So after an unpredictable Kentucky Derby and a scary Preakness, the Belmont produced a tour de force and a potential new champion. And, of course, a might have been.
When Afleet Alex cruised past the Belmont Park finish line Saturday 7 lengths ahead of the closest challenger in an outclassed field, he left everyone wondering what it might have taken to make up the 1 length he lacked to Giacomo while finishing third in the Kentucky Derby.
Even as he brought Afleet Alex back to the Belmont Park winner's circle, jockey Alex Rose was lamenting the events of five weeks ago.
"He should be a Triple Crown winner I messed up. Or whatever," Rose told the live national television audience. "I say I messed up because I had the best horse. You can't blame (trainer) Tim (Ritchey) and you can't blame Afleet Alex. So, if you have to blame someone, blame me."
No one has blamed Rose for his ride in the Derby, where he was poised for victory at mid-stretch but couldn't quite get there. And in the Preakness, Rose was praised for even staying on the colt when he clipped heels with Scappy T at the top of the stretch and Afleet Alex stumbled badly.
But, Triple Crown disappointment aside, the Belmont victory, coupled with his troubled but dominating 4 1/2-length score in the Preakness, left Afleet Alex clearly at the head of his class and top contender for year-end honors.
In other weekend racing:
The other star of the 3-year-old class, undefeated sprinter Lost in the Fog, continued his winning ways in Saturday's $200,000 Riva Ridge Breeders' Cup, leading the way to a 1 1/4-length victory over a tough opponent, Egg Head. Middle Earth was third. Lost in the Fog, a Florida-bred son of Lost Soldier, ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.54 with Edgar Prado up for the first time, subbing for the injured Russell Baze. "It takes a pretty good horse to fend off half the field when they are laying back, waiting for you and taking turns at you," said winning trainer Greg Gilchrist. Gilchrist said Lost in the Fog is pointing to the King's Bishop on Travers Day at Saratoga.
Good Reward, with Jerry Bailey aboard, upset the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap at 1 1/4 mile on the inner turf, racing from just off the pace to win by a nose over another longshot, Relaxed Gesture. The favorite, Artie Shiller, completed the $1,993 trifecta after leading early. Good Reward, a 4-year-old son of Storm Cat, finished in 2:00.69 on firm going. Bailey said he followed Artie Shiller and Quest Star and, when then went wide on the final turn, said to himself, "'This is almost like a Christmas present.' I got to stay slow-paced and I was able to save some ground." Trainer Shug McGaughey said Good Reward probably will go to Saratoga with an eye on the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf in the fall at Belmont.
Sand Springs led most of the way to win Saturday's $300,000 Just a Game Breeders' Cup Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Intercontinental. Wonder Again was third. Sand Springs, a 5-year-old daughter of Dynaformer, got the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.05 with John Velazquez calling the shots.
Limehouse came wide to the lead on the second turn in Saturday's $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap and won off by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Gygistar. Cuba finished third but was disqualified to fifth, elevating Royal Assault to show money. Limehouse, a 4-year-old son of Grand Slam, ran 9 furlongs on the main track in 1:46.69 for Velazquez.
Woke Up Dreamin battled for the lead in Saturday's $200,000 True North Breeders' Cup Handicap, got to the front at the top of the stretch and drew clear to win by 2 lengths over Voodoo. Mass Media was third and the favorite, Smokume, finished fourth. Woke Up Dreamin, a 5-year-old son of Holy Bull, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.38 with Mike Smith up.
On Sunday, Sensibly Chic rallied from mid-pack to win the $150,000 Vagrancy Handicap for fillies and mares by 3 3/4 lengths over Bank Audit. Sensibly Chic, a 5-year-old, New York-bred mare by Distorted Humor, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.31 under John Velazquez. Ender's Sister was third.
Sweet Return went out to a comfortable lead in Saturday's $350,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap, loafed along on point and just held on to win by a head over the favorite, Red Fort. Vangelis was third. Sweet Return, a 5-year-old, British-bred son of Elmaamul, ran the 1 1/4 mile on firm turf in 2:01.35 for jockey Alex Solis. "The only instructions I gave Alex was to keep him relaxed," said trainer Ron McAnally, who won the event -- formerly the Hollywood Turf Handicap -- for the fourth time, the previous three times with the legendary John Henry. "He figured the race the same as I did -- didn't look like there was much speed." McAnally still trails the legendary Charlie Whittingham in victories in the event. Whittingham saddled the winners of seven renewals of the event.
