It appears there will be no shortage of contenders to replace the retired Ghostzapper as champion in Thoroughbred racing's Classic division.
Races around North America on the holiday weekend showcased several potential rivals for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic -- Powered by Dodge, to be run Oct. 29 at Belmont Park in New York. Ghostzapper, retired after a recent injury, won that race last year at Lone Star Park to cap his Horse of the Year Campaign.
-- At Belmont Saturday, Offlee Wild put in his claim as a successor, rallying from off the pace to win the $500,000 Suburban Handicap by 1 1/4 length over longshot Tap Day. The favorite, Pollard's Vision, was third, lacking a rally. Last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Funny Cide, was sixth with another dull effort. Offlee Wild, a 5-year-old son of Wild Again, ran 1 1/4 mile with Edgar Prado riding, in 2:00.50. But if he is to be a champion on the dirt, Offlee Wild might have a grassy detour. "I know (trainer Richard Dutrow) doesn't like the idea," said owner Lansdon Robbins. "But we're thinking of running him in the Arlington Million (Aug. 13). His dam is a half to Dynaformer. Now that we have a Grade I win, a good way to add value as a sire would be for him to win on the grass." But he said the Whitney at Saratoga on Aug. 6 also is a possibility.
-- Lord of the Game stalked the pace until the turn for home in Saturday's $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap, then hooked up in a middle of a furious, three-horse duel to the wire, winning by a head bob over Silver Axe, with Mambo Train just another nose back in third. Habaneros charged down the lane to finish fourth, another head back. Lord of the Game, a 4-year-old son of Saint Ballado, ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.94 with Eddie Razo Jr. aboard for trainer Tom Tomillo. Owner William Slevin said he claimed Lord of the Game for $10,000 last December in New Orleans. "It's been a wild ride. He's a monster," Slevin said. "He's just got the attitude to be a champion. He's a true fighter." Tomillo said his modest start qualifies Lord of the Game for the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury Park in two week but the future is wide open. The Cornhusker has been used by the likes of Roses In May and Black Tie Affair as a Breeders Cup prep in past years.
-- In Friday's $200,000 Dominion Day Handicap at Woodbine, A Bit O'Gold soundly whipped a talented field, drawing off in the late going to win by 6 1/2 lengths. Niigon was second after showing the way and Just in Case Jimmy was third, with Freefourinternet fourth. A Bit O'Gold, a 4-year-old son of Gold Fever, ran 1 1/4 mile in 2:07.55. However, part-owner Day Phillips said a U.S. campaign for the chestnut gelding is unlikely. "We're Canadian, he's Canadian and he's owned by Canadians," he said. "It's most likely we'll stay here."
-- Palladio shipped in from Canada to win Saturday's $350,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown in Cleveland. Palladio, a Florida-bred son of Lycius, stayed close to a moderate pace into the stretch, rallied to the lead near the sixteenth pole and won by 1 length over the favorite, Magna Graduate. He ran 1 1/8 mile in 1:51.56 with Richard Dos Ramos up for trainer Roger Attfield. "When I got some room, he just accelerated and I thought it would take a pretty good horse to beat him from there," said Dos Ramos. Palladio won an allowance race at Keeneland early this season, then finished a close third in the Marine Stakes at Woodbine before winning the Victoria Park by a big margin.
-- In a relatively wide-open division, another to keep an eye on is Shamoan, an Irish-bred colt who raced well to win Friday's $250,000 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. With Jose Valdivia Jr. up for trainer Eoin Harty, the colt tracked the early pace, battled the leaders through the stretch and prevailed by 1 length. Apache Point was second and the favorite, Thor's Echo, was third. "I think this makes our options a little higher than they were," said owner P.R. Laird. Said Alex Hassinger, assistant to Harty, "We just wanted this colt to jump one more big step and that's what he did tonight. He's an improving horse in every race." Hassinger said there are not regrets about bypassing the Triple Crown races "because it probably would have been too soon."
