With defending champion Ghostzapper abruptly retired and Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo sidelined for the rest of the year, October's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic presents a target of opportunity for the rest of the handicap division.
Among the pretenders is Saint Liam, a steady performer who bounced back from a subpar effort in the Santa Anita Handicap to win Saturday's $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs by 2 3/4 lengths over Eurosilver. Perfect Drift was third.
Saint Liam, a 5-year-old son of Saint Ballado, sat calmly behind the early speed with Edgar Prado in the irons, went to the lead with a quarter mile to go and won with relative ease by 2 3/4 lengths. He ran 9 furlongs in 1:47.52.
Before the California trip, Saint Liam won the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park to start the year. Last year, he was never out of the money in five tries against tough competition but bypassed the Breeders' Cup.
"I think he's the best older horse in the nation with Ghostzapper retired," said Prado. "Hopefully, we'll keep our fingers crossed that he stays sound and we'll shoot for the Breeders' Cup."
But Frankel also started anticipation of a showdown between Saint Liam and other older horses with Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex. "All around, until Afleet Alex beats older horses, you don't know" who's the top of he division, Frankel said.
In other weekend races that may impact the October Breeder's Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park:
-- At Hollywood Park in California, Lava Man tracked the early speed then edged clear in the stretch to win Saturday's $250,000 Californian Stakes by 1 length over Anziyan Royalty. Skukuza was third and Borrego fourth. Choctaw Nation, making his first start back since running in the Dubai World Cup, finished fifth. Lava Man, a 4-year-old, California-bred son of Slew City Slew, ran 9 furlongs in 1:47.83 with Patrick Valenzuela aboard. "He just looked so good today," said Dennis O'Neill, assistant to winning trainer Doug O'Neill. "I was really impress with how well he looked. So now, maybe the (Hollywood) Gold Cup."
-- After his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Don't Get Mad got stuck at Churchill Downs because of a quarantine. Instead of getting mad, trainer Ron Ellis got even by sending the Stephen Got Even colt out to win Saturday's $200,000 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3 1/4 lengths over Unbridled Energy. Real Dandy was third. Don't Get Mad, who got to the Derby by winning the Derby Trial, came seven-wide into the stretch to win Saturday's event. He ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.46 with Gary Stevens up. "I don't believe I've ever ridden a horse on dirt that has the acceleration," Stevens said. "He's got like turf acceleration on dirt and that's hard to find."
-- Indian Ocean staged a minor upset in Saturday's $100,000 Affirmed Handicap for 3-year-olds at Hollywood Park, winning a stretch battle with favorite Surf Cat by a neck at the wire. Dover Dere was third and Santa Anita Derby winner Buzzards Bay was a soundly beaten fourth and last. Indian Ocean, a Florida-bred son of Stormy Atlantic, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.53 for Jon Court.
$2 million Distaff
-- Defending champion Ashado struggled a bit in her first two starts this year. But in Saturday's $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park, the 4-year-old daughter of Saint Ballado got firmly back on the winning trail, drawing off to win by 3 lengths over Society Selection, with Bending Strings third. Ashado, with John Velazquez in the irons, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.02, setting the pace most of the way. "I think she showed today what she is all about," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. He said the filly probably will tackle the Go for Wand on July 31 at Saratoga as her next task.
-- Two Trail Sioux started from the rail in Saturday's $300,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs so jockey Pat Day sent her right to the front. Allowed to establish a comfortable pace, the 4-year-old daughter of Indian Charlie turned back the challenges of Storm's Darling and Rare Gift to win by 1 length. The 9 furlongs took 1:48.53. Two Trail Sioux had won five straight races against lesser foes before finishing a dismal eighth in the Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap in her last start after a bad break.
-- Happy Ticket had was undefeated in eight races in Louisiana but still a question mark coming into Saturday's $175,000 Chicago Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park outside Chicago. When all was said and done, the 4-year-old Anet filly answered the class question with authority, drawing off to win by 3 1/2 lengths under Eddie Razo Jr. Savorthetime was second and Injustice third. The favorite, My Trusty Cat, was fourth. Happy Ticket won at distances up to 1 1/17 mile down south. Saturday, she ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.54. "She won eight in a row and she was never tested in any of those races," said winning trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. He said owner Stewart Madison "thought it was time for us to step up a notch and she did."
-- Pleasant Chimes rallied from a pace-stalking position to win Saturday's $175,000 Susan's Girl Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Delaware Park by 1 length over odds-on favorite Dance Away Capote. Capitulation led early in the race before living up to her name. Pleasant Chimes, a Virginia-bred daughter of Pleasant Tap, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:47.76. Dance Away Capote's trainer, H. Graham Motion, said the Susan's Girl "was an oddly run race in that they ran so slowly, which kind of took her out of her game."
-- Also Saturday at Delaware Park, Isola Piu Bella came from off the pace to win the $100,000 Obeah Handicap for fillies and mares by 2 lengths over City Fire. Becky in Pink was third. Isola Piu Bella, the 1-5 favorite, got the 9 furlongs in 1:53.68. She is a 5-year-old, Chilean-bred daughter of Rich Man's Gold. "She did it all with herself," said winning rider Ramon Dominguez. Mike McCarthy, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher, said the mare likely will contest the $1 million Delaware Handicap on July 17 as her next test.