Also Saturday, McCann's Mojave dueled with Congrats for the lead in the $75,000 Ack Ack Handicap, then edged away and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Congrats held second and St Averil was third. McCann's Mojave, a 5-year-old, Cal-bred son of Memo, ran 7 1/2 furlongs under Jose Valdivia Jr. in 1:27.23.
Sunday, Brooke's Halo led from the git-go and won the $175,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks by 1 lengths over Memorette. Cee's Irish was third and the favorite, Leave Me Alone, finished fourth. Brooke's Halo, a Florida-bred daughter of Southern Halo, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.80 with Victor Espinoza up. Owner Michael House said trainer Jeff Mullins blamed poor performances in her past two races on Brooke's Halo's dislike for an off track. "Victor said, 'She's like on ice skates. She can't handle it.' She needs her track and today she got it," House said.
Miss Matched was anything but mismatched in Saturday's $150,000 Dogwood Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Sent right to the fore by jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, the Formal Gold filly opened up a comfortable lead and never looked back, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Culinary. Caroline's Gold was third. Miss Matched, a Kentucky-bred, owned by John Oxley and trained by John Ward, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.49. "She made it look easy," said Bridgmohan. Miss Matched was among the top 2-year-old fillies last year until she suffered a chipped bone in her knee. Since returning to the races, she is 3-for-3.
Sunday, Bayou Buster broke last of five in the $72,000 Texas Blitter Handicap, shot to the lead after a furlong and then held off Artemus Sunrise to win by a head. Deer Lake was third as the favorite. Bayou Buster, a 6-year-old Housebuster gelding, ran the 5 furlongs in 57.8 seconds with Jon McKee handling the reins.
Cherokee's Boy, with Todd Dunkelberger up, got right to the front in Saturday's $100,000 Brandywine Handicap, fought off a pair of challengers turning for home and then was all out to hold off Separato by a neck under the wire. Ouagadougou was third. Cherokee's Boy, a 5-year-old, Maryland-bred son of Citidancer, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:44.30.
Golden Gate Fields
Desert Boom led from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Berkeley Handicap, winning by 2 lengths over Easy Million. Yougottawanna was 6 lengths farther back in third. Desert Boom, a 5-year-old, California-bred gelding by Boomerang, ran 1 1/16 mile oin a fast track in 1:40.94.
Gold Strike performed like a favorite should in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Labatt Woodbine Oaks, sitting off the pace, then rallying around the turn to take charge and win by 3 1/2 lengths over Ready and Alluring. Victorious Ami was third. Gold Strike, a Manitoba-bred daughter of Smart Strike, covered 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.63. The victory may have presaged a run against the colts in the June 26 Queen's Plate, where she would try to become just the fifth filly to win both the Oaks and the Plate. The last was Dancethruthedawn, four years ago. "I'll have to talk to the big boss, but as far as '?m concerned, it's a go," said trainer Reade Baker, who saddled half the 10-filly Oaks field, including Gold Strike.
Barbeau Ruckus battled for the lead through most of Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Steady Growth Stakes for Ontario-breds, surrendered the advantage in the stretch to Mister Coop, then came back to beat that rival by a neck. Kent Ridge was well back in third. Barbeau Ruckus, a 6-year-old Barbeau gelding, got the 1 1/16 mile under Todd Kabel in 1:45.69.
Discreet Hero got to even terms with the leader with a quarter mile to go in Saturday's $75,000 Slipton Fell Handicap, then hit the afterburners in the stretch run, winning off by 6 3/4 lengths. X Country was second and Be Like Mike, the pace-setter, finished third. Discreet Hero, a Kentucky-bred son of Honour and Glory, finished the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41.32.
Celtic Innis stayed close to the pace in Saturday's $60,000 Coronado's Quest Stakes for 3-year-olds, came three-wide into the stretch to take the lead and drew off to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Miracle Man. Diamond Isle was third. Celtic Innis, a Maryland-bred son of Yarrow Brae, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.63.