-- Roman Ruler returned to winning ways with a last-to-first, 1 1/2-length victory in Monday's $150,000 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont. Flower Alley, the favorite, finished second and Proud Accolade was third. Roman Ruler, a one-time Kentucky Derby candidate for trainer Bob Baffert, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:40.83 under Jerry Bailey. He is by Fusaichi Pegasus.
In other holiday weekend races that could impact the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park:
$2 million John Deere Turf
Midsummer turf racing is well under way on both sides of the Atlantic, with some of the biggest races, including next month's Arlington Million, pointing directly to a showdown for division honors at Belmont Park. During the weekend:
-- Better Talk Now, winner of last October's Turf, rallied from last to win Saturday's $750,000 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. Silverfoot finished second, 3/4 length back, and Request for Parole, who won the United Nations last year, was third. Better Talk Now, a 6-year-old bay gelding by Talkin Man, got he 1 3/8 mile over soft turf in 2:20.57 with Ramon Dominguez up. Dominguez angled Better Talk Now to the inside to get room in the stretch. "I was surprised when the rail opened up," Dominguez said. "I planned on going outside but once that happened, I knew I had to go inside." Added trainer Graham Motion, "Our plan couldn't have worked out any better."
-- Kitten's Joy, runner-up in last year's Turf, returned to the races with a handy 1-length victory in Monday's $250,000 Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap at Churchill Downs. After saving ground behind the leaders, the 4-year-old son of El Prado rallied past the leaders turning into the stretch and won in a hand ride. Old Forester was second and America Alive was third. Kitten's Joy completed the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.25.
-- The expected showdown in Saturday's Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in England blew up when French Derby winner Shamardal suffered a career-ending injury early in the week, leaving English Derby winner Motivator as the heavy favorite. But when Motivator was put to the test late in the race, he was unable to withstand the rally of Oratorio, an Aidan O'Brien trainee, ridden by Kieren Fallon. Oratorio won by 1/2 length. Fallon said the colt had been running well at shorter distance and the uphill 1 1/4 mile of the Eclipse "was always going to suit him."
-- Purim stalked the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Arlington Classic for 3-year-olds at Arlington Park near Chicago, got the lead with a furlong to go and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over United. Cosmic Kris was third and the favorite, Guillaume Tell, was bumped at the start, never figured in the race and finished last of nine. Purim, a Kentucky-bred colt by Dynaformer, got the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.65 with Mark Guidry aboard. The race was his stakes debut and only his third race. He is undefeated. "He's bred top and bottom to run as long as you want him to," Guidry said. "The more you run him, the more professional he'll get and the more you'll hear from him."
-- Even though Rainbows for Luck was scratched, it still was a "rainbow" field in Sunday's $300,000 King Edward Breeders' Cup Handicap at Woodbine, with Silver Ticket the upset winner by 2 3/4 lengths over Mobil, followed under the wire by Colorful Judgment, Golden Commander and the favorite, Silver Tree. Silver Ticket, a 4-year-old gelding by Silver Deputy, stayed close to the pace and took charge turning for home under Todd Kabel. He completed the 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:47.54. "I thought it was a pretty tough race with the shippers (Silver Tree and Golden Commander) and Mobil -- he's a monster," said winning trainer Mark Frostad. "I wasn't confident going in. I was really pleased with the result."
-- At Arlington, Revved Up was bet down to the favorite's role in Sunday's $200,000 Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup Turf Handicap and delivered, stalking the pace, taking the lead in the stretch and coasting home a 2-lengths winner over Cloudy's Knight. Swagger Stick was third. Revved Up, a 7-year-old Sultry Song gelding, got the 1 1/2 mile on firm turf in 2:28.29 under Brice Blanc. "It didn't look like there was much speed on paper," said Blanc, adding that trainer Christophe Clement "told me to get the horse to relax. The leader went on and I sat off and relaxed. ... I asked him to pick it up at the half-mile pole and he really responded."
$1 million NetJets Mile (turf)
-- Mr. Light rallied from well back to win Sunday's $100,000 Poker Handicap at Belmont Park by a neck over Willard Straight. Remind was third. Mr. Light, an Argentine-bred son of Numerous, completed the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.18 with Cornelio Velasquez aboard. Winning trainer Angel Penna Jr. said he is eyeing the Breeders' Cup Mile with a bit of concern. "The only problem with the Breeders' Cup is that, at that time of year, the chances for a hard turf course are small," he said, adding the supplemental fee "wouldn't be a problem."