-- At Woodbine in Canada, One for Rose came to the lead midway down the backstretch in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Matron Handicap, took the lead in the turn and held on to win by a head over Ballroom Deputy. Raylene was third and the favorite, Nashinda, faded from the lead to finish fourth. One for Rose, an Ontario-bred, 6-year-old daughter of Tejano Run, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.28 for Emile Ramsammy. She also won the event last year.
$2 million John Deere Turf
-- Sea Dub came from mid-pack in Saturday's $200,000 Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star Park in Texas to score a massive upset, beating favorite Fullbridled by a head. Major Rhythm was third. Sent to the post at 53-1 odds, Sea Dub, a 6-year-old Sea Hero gelding, finished the 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:48.82. "I was always where I wanted to be," said winning rider Larry Taylor. "You can't make the lead too early with this horse because he wants to pull himself up. When we did make the lead, he kind of wanted to lay down. But we got there at the right time."
-- At Churchill Downs, Rush Bay put in a nice outside bid in the stretch to run down the leaders and capture the Saturday's $200,000 Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds by a neck over Big Prairie. The favorite, Gun Salute, was another neck back in third. Rush Bay, a son of Cozzene, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.75 with Robby Albarado up. Rush Bay, trained by Tom Amoss, just missed winning the American Turf on Derby Day by a nose.
$1 million Filly & Mare Turf
-- Rich in Spirit had 'em all the way in Saturday's $200,000 Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs. Sitting just off the pace duel, the Repriced filly got to the front with a sixteenth of a mile to go and edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Sweet Talker. Royal Bean was third. Rich in Spirit, a Florida-bred, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.76 under Gary Stevens. "We got a great trip from the 11 hole," said Stevens. "There were two nice pacemakers in front and she did the rest for me."
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Cousins Law took over the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Malcolm Anderson Stakes for 2-year-olds and held on to win by 3/4 length over Cause to Believe. The favorite, Don Jaun Con, was another 1/2 length back in third. Cousins Law, a Florida-bred colt by Slew Gin Fizz, ran 5 furlongs in 57.83 seconds.
-- Trainer Josie Carroll saddled the 1-2 finishers in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Victoria Stakes at Woodbine -- Vibank and Edenwold. Vibank, an Ontario-bred son of
Silver Deputy, battled for the lead until deep stretch, when he worked clear and went on to win by 1 3/4 length, in hand. Edenwold came from last to be second and the favorite, Fifty Seven Flat, was third. The 5 furlongs went in 59.26. "He is a very smart horse," Carroll said of Vibank. "The more he does, the more he catches on."
In other weekend racing:
Cape of Good Hope journeyed for the second straight year from Hong Kong to Royal Ascot (run this year at York) -- but with better results. Cape of Good Hope won a prolonged duel with Galeota to win Saturday's Golden Jubilee Stakes, the British leg of the Global Sprint Challenge. "It means an awful lot to me, to come back here and win a prize like this," said winning trainer David Oughton, who trains the 7-year-old. Oughton trained at Findon in Sussex before going to Hong Kong 18 years ago. He said Cape of Good Hope will return to Hong Kong "and have a break there before going to Japan for the big sprint there in October. Then he will run in the International Sprint in Hong Kong in December and then maybe go back to Australia again." The race capped a good meeting for Hong Kong. Ronnie Arculli, chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, owns Red Clubs, who won the Coventry Stakes on opening day.
Friday, Maid's Causeway won the Coronation Stakes by a head over Karen's Cooper after a head-to-head battle through the final furlong. She then was sent directly to the vet's enclosure as a result of losing a shoe and turning up lame. The filly, a daughter of Giant's Causeway, is owned by New Yorker Martin Schwartz.
On Thursday, French-trained Westerner captured the Gold Cup by a neck over Distinction. Westerner became the first French invader to take the Cup since Sagaro in 1977. "My family have waited a long time for this day," said winning owner Alec Wildenstein. "Father used to tell me about the Gold Cup when I was a little boy and this is one of the races that we have wanted to win most." He said Westerner probably will go to the Grand Prix de Baden-Baden in Germany rather than the King George.
Azamour overcame rain-softened going and fellow Irish invader Ace to win Wednesday's Prince of Wales Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths. Trainer John Oxx said he hopes to try Azamour at a mile and a half, either in the King George waiting for the Arc d' Triomphe.
Shamardal dominated Tuesday's St. James's Palace Stakes, winning with authority for Godolphin, and now is primed for a showdown with Vodafone Derby winner Motivator in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on July 2. "I think it would be good for racing for the two horses to meet at Sandown," said Godolphin master Sheikh Mohammad bin Rasheed al Maktoum. "At a mile and a quarter, I think Shamardal might be able to meet Motivator. But Motivator is a very good horse." Shamardal won the French Derby only nine days before the St. James's Palace win.
Also Tuesday, Valixir upset heavily favored Rakti in the Queen Anne Stakes.
