Handicappers usually look for late bloomers among the 2-year-olds, or perhaps in the Kentucky Derby hopefuls each spring. But older horses also can come along to peak at just the right time - as Roses In May seems to be doing in preparation for next month's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
As a 3-year-old, the Devil His Due colt ran well enough until he hit the wall in the Jerome Handicap at Belmont in September, finishing sixth. Rested until this April by trainer Dale Romans, Roses In May won an allowance at Keeneland and an optional claimer at Churchill Downs.
Then he stepped up to win the Grade III Cornhusker Breeders' Cup at Prairie Meadows in July and the Whitney at Saratoga last month.
He confirmed his form by blowing away five rivals in Saturday's $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park, winning by 4 lengths. Pie N Burger, after battling Roses In May for the lead, held on for second with Sonic West checking in third. He finished the 9 furlongs in 1:49.13 with John Velazquez in the irons.
"We're going to the Breeders' Cup next and I don't care who joins us," said winning owner Kenneth Ramsey. "This is his fifth consecutive win at his fifth different track with a fifth different jockey. So I don't think anything can bother him." Romans said Velazquez has agreed to stick with Roses In May for the Classic and worked him an extra furlong after the wire on Saturday, clocked in 2:02 2/5.
In other racing with potential implications for the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup Classic, Powered by Dodge, at Lone Star Park in Texas:
-- Teton Forest, a Kentucky-bred son of Forestry, got the jump on a half-dozen rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park and skimmed over the sloppy track to a 6-length upset. The favorite, Ice Wynnd Fire, was second and Mahzouz completed the $100.50 trifecta. The 1 mile went in 1:35.74. The victory was the third in eight starts for Teton Forest and his first in stakes company. The colt had not raced since June 5, when he was second by a head to Fire Slam in the Riva Ridge, also at Belmont. However, he had been working in company with Senor Swinger in preparation for the Jerome. "We just kept doing nice, steady breezes with him and he breezed incredibly with Senor Swinger," said Baffert assistant Tonja Terranova. Edgar Prado, who rode Ice Wynnd Fire, said, "I wish the track was dry and fast. It could have been a different story."
Other weekend racing with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships:
$2 million Nextel Distaff
-- Sightseek did what a 1-5 favorite is supposed to do in Sunday's $300,000 Ruffian at Belmont Park. After tracking the leaders, the 5-year-old daughter of Distant View swung to the outside nearing the quarter pole and drew off easily to win by 11 1/4 lengths. She finished in 1:41 2/5 with jockey John Velazquez subbing for the injured Jerry Bailey. Hocus Pocus was second and Miss Loren was third. "I always get nervous when I send out a 1-5 shot," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "Honestly, I thought she would be shorter than that. I thought she would pay $2.20. I think that $2.50 was a generous price for her." He said he is so happy with the mare's performance at Belmont that he might run her in the $750,000 Beldame just three weeks before the Breeders' Cup. "Why give away $750,000?" he asked. "We'll see how she comes out and how she's acting. Maybe we'll come back in the Beldame. Maybe not." Said Velazquez: "That was as easy as you can have it. It's amazing. When I gave her a couple of taps, it felt like she was walking. She was going at an unbelievable rhythm. I like this kind."
-- Susan's Angel, a dismal sixth in the Alabama last time out, found the Turfway Park surface more to her liking, winning Saturday's $175,000 Turfway Breeders' Cup Stakes by 3/4 length over Mayo On the Side. Angela's Love was third. Susan's Angel, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Cape Town, tracked the lead and edged clear in the stretch, finishing 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.21. She has three wins and three seconds from nine starts this year for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "This is a game of highs and lows," said Lukas, "and this one is very gratifying....She is an absolute jewel to train - very consistent."
$1.5 million NetJets Mile (turf)
-- Soaring Free lived up to his name in Sunday's $1 million (Canadian) Atto Mile at Woodbine. Soaring from the gate from post position No. 11, the 5-year-old son of Smart Strike set a sensible pace despite a challenge from Royal Regalia. The pace picked up around the turn and by the time Soaring Free hit the wire 3/4 length ahead of a late-running Perfect Soul, he was clocked in 1:32.72 -- stakes-record time. "I thought that the pace would be a little hotter than that, but the horse was going along quite nicely, and responded very well to Todd," said winning trainer Mark Frostad. "If he comes out of the race in good order and trains on well, (the Breeders' Cup) will be his next start." Soaring Free was fifth in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita after leading early. He was second in last year's Atto Mile, caught at the end by Touch of the Blues.
-- Only four ran over the soft Belmont Park inner turf course in Saturday's $200,000 Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap and Senor Swinger was clearly the best. Taken in hand by jockey Edgar Prado for the first half mile, the 4-year-old El Prado colt advanced on the turn, came three wide into the stretch and easily drew clear to win by 4 lengths over Stroll. B.A. Way was third. Senor Swinger ran 9 furlongs in 1:52.72. "The key was to get him to relax," Prado said. "He relaxed beautiful. It was a slow, comfortable pace. The soft turf, everything combined to work out good." The victory was a bit of a rebound for Senor Swinger from a fifth-place finish in the Arlington Million. He now has four wins from nine starts this year.