-- Turtle Bowl picked up his first Group 1 victory in Sunday's Prix de la Jonchere at Chantilly in France, scoring by 1 length over Starpix. Rocamadour was third, reprising his third-place finish in the recent French Derby. Trainer Francois Rohaut said Turtle Bowl, a 3-year-old by Dyhim Diamond, will take some time off and will be considered for a trip to the United States in the fall.
$2 million Filly & Mare Turf
-- Sunday's American Oaks at Hollywood Park went to a Japanese-bred filly, Cesario, by a decisive 4 lengths over favorite Melhor Ainda. Singhalese was third. The winner, by Special Week out of a Sadler's Wells mare, stalked the pace under Yuichi Fukunaga, then easily went by for the win. She completed 1 1/4 mile on firm going in 1:59.03. "I just let her run her own race," said Fukunaga. "I tried not to get boxed in along the rail... . She is the first Japanese horse to win an American Grade I race, and hopefully she won't be the last." Trainer Katsuhiko Sumii said of a potential Breeders' "Disturf" try, "We will talk to the owners first. This is a first step for us, so this will encourage all Japanese breeders." The winner's share of $450,000 from the American Oaks should help with any decision about supplementing the filly to the Breeders' Cup.
-- Wend wrestled the lead from Riskaverse after a mile of Saturday's $250,000 New York Handicap, then won a three-horse sprint to the wire by a neck over the favorite, Wonder Again. Film Maker made a late run to finish third, just another neck back. Wend, a 4-year-old Claiborne Farm homebred by Pulpit, with Jerry Bailey up, won her fifth straight race. The 1 1/4 mile on firm turf took 2:02.23. Trainer Bill Mott said Wend had trouble entering the gate and cut her lip. "With the Breeders' Cup here this fall," he said, "this was a good test to see how she would handle better company and more distance. She really showed some guts today to hang on."
-- Delta Princess sat behind dueling leaders in Saturday's $150,000 Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill Downs, came out five-wide at mid-stretch and ran by them to win by 1/2 length over Shaconage. Marwood held on for third. Delta Princess, a 6-year-old daughter of A.P. Indy, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.90 for Brice Blanc. She won the Mint Julep in her last start and now has three wins and two seconds from five starts this year -- all stakes.
-- Smart N Classy was just up at the wire to win Sunday's $150,000 Eatontown Handicap at Monmouth Park by a nose over pace-setting longshot Lentil. Spotlight, the favorite, rallied from well back but came up another neck short of the win. Smart N Classy, a 5-year-old, Jersey-bred mare by Smart Strike, ran 1 1/16 mile on soft turf in 1:46.22.
-- Trainer Cole Norman said he expected Victory Lap to win Saturday's $100,000 Lone Star Oaks -- "but not like this." "This" was a runaway, 14 1/4-length victory over seven rivals, with Mybrowneyedgal best of the rest and Prospectors Spirit third. Victory Lap, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Touch Gold, ran the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:44.62 with Jaime Theriot up. "That was impressive," Norman said. "I'm sure there'll be graded races and more money with her down the road." Victory Lap now has five wins from 12 starts, including two consecutive stakes victories.
-- At 1 mile, Sunday's $200,000 Royal Heroine Invitational at Hollywood Park could be a prep for either the "Disturf" or the grassy Mile. Either way, Intercontinental got the job done, advancing around four rivals turning for home and drawing off under Jerry Bailey to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Ticker Tape. Navaja was third. The race went in 1:34.33 on firm going. Intercontinental, a 5-year-old, British-bred daughter of Danehill, is trained by Bobby Frankel for Juddmonte Farms.
$2 million Distaff
-- Splendid Blended, hopped at the start, then drifted out in the first turn, but still got the lead with a furlong to go in Sunday's $300,000 Vanity Invitational Handicap at Hollywood Park, then held off Island Fashion to win by a head. Andujar was third as the favorite, another 3/4 length back. Splendid Blended, a 3-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song, taking on older rivals for the first time, ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.33. "That was an adventure, all right," jockey Jerry Bailey said of the eventful ride.