Senor Swinger outfinished favorite G P Fleet to win Saturday's $100,000 Opening Verse Handicap by a neck, with Seeking Answers just another neck back in third. Senor Swinger, with Brice Blanc in the irons, sat at mid-pack early in the race, came five-wide into the lane and was all-out to get home first. The 5-year-old son of El Prado, trained by Bob Baffert, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.07. "On this course, when he's on his game, he's a pretty damn good horse," said Baffert assistant John Good. Senor Swinger also won the Opening Verse last year.
Rue des Reves and Ghostly Gate hooked up in a ding-dong stretch duel in Sunday's $100,000 Lady Canterbury Breeders' Cup Stakes and it took a photo to show that Rue des Reves got to the wire first. Noisette rallied from last in a field of six to finish third. Rue des Reves, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Royal Academy, negotiated the "about" 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.25 for jockey Bobby Walker Jr. "I actually would have liked to be where Ghostly Gate was (inside)," said Walker. "But that spot was occupied and we weren't really looking to stay inside. Other than that, I really had a clean trip. I just had to stay three-wide as opposed to being a couple wide."
Continental Red, now 9 years old, chased the early speed in Saturday's $75,000 Quicken Tree Stakes for Cal-breds and then drew off in the lane to win by 5 lengths over Perfect Mode. Running Free was third in the 1 1/2-mile turf event, clocked in 2:27.10. Rene Douglas had the winning ride. "He's 9 years old but he looks and acts like a 3-year-old," said winning trainer Antonio Gonzalez. "He does."
Kevin's Decision rallied by the pace-setter on the turn for home in Sunday's $75,000 Mount Vernon Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares, opened up a big advantage and coasted home first, 1 length ahead of Nurse Culkin. The Lamp Is Lit was third. Kevin's Decision, a 5-year-old mare by Expensive Decision, got the 9 furlongs on the firm inner turf course in 1:49.06 with Edgar Prado in the irons.
Mr. Makah came from the back of the pack to win Sunday's $75,000 Budweiser Emerald Handicap by 1 1/4 length over odds-on favorite Sabertooth, who led by a wide margin most of the way. R. Associate was third, a nose back of Sabertooth. Mr. Makah, a 5-year-old gelding by Magesterian, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35 4/5.
Scooter Rains saved ground early in Saturday's $70,000 Cyclones Handicap for Iowa-bred colts and geldings, then swung wide at the quarter pole and just got up to win by 1/2 length over Rubianos Image. Take Me Up finished third. Scooter Rains, a 4-year-old colt by Prospect Bay, finished the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:42.97 with Perry Compton riding.
Capeside Lady rated off the early pace in Saturday's $70,000 Monmouth Beach Stakes for fillies and mares. But when asked for run, the 4-year-old daughter of Cape Town jetted to the front and won off by 5 1/2 lengths over Twist and Pop. Chrusciki was third. The 1 1/16 mile took 1:45.08.
Also Saturday, Lakes Tune led from gate to wire in the $55,000 Crank It Up Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Wild Chick missed by 1/2 length of catching the winner and Tiger Fever was third. Lakes Tune, a Florida-bred daughter of Concorde's Tune, got the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.00 seconds.
Sunday, Upturn stalked the pace in the $60,000 Bernie Dowd Handicap for Jersey-breds, went to the front as the field turned for home and drew off to win easily by 6 3/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Bruckler's Brother was second and Quiet Desperation was third. Upturn, a 5-year-old son of Distorted Humor, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:42.12 for Joe Bravo.
Also Sunday, Houseofroyalhearts rallied from last of seven to win the $60,000 Restoration Handicap for 3-year-olds by a nose over T.D. Vance. The favorite, All Trumps, was third. Houseofroyalhearts, a Kentucky-bred son of Chester House, got the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.07.
Cherry Hill Lady hustled to the lead in Sunday's $60,000 Adena Springs Oakley Stakes for Virginia-bred 3-year-old fillies and held the advantage to the wire, winning by 3/4 length over Joyous Song. The favorite, Maria's Dance, waltzed in third. Cherry Hill Lady is a daughter of Grand Slam. She finished the 1 1/16 mile on the inner turf course in 1:45.72.
Cosmic Kris collared free-running leader Kid Grindstone at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Come Summer Stakes for 3-year-olds, then went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Honour Our Troops. Kid Grindstone finished third but was disqualified to sixth, advancing Departing Now to show money. Cosmic Kris, a Kentucky-bred son of Storm Creek, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.59 with E.T. Baird riding.
High Strike Zone hasn't gone anywhere in baseball but the 5-year-old gelding namesake of the concept had all he needed in Saturday's $50,000 Ark-La-Tex Handicap, leading from gate to wire. At the end of 1 1/16 mile, the 5-year-old son of Smart Strike was 1 3/4 length ahead of Akanti, with Majestic Thief third. High Strike Zone finished in 1:43.93.
Miesque's Approval swung wide on the turn for home in Saturday's $50,000 Old Ironsides Stakes and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Canyon's Way. Tom the River Rat was third. Miesque's Approval, a 6-year-old son of Miesque's Son, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.80.