Also Saturday, Revved Up lived up to his name, rallying from mid-pack and dueling through the stretch with Tam's Terms before edging clear to win by 1 length. Cacht Wells was third. Revved Up, with Aaron Gryder in the irons, completed the 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:48.24.
Sunday, Snowdrops started last of nine in the $60,000 Politely Stakes, fought her way through traffic and drew off at the end to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Dynamia. Smart N Classy finished third. Snowdrops is a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Gulch. She got the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.62 for Joe Bravo.
Also Sunday, Cigno d'Oro rallied from well back to win the $60,000 Spruce Fir Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares by a neck over front-running Avery Hall. Key to Love was third. Cigno d'Oro, a 6-year-old daughter of Tour d'Or, got the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:44.29.
Wayzata Boy, with Tim Doocy in the irons, swung out five-wide halfway through Saturday's $50,000 Prairie Mile for 3-year-olds and swooped by the field, edging clear in the late going to win by 3/4 length over even-money favorite Quiet Monday. Three Elevens was third. Wayzata Boy, a Kentucky-bred son of Roar, finished in 1:36.67. Trainer Judi Hinklin said the colt, who ran against some top competition in Florida this winter, is expected to stick around for the $250,000 Iowa Derby on July 1.
Calder Race Course
Calder completed its musical echo of the Triple Crown races with Saturday's $50,000 New York, New York Stakes at 1 1/2 mile. The Winner, Perspicacious, rallied three-wide on the turn for home and just beat Stars of Silver to the wire by 1/2 length. Sir Stack was third. Perspicacious, an Argentine-bred 6-year-old horse by Payant, finished in 2:39.13 -- just a tad slower than Afleet Alex's 2:28.75 in the Belmont Stakes.
Legal Control was in control but under pressure just about all the way through Saturday's $50,000 Deputed Testamony Stakes for Maryland-bred 3-year-olds. Still, at the wire, the Thunder Gulch colt had enough left to hold off favorite Monster Chaser and win by a head. It's Time to Smile, who prompted the early pace, was just a neck farther back in third. Legal Control ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.80.
Spring Rush won Sunday's $50,000 Skipat Stakes without needing to put in much of a rush. The 5-year-old Wild Rush mare went quickly to the fore and won by a comfortable 2 1/2 lengths over Princess Pelona. The odds-on favorite, Forestier, was a neck farther back in third. Spring Rush ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.24.
United went right to the front in Saturday's $54,100 Peppy Addy Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds and extended the advantage through the 7 furlongs, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over North Potomac. Moonshine Man was third. United, a son of Dixie Union, got home in 1:22.18 under A.S. Black.
Silver Haze streaked past the leaders on the second turn in Saturday's $50,000 Bossier City Handicap for 3-year-olds and went on to win by 3 lengths over Bob O' Boy. The stewards disallowed a claim of foul by the rider of the runner-up for alleged interference during the dramatic stretch move. Silver Haze, a Kentucky-bred colt by Silver Deputy, finished the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:43.40 under E.J. Perrodin. South Beach Boy finished third.
Loan Me a Fen stalked the early pace in Saturday' $50,000 Brooks Faith Stakes, drifted out while moving to the lead but still managed to get home first, 3/4 length ahead of Dontbotherknocking. Our Best Man was third and the favorite, Vazandar, never got into the mix, finishing sixth. Loan Me a Fen, a 6-year-old, Arkansas-bred son of Fenter, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:29.53 and returned a healthy $68.60 for a $2 win ticket.
Lone Star Park
Forrest G. rallied from well back in the field of 10 to upset Saturday' $135,450 TTA Sales Futurity by 2 1/2 lengths over Lord Vicar. D Denton was third and the favorite, Premier Dance, faded badly to finish sixth. Forrest G., a 33-1 longshot, ran the 5 furlongs in 57.54 seconds. He is a son of Truluck.
In the companion $131,500 TTA Sales Futurity filly division, the heavily favored, Steve Asmussen-trained duo of Covered in Clover and September in Texas finished 1-2, with Final Trick picking up show money. Covered in Clover, a gray daughter of Open Forum, ran the 5 furlongs in 57.69 seconds.