$1 million Filly & Mare Turf
Ticker Tape rated well off the early speed in Saturday's $200,000 Pucker Up Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Arlington Park, then made up the ground in the final furlong, drawing off to a 2 3/4-length victory. Spotlight also came from far back to take second and Sister Swank was third. Ticker Tape finished the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.63 -- fastest time of the summer-long meeting. "At the half-mile pole," said winning jockey Kent Desormeaux, "I was just sitting behind horses and didn't do anything but let her go." Ticker Tape, a British-bred daughter of Royal Applause, will go to Keeneland for the Oct. 16 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, said trainer James Cassidy.
$1 million Sprint
-- Feline Story, the only 3-year-old among five starters, came from last to win Saturday's $100,000 Floral Park Handicap for fillies and mares by a neck over Cologny. Travelator was third in the 6-furlong event, clocked in 1:10.69 over a sloppy track. Feline Story, a daughter of Tale of the Cat, now has two wins and three seconds from six starts this year. Her only really bad effort was a next-to-last finish in the Grade I Test Stakes at Saratoga at the end of July when she was steadied at the half-mile pole. "She broke bad," said winning jockey Edgar Prado. "But I didn't rush her. I knew the fractions were fast (22.07 and 44.93 seconds). When I got into my filly left-handed, she really responded. She gave me another gear."
-- Level Playingfield had been racing on the turf in handicaps and optional claimers before Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Kentucky Cup Sprint for 3-year-olds at Turfway Park. As a result, he was dispatched as the longest shot in the five-horse field at 10-1. Rallying from last, the son of Level Sands took charge in the stretch and won by 2 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Cuvee. Swift Attraction was third. Level Playingfield ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.76. "The race shaped up like I thought it would," said winning trainer Robert Holthus. "The only reason I ran in this race was because I was confident they would go 44 and change in front."
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Park Avenue Ball, a 10-1 longshot, rallied wide down the stretch to win Sunday's $300,000 Futurity at Belmont Park by 3 lengths over Wallstreet Scandal. Evil Minister was third. Park The favorite, California invader Fusaichi Rock Star, beat only one horse. Park Avenue Ball, a son of Citidancer, finished in 1:38 4/5. He has lost only once in four starts, finishing behind Evil Minister in the Sapling at Monmouth Park last month. "I thought the race was wide open," said winning trainer Jim Ryerson. "I thought he could get a mile if he was allowed to settle. ... We'll have to consider the (Oct. 9) Champagne because it's a big, one-turn race and he just won over the track." Trainer Bob Baffert said Fusaichi Rock Star is "a free-running horse. I think you just have to let him run. We'll do some work with him and give him a shot in the Champagne."
-- Three Hour Nap won a three-horse dash to the wire to capture Sunday's $200,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity at Arlington Park by a neck. Elusive Chris and Straight Line dead-heated for second. Three Hour Nap, a son of Afternoon Deelites, finished the 1 mile in 1:38.56 with Eusebio Razo Jr. up. Razo said he could see the favorite, Rocky River, was running rank. "I wasn't concerned about him but I was concerned about (Straight Line) turning for home. Once my horse started digging in, I knew he wasn't going to let that horse run by us." Three Hour Nap now has won all three of his starts, all at Arlington.
-- It's a good idea to pay attention to juveniles who buck the speed bias at Turfway Park in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile. Such was the case Saturday, as Greater Good came from last in a field of six 2-year-olds and went on to win easily by 2 3/4 lengths, over Magna Greaduate. Norainonthisparty was third and the favorite, Storied Cat, finished fifth.
-- Positive Prize stalked the early lead in Sunday's $100,000 Gottstein Futurity at Emerald Downs in Washington State, then surged to the front at midstretch and eased clear to win by 1 length over the filly Charming Colleen. The final time of 1:41 2/5 was the fastest in the 67-year history of the Gottstein. "This horse is just the ultimate professional," said winning rider Ricky Frazier. "If you need to move him, He'll go. If you need to sit, he'll rate. He's just such a nice horse." The colt is a Kentucky-bred son of Prized.
-- In Saturday's $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes at Retama Park in Texas, Leaving On My Mind didn't seem to have his mind on leaving the gate. Dropping back quickly, the gelded son of Valid Expectations then had to rally between rivals at the top of the stretch to take the lead and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Expect Will, the odds-on favorite. Dixie Meister was third. The 6 furlongs went in 1:11.89.