-- Whimsy got the first run at the leaders in Friday's $125,000 Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows and favorite Cee's Irish wasn't able to catch up in the late going as Whimsy ran off to a 2 3/4-length victory. Mary Alex led until the quarter pole and hung on for third-place money. Whimsey, a Kentucky-bred filly by Maria's Mon, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.60 with Carlos Marquez Jr. riding. "I don't think she has any distance limitations," said winning trainer Michael Stidham. "If anything, she has improved going around two turns ... . There is so much 3-year-old filly money out there this time of the year. We'll just nominate in several different spots and just pick what we think the right spots will be."
-- Platinum Bullet fired a winning round in Saturday's $125,000 Iowa Distaff Breeders' Cup Stakes at Prairie Meadows, moving to the leaders on the final turn and taking charge to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Josh's Madelyn. Ide Be a Lady was third and the favorite, Casual Attitude never got into contention, finishing fourth. Platinum Bullet, a 4-year-old, gray daughter of Skip Away, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.76 under Perry Compton.
$1 million TVG Sprint
-- Unfurl the Flag, certainly a worthy hunch bet on the Fourth of July weekend, led most of the way to score a mild upset victory in Sunday's $350,000 Triple Bend Invitational at Hollywood Park. Under Corey Nakatani, the 5-year-old, California-bred son of Bertrando finished 7 furlongs in 1:20.95. Bear in the Woods and McCann's Mojave dead-heated for second and third.
--Santana Strings, the odds-on favorite, dueled War Bridle into submission in Saturday's $100,000 Alysheba Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds at Lone Star Park, then went on to win by 2 lengths over that rival. Logan's Draw was third in the field of five starters. Santana Strings, a Florida-bred son of Wheaton, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.52. "He's a very nice sprinter," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "The mile was definitely too far for him and he faced a horse like Lost in the Fog earlier this winter. The experience he had over the winter definitely put a bottom in him."
-- Joey P. stayed close to pace-setting favorite More Smoke in Monday's $150,000 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park, got to the lead a furlong out and won by 1 3/4 length over Celtic Innis. Razor was third while More Smoke faded badly to finish last of five. Joey P., a Jersey-bred son of Close Up, was clocked in 1:08.30.
-- Coach Jimi Lee was just up in time to catch Premium Saltine and win Monday's $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows by a neck. Super Fuse was third. Coach Jimi Lee, a 5-year-old Roar gelding, covered 6 furlongs in 1:09.10 under Craig Perrett.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
Henny Hughes, a regally bred chestnut from Patrick Biancone's barn, ran away with Monday's $100,000 Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park. Despite stumbling out of the gate, the colt was hustled to the lead by jockey Gary Stevens and ran off to win by 15 lengths, finishing 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.67. Short Circuit was second and Caleb Pond was third. Henny Hughes is a son of Hennessey out of the Meadowlake mare Meadow Flyer.
$1 million V05 Juvenile Fillies
-- Indian Breeze caught pace-setting favorite River's Prayer in the late going to win Saturday's $100,000 Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park by 3/4 length. Mystery Girl was home third. Indian Breeze, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Indian Charlie, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.91 with Tyler Baze up.
-- At Belmont Park, favorite Adieu bid adieu to five rivals in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Astorita Stakes, winning off by 1 1/4 lengths over early leader Folklore. Wonder Lady Anne L was third. Adieu, a Kentucky-bred daughter of El Corredor, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.02. She now is undefeated in two starts, having won at first asking this spring at Keeneland. Trainer Tod Pletcher could start next in the Adirondack at Saratoga's opening day, July 27.
-- At Woodbine in Canada, Wannatalkaboutme led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) My Dear Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths over Sudsy Baby. Howaboutrightnow was third. Wannatalkaboutme, an Ontario-bred daughter of Bold Executive, ran 5 furlongs in 59.52 seconds. "She was very professional," said winning rider David Clark.