If you like a 3-year-old to win the $4 million Breeder's Cup Classic, you might do well to look not for a Kentucky Derby winner but for one that peaked after the rigorous Triple Crown races.
Not since 1990 has a horse won the Kentucky Derby and come back to win the Classic. That was Unbridled. Sunday Silence turned the same trick a year earlier.
The other 3-year-olds who have won the Classic fit a different pattern.
Tiznow won the Classic in 2000 as a 3-year-old, but was still laboring in maiden events when Fusaichi Pegasus won that year's Derby. Tiznow won the Super Derby and the Goodwood Handicap en route to his Classic victory. Fusaichi Pegasus peaked in the Derby and ran a poor sixth in the 2000 Classic.
Concern won the big race in his sophomore year in 1994. While he had a full summer campaign, he did not run in the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont. A.P. Indy missed the 1992 Derby with a bruised foot, then also passed up the Preakness but won the Belmont and went on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.
That same general pattern, in fact, fits Birdstone, who came from behind to win Saturday's Travers Stakes -- the "Midsummer Derby" -- at Saratoga. Trainer Nick Zito had the son of 1996 Derby winner Grindstone on this year's Kentucky Derby trail early after a nice victory in the Champagne last fall at Belmont. But he flopped badly in the Lane's End at Turfway and never got a chance to run much when he was shuffled back in the Derby. Zito then backed off and passed up the Preakness.
Between the Kentucky Derby and the Travers, Birdstone had only one race -- his stunning upset victory over Smarty Jones in the Belmont. And now, he likely won't race again until the Oct. 30 Classic at Lone Star Park in Texas.
Zito said he recommended the long breaks to owners John Hendrickson and Marylou Whitney.
"When we brought him back to Saratoga after the Belmont, I noticed a change in him and I told John and Marylou, 'Let's forget about a prep race. Let's just go for the big one,'" Zito said. "I had a feeling he would fire. He's got such a big heart. If he's going to fire, let him fire on the right day at the right time. And that's what he did."
Zito was using the same line Sunday, when Whitney opted to go directly to the Classic, without another prep race. "If he fires his best shot," Zito said, "let him fire his best shot for $4 million."
A sad note on the Travers. Lion Heart, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and winner of the Haskell, suffered a broken bone in his right front foot while setting the pace Saturday. Trainer Patrick Biancone said the Tale of the Cat colt will be retired.
In other weekend racing with potential bearing on the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships:
$2 million Nextel Distaff
-- Storm Flag Flying bested Azeri in a battle of champions in Friday's $400,000 Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga. Azeri got the lead at the top of the stretch after pressing a very fast pace. Then, Storm Flag Flying, a granddaughter of Personal Ensign, got rolling and came alongside Azeri at the quarter pole. Despite giving her rival 6 pounds, Azeri fought back and it wasn't until the final yards that Storm Flag Flying got clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Nevermore was third. The 1 1/4 mile took 2:03.63. The dramatic battle likely will be replayed in the Distaff at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30 with a furlong less to run. "The Breeders' Cup Distaff is where we want to go," said winning trainer Shug McGaughey. "I could train her up to it. We'll wait and see how she comes out." D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Azeri, said his mare "gave some weight and gave quite a bit of pace - more than what we had drawn on paper. ... I felt she ran a strong race. From here, we don't have the weight issue and all we have to look at is the 9 furlongs compared to the mile and a quarter."
$2 million John Deere Turf
Star Over the Bay, claimed by trainer Mike Mitchell for $80,000 back in May at Hollywood Park, led most of the way to a neck victory over Sarafan in Sunday's $250,000 Del Mar Handicap. Moscow Burning was third in the 1 3/8-mile event, clocked in 2:12.71 over firm turf. The winner's share was $150,000. Star Over the Bay, a 6-year-old son of Cozzene, won for just the eighth time in 38 career starts. "I thought the early fractions might be a little fast," Mitchell said. "But the horse was running easy and was where he wanted to be." Jockey Tyler Baze said Star Over the Bay "gave it up and relaxed" when he got the lead. "I said, 'Oh, man, this is nice,'" Baze added.
$1.5 million NetJets Mile (turf)
-- Nothing to Lose won Saturday's $200,000 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga after taking the scenic route. Jockey John Velazquez rated the 4-year-old Sky Classic colt into the turn, then moved up on the hedge. He had to swing wide at the top of the lane, then duck back down to the inside at midstretch before beating Silver Tree by 1/2 length. Royal Regalia was third. The 1 1/16 mile took 1:39.50 on firm turf. "I thought I had a good trip," Velazquez said. "We got lucky. We could have got shut off and got beat. The horse ran really, really well.
