The defending champion in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, despite a spring detour through the Dubai desert, appears poised for a repeat after an impressive victory in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Meanwhile, last year's superstar 3-year-old, Funny Cide, continued to struggle for the winner's circle, finishing second to Evening Attire as the even-money favorite in Sunday's $250,000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap.
Pleasantly Perfect was kept behind the leaders and on the outside by jockey Jerry Bailey, swung four-wide into the stretch run and got the lead at mid-stretch. Edging clear, the 6-year-old son of Pleasant Colony held off Perfect Drift to win by 1 length. Total Impact was third after bumping with Pleasantly Perfect on the turn for home.
Pleasantly Perfect ran the 1 1/4 mile in 2:01.17.
Trainer Richard Mandella blamed himself for a loss to Choctaw Nation in the San Diego in his last race. "He shouldn't have a loss in that race on his record," Mandella said. "I put too much speed into him before the race and he was too keen. He was too fresh and was rank."
Of Sunday's victory, he said, "It's a feeling of relief. When you are supposed to win, you need to win."
Bailey, who inherited the mount from an ailing Alex Solis, called Pleasantly Perfect "kind of a big, lumbering horse. But when the gate opens, he's very smooth and you love to ride one like him."
Pleasantly Perfect, who upset last year's Breeders' Cup Classic -- Powered by Dodge at Santa Anita at odds of 17-1, then carried the U.S. banner in the Dubai World Cup this spring. He won that race despite the tiring trip and taxing international test. He came back to finish second in the San Diego when he returned to racing in California.
In other preps for the Oct. 30 Classic at Lone Star Park:
-- Across the continent in upstate New York, Funny Cide drafted along behind a quick pace in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup, challenged for the lead but then didn't have nearly enough to stay with the late run of Evening Attire. At the wire, Evening Attire, a 6-year-old son of 1991 Classic winner Black Tie Affair, was 5 lengths in front. Bowman's Band made a little late run to finish third. Evening Attire, with Cornelio Velasquez up, ran the 1 1/4 mile in 2:00.83 on a fast track. "This was a great confidence builder for him," trainer Patrick Kelly said. Kelly said Evening Attire, who finished seventh in last year's Classic as a longshot, likely will race next in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 2.
-- There wasn't much competition for Ghostzapper in Saturday's $200,000 Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park. Still, the 4-year-old Awesome Again colt managed to look awesome even in a virtual walkover. Jockey Javier Castellano kept Ghostzapper back of pace-setting Presidentialaffair until the turn for home, then asked him to run and zipped off to win by 10 3/4 lengths, ridden out. It was another 21 1/4 lengths back to Zoffinger in third and Private Lap was a nose behind him, completing the order of finish. The 9 furlongs went in 1:47.66 on a sloppy track. "You never know if they can handle two turns until you run them," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "We always wanted to stretch him out. We decided to bring him here because he had a minor foot problem, so we couldn't make the Whitney." Frankel said Ghostzapper will probably use the Sept. 11 Woodward at Belmont Park as his only stepping stone to the Classic. The colt now has won six of his eight starts.
In other events with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park:
$2 million Nextel Distaff
-- Upsets are a specialty for trainer Allen Jerkens and Saturday's Alabama at Saratoga was just the latest chapter. The favorite, Ashado, came into the race with a record of three wins and two seconds from five starts this year, including victories in the Kentucky Oaks and the Coaching Club American Oaks. But it was Jerkens' Society Selection who won the $750,000, Grade I event. Ashado fought for the lead into mid-stretch before giving way to Stellar Jayne. Then, Society Selection, with Cornelio Velasquez up, came roaring down the outside and cleared both rivals to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Stellar Jayne was second and Ashado held third. The 1 1/4 mile took 2:02.70. "You're always surprised when you win a Grade I, especially with a longshot," said Jerkens, who earlier in his Hall of Fame career upset the likes of Kelso, Secretariat, Buckpasser and Skip Away with steeds overlooked at the mutuel windows. He also had won the Alabama twice previously, with Sky Beauty and November Snow. Jerkens said Society Selection likely will try the Beldame at Belmont on Oct. 9, en route to the $2 million Nextel Distaff on the Breeders' Cup card.
