenue Ball, a Jersey-bred, chestnut son of Citidancer, finished the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.02.
-- Thursday's $125,000 Graduation Stakes at Del Mar was for California-breds but these kind can step up from such a race. Senor Fango, the favorite, put in a late bid outside pace-setting Fallfree to win by 1/2 length. A neck farther back, Swiss Lad was third. Senor Fango is a son of Mud Route. Will he move up? "I don't know yet," said trainer Jerry Dutton. "But I think I'll keep him with Cal-breds. I think that's where he belongs."
-- At Arlington Park on Sunday, Straight Line didn't exactly run one in the stretch drive of the $50,000 Honest Pleasure Stakes. But, despite racing greenly, the Boundary colt led all the way to his second victory in as many starts. "I think he was reacting to the noise of the crowd turning for home," said winning rider Chris Emigh. "I think he'll like things even more as the races get longer." Straight Line ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.65. Toliver was second and Smoke Smoke Smoke finished third.
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
Classic Elegance made a late, wide move into the stretch to win Wednesday's $150,000 Schuylerville Stakes at Saratoga by 1 length over Angel Trumpet. Wild Chick finished third while the favorite, Broadway Gold, could do no better than fifth. Classic Elegance, a bay daughter of Carson City, ran 6 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:12.48 with Pat Day up. "The farther she went, the more comfortable she got," said winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Lukas said he told owner Bob Lewis: "We should go ahead and take this one because she is a little farther down the base path and a little tighter. We're looking at maybe two more starts before the Breeders' Cup."
In other weekend racing:
Calder Race Course
Gold Dollar raced last in the early stages of Saturday's $75,000 Groomstick Handicap, behind a battle for the lead. With five horses in contention until the final sixteenth, Gold Dollar edged clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Formal Charade was second and My Last Chance finished third. Gold Dollar finished the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18 2/5 with Jose Lopez aboard. Lopez provided a succinct description of the events: "He was going last and the horses in front were going fast. He was closing fast and we won the race."
Statement rallied three-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Wickerr Handicap and beat Seinne to the line by a neck. Golden Arrow held on for third after setting a pressured pace. Statement, a 6-year-old son of Seattle Slew, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.35. Buddy Gil, sent off as the even-money pari-mutuel favorite, finished fifth.
Back at Old Hilltop, He Loves Me rallied from the back of a field of nine 3-year-old fillies to win Saturday's $100,000 Twixt Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths over Richetta. Pour It On also came from the clouds to take third. He Loves Me, the odds-on favorite, finished 9 furlongs in 1:51.12. She is a Maryland-bred daughter of Not For Love.
Lenatareese had to come seven-wide at the quarter pole to circle the field in Saturday's $75,000 Audubon Oaks. Despite the circuitous route, the Broad Brush filly's late rush was just enough to get her home first, 1/2 length ahead of Key to the Cat. Lady Offense finished third. Lenatareese, with Brice Blanc in the irons, negotiated the 1 1/16 mile on a "good" turf course in 1:41.51, picking up her third straight win. It was her second start on the grass following a victory in an optional claimer at Churchill Downs at the time of the last full moon.
Barnsy stalked the early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Queen City Oaks for Ohio-breds, then got to the front in the upper stretch and went on to win by 2 lengths over Precocious. Happy Endings Too finished third. Barnsy is a daughter of Langfuhr. She ran the 1 1/8 mile on a "good" track in 1:54. Barnsy now has won half her eight lifetime starts and three of five this year.
Tricky Mocha posted an upset victory in Saturday's $75,000 Prairie Meadows Handicap. Racing quickly to the lead, the 8-year-old Tricky Creek gelding rated nicely, then extended his lead into the stretch. At the wire, he was 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Patton's Victory, with Rubiano's Image third. The odds-on favorite, Ask the Lord, finished fourth. Tricky Mocha ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.60.
Flamethrowintexan broke in the air in Saturday's $65,000 Seattle Slew Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-olds but went right to the lead and held on to win by 1 length over Pure American. Soccer Dan finished third. Flamethowintexan, Florida-bred son of Way West, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:42 4/5.
Tangier Sound opened up a big lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's $60,000 Klassy Briefcase Stakes for fillies and mares, then coasted home a 1-length winner over Our Mariah. The favorite, Melody of Colors, finished third. Tangier Sound is a 5-year-old Rahy mare, bred in Kentucky. She ran the 5 furlongs on soft turf in 57.38 seconds.
Alpha Capo worked through traffic to get the lead in the late going of Saturday's $50,000 Bossier City Handicap for 3-year-olds, then held on to beat Social King by a head. The favorite, No Place Like It, was third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Alpha Capo, with Donnie Meche at the controls, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:44.46. He is a Kentucky-bred gelding by 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup.
Nilini rallied down the outside in the stretch to win Saturday's $60,000 Minnesota Oaks by 2 lengths. Mrs. Beerman also put in a late bid to take second and Blue's Apparition held third after leading at the top of the lane. Nilini, with Seth Martinez up, finished in 1:45 2/5.
The companion $60,000 Minnesota Derby was similarly run, with Wally's Choice coming up on the outside to defeat stablemate Lt. Sampson. Carl, who led until the top of the stretch, held on for third. The Derby took one tick longer than the Oaks.