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
-- Sense of Style remained undefeated by winning Sunday's $300,000 Matron at Belmont Park by 1 length despite missing the break and closing into a slow pace. With Edgar Prado riding, the Thunder Gulch filly came wide into the stretch and got the lead, then had to beat back a late challenge from Play With Fire. At the wire, Play With Fire faded enough to lose second-place money to Balleytto. "She threw her head to the side and, unfortunately, broke slow," said winning rider Edgar Prado. "I didn't want to rush her into the race. I called on her a little bit at the half-mile pole and, in three jumps, she caught up right away." Trainer Patrick Biancone said he didn't mind the slow start. "I didn't want to see her go to the front so the break wasn't too bad." He said he plans to visit Lone Star this week to assess how soon to bring Sense of Style in for the Juvenile Fillies.
-- Punch Appeal, with Shane Sellers up, led from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile Filles at Turfway Park, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Carmandia. Winning Season was third. The favorite, Im a Dixie Girl, finished fifth, never threatening. Punch Appeal, a Florida-bred daughter of Successful Appeal, ran 1 mile in 1:38.04. She has won four of six starts for trainer Steve Asmussen but finished a well-beaten fifth in her only graded stakes try, the Spinaway at Saratoga, in her last previous outing. "I chose this spot because I thought it would be a good prep for the Alcibiades at Keeneland," said Asmussen. "But she is a small filly and we'll have to see how she comes out of it."
-- Culinary came wide down the stretch to overhaul the front-runners and win Sunday's $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie at Arlington Park by 2 lengths over Runway Model. Culinary, a daughter of El Amante, ran the 1 mile in 1:36.98. The filly now is unbeaten in two starts. Trainer Michael Stidham said he was confident because of the way Culinary had worked for jockey Carlos Marquez. "Carlos got off her in the morning after her last work and said that we have the winner of the Lassie," he said.
-- Tuned In started looking for running room with a quarter mile to go in Saturday's $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes at Retama Park, finally found room between fillies with about a sixteenth to go and went on to win by 1/2 length over Rockin Regent. Butterfly Bloom was third and the favorite, Berdelia, never fired, finishing seventh. Tuned In is by Valid Expectations. She ran the 6 furlongs in 1:13.05.
In other weekend racing:
Laurel Race Course
Lusty Latin tracked the leaders until the field turned for home in Saturday's $150,000 John D. Shapiro Memorial Breeders' Cup Handicap. Then, with Ryan Fogelsonger calling the shots, Lusty Latin ducked through a hole on the rail and went on to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Foufa's Warrior. Pay The Preacher was third. The race was moved off the turf, resulting in the scratches of five prospective starters. Lusty Latin finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49. "I was trying to get him out and bring him around horses," Fogelsonger said. "But I had to rush him up in there at the half-mile pole because there was no shot to get him out." For Kentucky Derby trivia buffs, Lusty Latin finished 15th in the 2002 Run for the Roses.
Paiota Falls battled head to head with Touchnow through most of Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) La Lorgnette Stakes for 3-year-old fillies before winning by a neck. My Vintage Port was third. Paiota Falls, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Kris S., ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.14 with Herb Castillo Jr. up for trainer Bill Mott.
Private Lap led from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Sussex Handicap, which was reduced from 10 runners to three when it was moved off the turf. Private Lap, a 5-year-old son of Private Terms, won by 11 lengths and picked up his 12th victory in his 31st start. He has won eight of 11 on the Delaware Park main track. With Norberto Arroyo up, Private Lap ran 1 1/16 mile on a sloppy track in 1:43 4/5.
Calder Race Course
Petrina Above went right to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 U Can Do It Handicap and won off by 4 1/2 lengths over Really Royal. Family Favorite was third. Petrina Above finished the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:19. "She made the easy lead and that was it," said winning jockey Abdiel Toribio. Trainer Frank Carlisi said the owners had talked about breeding Petrina Above "but as long as she continues to do well, it's definitely not hurting her, we'll consider going on and let her tell us."
Rare Cure dueled down the stretch with Shakethemhateroff before winning Saturday's $100,000 Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame Stakes by a neck. Desert Darby was third in the 1 1/16-mile turf event for state-breds, clocked in 1:42.24. Rare Cure is a 6-year-old Rare Brick gelding.
Miss Moses more than doubled her career earnings with an off-the-pace victory in Saturday's $75,000 Prairie Meadows Oaks. Sitting off an early speed duel, Miss Moses rallied in the final yards to beat My Time Now by 1 1/2 lengths. She finished in 1:44.43. Miss Moses came to Iowa off a sixth-place finish in the Arlington Breeders' Cup Oaks and faced many of the same rivals Saturday. "She ran a better race over here," said Joseph Joe, assistant to winning trainer Michael Stidham. "Maybe she preferred this surface."
Happy Ticket was just what the 3-year-old filly's backers held after Saturday's $50,000 Seneca Stakes. Breaking on top, Happy Ticket opened up a big lead and held on to win by 1 length over Katlin's Rocket, with Catlaan third. The about 1 1/16 mile on the grass took 1:43.03. Happy Ticket, an Andrew Leggio Jr. trainee, is a daughter of Anet. Lonnie Meche was aboard.