-- On a lovely Saturday afternoon at Arlington Park, Lovely Afternoon finished in a dead heat for the win with Catboat in the $150,000 Arlington Breeders' Cup Oaks. Lovely Afternoon stalked the early pace while Catboat saved ground through the early stages of the race before both fillies kicked into gear in the final furlongs. Jockey Eddie Martin Jr. said he hoped to get Catboat out front. "But she swung her head a little bit at the break and got off horribly. At that point, I just decided to rate her and save all the ground on the fence the entire way. She ran a fantastic race and showed a lot of guts." The race went in 1:51.06. Catboat, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Tale of the Cat, now has won five of her last six starts. Lovely Afternoon, a Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Afternoon Deelites, won for the second time in six 2004 starts.
$2 million John Deere Turf
Sulamani, a disappointment for Godolphin Racing earlier in the year, got some redemption by winning Tuesday's Juddmonte International at York in England. With Frankie Dettori up, Sulamani got by pace-setting Norse Dancer in the final 100 yards to win by 3/4 length. The favorite, previously undefeated 3-year-old Bago, finished third in his first try against older horses. Sulamani now is likely to go on to the Arc d'Triomphe at Longchamp.
$1 million Filly & Mare Turf
-- In the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks, even-money favorite Ticker Tape ran exactly the race jockey Kent Desormeaux had planned, sitting off the pace and then surging to the lead at the top of the stretch. The only problem: Amorama, a French-bred filly Ticker Tape had beaten repeatedly, found a little extra courage Saturday, ranging up on the outside to nip the favorite by a nose with a furious late charge. Sweet Win settled for a semisweet third. David Flores guided Amorama over the 9 furlongs of firm turf in a good time of 1:46.26. "She's been within a length or a length and a half of Ticker Tape all those times they ran," said winning trainer Julio Canani. "She's been good since she's been down here. She put on weight." Flores said Amorama "has been an unlucky filly. She's been working awesome in the mornings and I knew she was coming up to a big race."
-- Quiff upset Wednesday's Yorkshire Oaks in England, roaring to an 11-length victory over Pongee. Harzarista was third while the pre-race favorite, Ouija Board, was scratched because of soft going. Quiff, a daughter of Sadler's Wells, ran the 1 1/2 mile in 2:38.02.
$1 million Sprint
-- Dream of Summer could be dreaming of fall in Texas after a hard-fought victory in Saturday's $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap for fillies and mares at Del Mar. The 5-year-old Siberian Summer mare dueled with Barbara Orr through most of the race, winning by a neck on the outside. Cyber Slew was well back in third. Dream of Summer, with Mike Smith riding for trainer Juan Garcia, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.85. "She's learning how to breathe," said Smith. "She takes a big breath partway through and then she keeps on running. When they learn to do that, they can be tough to beat."
-- Blonde Executive moved out of restricted company and took on stakes-quality fillies and mares for the first time in Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Duchess Stakes at Woodbine. While she didn't replicate the easy victories of her earlier, easier efforts, the 3-year-old daughter of Bold Executive got the job done, setting quick fractions of 22.18 and 44.49 seconds. She then had to dig deep to hold off Silver Bird, who finished a closing second, and Search The Church, who was third. The 7 furlongs took 1:23.36. "She's something special. She never wants to give up," said her trainer.