-- Soaring Free survived topweight of 126 pounds, a stumble at the start and some bumping to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Play the King Stakes at Woodbine. The 4-year-old Smart Strike gelding stalked the early pace, got the lead at the top of the long Woodbine stretch and held off a pair of 40-1 longshots, Frank's Selection and Dancin Joey. Jockey Todd Kabel said he was worried because Soaring Free didn't run well immediately after the early trouble. "But it all worked out well," he added. "He ran another great race. He proved that 'he's the man' around here." Trainer Mark Frostad said he hopes to improve on Soaring Free's late-summer and fall performance last year. After winning the 2003 running of the Play the King, the gelding was second in the Atto Mile, fourth in the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland and fifth in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita.
-- Archers Bow battled to the wire with Chemistry Class in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Vice Regent Stakes at Woodbine before winning by a neck. Dashing Admiral, the odds-on favorite and early leader, faded to finish third. Archers Bow, a son of Archers Bay, ran the 1 mile on soft turf in 1:40.83. The race was restricted to Ontario-bred 3-year-olds.
$1 million Sprint
-- Pomeroy got to the leaders on the rail at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $250,000 King's Bishop Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, then repulsed a late bid by Weigelia to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Ice Wynnd Fire was third. Pomeroy, a Kentucky-bred son of Boundary, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:20.99 for Edgar Prado. "He produced today the way we expected him to produce," said winning trainer Patrick Biancone, who took the blinkers off Pomeroy and put Prado on him for the race. "He's going to be a very nice 7-furlong or miler. He may be a very good sprinter next year."
-- Lady Tak set a brisk pace in Sunday's $250,000 Ballerina Handicap at Saratoga, then held on to win by a head over My Trusty Cat with Harmony Lodge another head back in third. Lady Tak, a 4-year-old filly by Mutakddim, ran the 7 furlongs on a "good" track in 1:21.09 with Jerry Bailey aboard. "She has a lot of speed and the rail and Saratoga are a good combination," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "Jerry said she had a little left."
-- Gold Storm challenged for the lead from the opening bell in Saturday's $150,000 Arlington Breeders' Cup Sprint at Arlington Park but had to burn some gas before disposing of rivals Champali and Avid Skier. After motoring through a half mile in 45.72 seconds under jockey Larry Taylor, Gold Storm drew clear to a 2-length lead, then held on to beat Super Fuse by 3/4 length in 1:08.65. Champali held third. Gold Storm now is a lucky 7-of-11 for his career with three straight wins. "No flaws," said winning trainer Bubba Cascio. "He did just exactly what we planned. We'll play it by ear and try to get another good race into him and try to get into the Breeders' Cup if at all possible." However, the 4-year-old son of Seeking the Gold has no graded stakes points and might have trouble getting into the race if more than 14 are pre-entered.
-- Also Saturday at Saratoga, Smokey Glacken led most of the way to a 3 3/4-length victory in the $75,000 Victory Ride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Grand Prayer was second and Feline Story was third. Smokey Glacken, a daughter of Forestry, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.64. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said he may send the filly to the Safely Kept Breeders' Cup at Pimlico on Oct. 2.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Evil Minister upset Saturday's $100,000 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park, rallying from well back to outfinish Park Avenue Ball by 3/4 length. Upscaled was third and the favorite, Primal Storm, finished sixth. Evil Minister, who won for the second time in three starts after breaking his maiden last time out at Pimlico, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.21 under Julian Pimentel. "I told Julian to ride him like he was the best horse in the race," said trainer Erik Juvonen. "Ever since his win, he's picked up a lot of confidence." Not so the bettors, who let Evil Minister go at 24-1 odds.
-- Rocky River came from just off the pace, then drew off in the stretch to win Sunday's $50,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes by 4 3/4 lengths over Santana Springs. Departing Now was third. The son of Concorde's Tune now has won both his starts. "He ran great but he's still a little green," said winning jockey Chris Emigh. "He still wants to run off with me. I finally got him calmed down around the turn and when I asked him, he just went." The race is a prep for the Arlington-Washington Futurity on closing day, Sept. 19.
-- South Africa set the early pace in Saturday's $60,000 Prelude Stakes at Louisiana Downs, turned back a challenge from Britt's Jules with a furlong to go and then had just enough to hit the wire a neck in front of an onrushing Fantasticat. Britt's Jules was just another neck back in third at the end. South Africa, a Kentucky-bred Cape Town gelding, finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.98
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
Sweet Catomine -- second in her only previous start -- wasn't supposed to be quite as good as entrymate Proposed in Saturday's $250,000 Del Mar Debutante. But while Proposed faded from contention to finish seventh of nine, Sweet Catomine rallied from last to win by 3/4 length. Souvenir Gift was second and Hello Lucky was third. Trainer Bob Baffert's Indian Charlie filly, No Bull Baby, faded badly in the lane to finish eighth. Sweet Catomine, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Storm Cat from the Kris S. mare Sweet Life, ran 7 furlongs in 1:24.18. "She's backward, training-wise, because she's so big," said winning trainer Julio Canani. "I haven't trained this winner very hard because she is so big. I never push a horse. I let them do it on their own. As a 3-year-old, I think she'll be a very nice filly." Canani has saddled nine horses in the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships but none in the 2-year-old events.