-- At York in England, 9-year-old Bahamian Pirate upset some much younger rivals, including the highly touted 3-year-old, One Cool Cat, in Thursday's Nunthorpe Stakes. Bahamian Pirate came from back of the pace to get the lead in the late going and held off The Tatling by a neck. One Cool Cat was 1 length farther back in third with a late run from far behind.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Afleet Alex did a lot of things right under trying conditions in Saturday's $250,000 Hopeful at Saratoga. Overcoming an outside post position, a sloppy track, some heavy mud in his face and some erratic maneuvering in the stretch, the Northern Afleet colt still got home first, 1/4 length ahead of Devils Disciple. Flemenco was third. Afleet Alex ran 7 furlongs in stakes-record time of 1:23.58 after tracking some hot fractions. "They were going pretty fast and the mud was coming back pretty hard," said winning rider Jeremy Rose. "He was still gutsy and he was hanging in there. ... When I hit him left-handed, he drifted out and I thought I was going to run second. Then I hit him right-handed and he took off and I kept hitting him." Trainer Tim Ritchey said he will work on getting Afleet Alex to relax behind horses and likely will go next in the Champagne at Belmont on Oct. 9. Devils Disciple, who shipped in from Calder, will either contest the Champagne or the Lane's End Futurity at Keeneland that same day, said trainer Joseph Waunsch.
-- Elusive Chris upset Sunday's $100,000 James C. Ellis Juvenile at Ellis Park in Kentucky, winning a long stretch battle with Winsomemoneyhoney by a neck. Norainonthisparty (Jockey Club - these names???) was third and the favorite, Toliver, finished sixth. Elusive Chris, a chestnut son of Elusive Quality, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.81.
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
-- Sense of Style showed a sense of style in Friday's $250,000 Spinaway at Saratoga, rating nicely on the inside, swinging out for room and running off to win by 6 3/4 lengths over the also aptly named Miss Matched. Play With Fire was third. Sense of Style, a daughter of Thunder Gulch, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:23.83. "She's a really good filly," said winning trainer Patrick Biancone. "Seven furlongs, I would say, is going to be the minimum she wants. She's very mature. She's strong and relaxed and has all the qualities." He said he will look at the Matron at Belmont on Sept. 19 and the Breeders' Cup. But, he said, he will "go slowly, because she could be an Oaks filly."
-- Kota came six-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Anna M. Fisher Debutante Stakes at Ellis Park and ran down the favorite, Angel Trumpet, to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Patience Pays was third in the 7-furlong race, clocked in 1:25.00. Kota, a Florida-bred daughter of Indian Charlie, is trained by Robert Holtus. She came second in her last outing, the Silver Maiden Stakes at Arlington Park, and now has two wins from four lifetime starts.
-- South Bay Cove, a daughter of Fusaichi Pegasus, held off the late run of Extra Bases to win Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Debutante at Woodbine by 3/4 length. Wise Timmy was third. "I really think this filly is going to be better going farther," said winning trainer Roger Attifield after South Bay Cove ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.81. She now has won three of four starts.
-- Speedy Deedy was bumped early in Sunday's $55,000 Junior Champion Stakes at Monmouth Park, but came along in the stretch to catch By Grace Alone and win by 3 1/2 lengths. Northern Babe was third and the favorite, Lady Dynasty, finished fifth. Speedy Deedy, a daughter of Victory Gallop, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:41.70. She is trained by H. Graham Motion.
In other weekend racing:
Adreamisborn rallied from last to win Sunday's $250,000 Longacres Mile Handicap by 1 length over Demon Warlock. Mr. Makah was third and the favorite, Poker Brad, got home eighth. Adreamisborn, with Russell Baze in for the ride, covered the distance on a sloppy track in 1:34 4/5. The winner is a Kentucky-bred, 5-year-old son of Kris S. "He ran a great race," Baze said.
Also Sunday, Aunt Sophie rallied from well back to win the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Distaff by 2 lengths over Cascade Corona. Hippogator was third as the favorite. Aunt Sophie, a 6-year-old daughter of Altazarr, ran 1 mile in the slop in 1:36 1/5.