In other weekend racing:
Humorous Miss got rolling as the field hit the stretch run in Saturday's $50,000 Hatoof Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, ran up outside Code of Ethics and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Sean's Baby was third, a head back of Code of Ethics. Humorous Miss, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Distorted Humor, got the 1 1/16 mile on soft turf in 1:50.09. The race is named for the winner of the 1994 Beverly D. at Arlington.
Calder Race Course
Soverign Honor led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $75,000 Needles Stakes, covering the 1 1/16 mile over firm turf in 1:44 2/5. Cervelo was second with a late bid and Nightmare Affair finished third. Soverign Honor, a 3-year-old son of Double Honor, picked up his third win in 15 starts and his first in stakes company, paying $40.20 straight to his faithful fans. "I was in front and he relaxed down the backstretch," said winning rider Manuel Aguilar. "I think that helped him because at the end he was strong."
Added Edge sat right behind pace-setting Discreet Hero through most of Saturday's $75,000 Governor's Handicap, then won a battle to the wire, finishing 3/4 length ahead. Roar of the Tiger was a distant third. Added Edge, a 4-year-old Smart Strike colt, negotiated the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.34 with Mark Guidry calling the shots.
Gotaghostofachance went right to the lead in Saturday's $60,000 Lamplighter and won off by 4 lengths over Tap Day. The Silver Ghost gelding ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:40 4/5 under Stewart Elliott. "There didn't appear to be much speed on paper," said winning trainer Ned Allard. "So we thought he might end up on the lead.
Also Saturday, Coney Kitty rallied from far back to win the $60,000 Omnibus Stakes for fillies and mares on the turf. With Eibar Coa riding, Coney Kitty had to steady at the top of the lane, then swing wide for racing room but still got home 1 1/4 lengths ahead of With Patience. Constant Touch was third. The 1 1/16 mile on firm turf went in 1:43.23. Coney Kitty is a 6-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Lycius.
Roar of Victory roared down the stretch in Saturday's $65,000 Iowa Breeders' Derby, catching pace-setting Wild Wild West in time to win by 1 1/4 lenghts. Devils Wild was third. Roar of Victory ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.05, highlighting the six-stakes card for state-breds. Switch Lanes didn't have to switch any lanes in winning the $75,000 Donna Reed Stakes for fillies and mares because she led all the way to a 3/4-length victory over Gamblers Passion. One Fine Shweetie was third and the odds-on favorite, Sharky's Review, finished last of six. Cmego scored a 31-1 upset in the $75,000 Ralph Hayes Stakes for colts and geldings, battling fellow longshot Royalty of Iowa to a head victory. Buzzle Ways was third in the 1 1/16-mile event, clocked in 1:42.82. This One for Abbey ralled in deep stretch of the $65,000 Iowa Breeders' Oaks to catch Dis Miss and win by 2 lengths. Butter Crunch was second and the favorite, Ebony Lady, finished third.
In the juvenile events, Mingo Mohawk caught favorite Dance With Legend in the final 100 yards to win the $75,000 Iowa Cradle Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths with Five Rubies third. And Queansco also came from off the pace to win the $65,000 Iowa Sorority Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths over Bad Little Bernie, with Raiderette third.
Noon Win pressed the pace into the stretch run of Saturday's $40,000 Miss Ohio Stakes for 2-year-old, state-bred fillies, then went to the lead and drew clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Pyrite Bonds. Annabarr was home third. Noon Win, by Winthrop, now has two wins and a second from three lifetime starts.
News and notes:
With less than two months to go, Lone Star Park is busily installing 38,000 temporary seats for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. The facility has about 12,000 permanent seats. "When it's all said and done," said Vice President and General Manager Jeff Greco, "we'll have seats that stretch from the far turn through the homestretch and into the first turn. All will be accompanied by service structures that include numerous pari-mutuel windows, concessions, merchandise sales and restsrooms." Video displays on the infield also will allow patrons to follow the entire course of the eight championship races from all seating areas....The Hong Kong Jockey Club, preparing to open its racing season, is urging a reduction in betting taxes. "Excessive betting duty rates and rigid regulations have allowed illegal and offshore betting operators to penetrate the Hong Kong market," warned Ronald Arculli, chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. "The Club believes it is time to conduct a betting duty reform which allows more flexible options, including replacing betting duty with a gross profit tax." He said a similar reform enacted in 2001 in the United Kingdom resulted in an 82 percent increase in betting turnover in the first year.