Bianconi Baby led from the start and won Saturday's $100,000 Washington Breeders' Cup Oaks by 1 length over the favorite, Karis Makaw. Sariano was third in the 9-furlong event, timed in 1:48 4/5 over a wet-fast track. Bianconi Baby is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Bianconi from the Woodman mare Pledge.
Far to the east and across the border, a son of Bianconi, Refust to Bend, upset the $100,000 (Canadian) Izvestia Stakes at Woodbine on Saturday. Racing sixth early in the race, jockey James McKnight got Refuse to Bend going in the stretch run and won by 1/2 length over Ide Be Gone. The favorite, Norfolk Knight, was third. The 1 1/16 mile took 1:44.85. "This horse is a trier," McKnight said.
Calder Race Course
Teak Totem went right to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Aspidistra Handicap and won off by 3 lengths over Iowa's Image. Harts Gap finished third while the favorite, Formal Miss, got home seventh. Teak Totem, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Northern Afleet, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37 3/5, picking up the third win of her career. "The trainer (Jimmy Hatchett) told me if I was in front by myself to go on," said winning jockey Eduardo Nunez. "She was just galloping - going easy."
Foufa's Warrior upset 1-5 favorite Cherokee's Boy in Saturday's $75,000 Find Handicap for Maryland-breds. The race was moved off the turf and scratched down to just five starters. Rider Steve Hamilton kept Foufa's Warrior close to the pace set by the favorite and the two battled down the stretch before Foufa's Warrior edged clear in the final yards to win by 1/2 length. "There was no pace other than Cherokee's Boy, so I told Steve to stay in striking distance," said winning trainer Larry Murray.
Richetta surged quickly to the lead in Saturday's $60,000 Twin Lights Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then extended the advantage through the stretch run to win by 4 1/4 lengths over Grinch. Skip Poker finished third. Richetta, a Maryland-bred daughter of Polish Numbers, ran 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:51.77. Half of the original 10-filly field scratched when the race was moved off the turf.
Sunday, Then She Laughs laughed last after rallying from a pace-stalking position to win the $60,000 Miss Woodford Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. When asked to run, the daughter of Distorted Humor took charge, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Forty Moves, with Absolute Nectar third. Then She Laughs ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.03.
Sue's Good News rallied through the stretch to win Saturday's $40,000 Iowa State Fair Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over Synco Peach. Goldleafed Mirror, who led by as much as 5 lengths, faded in the lane to finish third. Sue's Good News, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Woodman, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.47 with Tim Doocy in the irons.
Ole Rebel came from last, shot through a hole along the rail at mid-stretch and went on to win Saturday's $50,000 Folklore Handicap by 9 1/4 lengths. Dash for Daylight, who held the lead briefly in upper stretch, finished second and his stablemate, That Tat, got home third. Ole Rebel, a 5-year-old son of Carson City, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.85 with Corie Lanerie up.
Sunday, Maid in China led most of the way in the Southern Belle Stakes for state-bred, 2-year-old fillies, then held on to win by a neck over the favorite, Sweet Macaroni. Equestrian Girls finished third. Maid in China, a daughter of B.J.'s Mark, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:07.37.
Donald's Pride got home first in Saturday's $50,000 Gate Dancer Stakes, only to be disqualified and set down to second for bearing out in the stretch run and interfering with Country Be Gold, who was awarded the win. Lyracist ran third. Country Be Gold is a 7-year-old son of Summer Squall. The 7 furlongs on a wet-fast track took 1:43.00.
Oh So Easy came from just behind the pace to win Sunday's $45,000 Vivacious Handicap by a head over Always Dreaming. The favorite, Rhythm in Shoes, finished third. Oh So Easy, last year's 3-year-old Ohio-bred champion, ran 1 1/16 mile on the grass in 1:44. "The horse in front of us ran a very good race but my filly is very competitive," said winning rider Ricardo Feliciano.