October's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic is shaping up as a battle of survivors.
First defending champion Ghostzapper was injured and retired. Now Kentucky Derby and Peakness Stakes winner Afleet Alex is sidelined with a hairline fracture of his left front leg, out at least until the fall.
Trainer Tim Ritchey said Afleet Alex will accompany his stablemates to Saratoga. But the colt won't be making his scheduled start in the Aug. 27 Travers Stakes. Instead, he will start hand-walking around his stall sometime early this month, then work his way along to resume training when he can.
Before the end of the meeting, Ritchey said, he hopes Afleet Alex "will be on the track training and walking around the paddock." He added, "He's really doing well. I'm really looking forward to having him back in training."
The mishap opens the door to some other 3-year-old contenders for the Travers and for the Breeders' Cup Classic, Powered by Dodge.
-- In Saturday's $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, Flower Alley went to the post as the odds-on favorite and ran like he deserved that consideration. After racing with the pace set by longshot Mr. Congeniality, Flower Alley took charge when asked by jockey John Velazquez after a half mile and was not challenged thereafter, winning by 5 1/4 lengths over Reverberate. Andromeda's Hero finished 6 1/2 lengths farther back in third and it was 23 1/4 lengths more to find any other equine. Ninth in the Kentucky Derby, Flower Alley was rested until the July 4 Dwyer at Belmont, where he ran a close second behind Roman Ruler. After the Derby, said trainer Todd Pletcher, "we circled a program that would culminate in the Travers. "With the Jim Dandy four weeks before the Travers, that plays into our favor."
-- Ghostzapper's retirement by no means eliminates the older horses as contenders for the Classic. Right in the mix is Perfect Drift, who started his windup for another run at the big prize by winning Saturday's $300,000 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park by 4 1/4 lengths over Mambo Train. Home of Stars was third. Perfect Drift, who has had a tough time finding the winner's circle for the past few years while running in tough company, had things a lot easier this time out. Despite some traffic problems getting by the early leaders, he finished the 1 3/16 mile in 1:54.27 with Mark Guidry up. "They kind of came back to me a little quicker than I anticipated in the middle of the turn," Guidry said, "and I had to check pretty sharply. Once we turned into the lane, I went inside of him. His acceleration today was brilliant." Trainer Murray Johnson said the victory "was a big step forward. If all does well between now and three weeks, we hope to be in Del Mar for the Pacific Classic."
In other weekend races that could impact the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park:
$2 million Distaff
While the Classic appears up for grabs, the Distaff looks like it might be a repeat for Ashado. Despite some early-season setbacks, the defending champion looked like herself in Sunday's $250,000 Go for Wand at Saratoga. After stalking the pace set by Andujar, the 4-year-old Saint Ballado filly responded when asked by jockey John Velazquez and cruised home to win by 9 1/2 lengths in 1:50 1/5. Bending Strings was up for second and Andujar held on for third. "It is unbelievable, unreal," said Velazquez. "I get chills just thinking about it. It's surreal." Trainer Todd Pletcher acknowledged: "Anytime you bring back a Breeders' Cup champion, there is a lot of pressure because of high expectations. I take the blame for her race in the Apple Blossom. And we caught the wrong type of track at Pimlico. But she came back to train well and has shown it here." Pletcher said Ashado will point for the Ruffian on Sept. 11, the Beldame on Oct. 1 and the Distaff on Oct. 29 -- all at Belmont.
$1 million Sprint
Greg's Gold a California-bred making his first open stakes start, upset Sunday's $300,000 Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar, rallying along the rail in the stretch drive to win by 1 1/4 length over Battle Won. Taste of Paradise was third and the favorite, Pico Central, faded badly to finish last of nine while making his first start since running in the Golden Shaheen in Dubai in March. Greg's Gold, a 4-year-old son of Lake George, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.04 with David Flores riding. "These were some fast horses," said winning trainer David Hofmans. "But I knew Greg's Gold was doing super-well. That's why we gave it a shot." Mike Smith, who rode Pico Central, said his mount "had his head up and never put it down. I hope it was a case of him needing a race. I don't know what else to say."
$1 million Mile (turf)
-- Shining Energy upset Saturday's $150,000 San Clemente Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar, rallying from last of 10 to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the dead-heating duo of Memoretteand Royal Copenhagen. The favorite, Louvain, was fourth. Shining Energy, with Rene Douglas in the irons, overcame a wide trip and drifted in during the stretch run but still finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.25. Julio Canani trains the filly. Shining Enery, by Rahy, now has three wins from nine starts. "This filly has a ton of ability," Canani said.
-- Another female contender -- Ready's Gal -- came from off the pace to capture Friday's $100,000 Lake George Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga by 1 1/4 length. After that, you could throw a small blanket over the five finishers: Dream Lady second by a neck, Who's Cozy third by a neck, Connie Belle fourth by a neck and Wait It Out fifth by a nose. That's better than the wild card for keeping everyone in contention. Ready's Gal, a Kentucky-bred daughter of More Than Ready, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm going in 1:41.90 with John Velazquez up.
$1 million Filly and Mare Turf
-- Sand Springs, the near-even-money favorite, jumped out to the lead in Saturday's $500,000 Diana Stakes at Saratoga and was never threatened, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Que APuntual. Angara was third. Sand Springs, a 5-year-old Dynaformer mare, ran the 9 furlongs on the firm inner turf course in 1:46.91 with John Velazquez aboard. "Pace makes the race and that's what happened today," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "She's blessed with a lot of speed. Consequently, they couldn't catch her." Last year's winner, Wonder Again, was scratched and trainer Jimmy Toner said she will start in two weeks in the Beverly D. at Arlington Park. "She's fine. I wanted to give her an extra couple of weeks until she ran," Toner said.
-- Silver Highlight shipped across the Atlantic from her British training base to break her maiden in Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Wonder Where Stakes for Canadian-bred, 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine, near Toronto. After running behind the early leaders under jockey Martin Dwyer, Silver Highlight was all business in the stretch, winning by 3 lengths over Invitational. See the Wind led for a while, then faded to finish third. The 1 1/4 mile over firm turf took 2:03.69. "She wasn't in a hurry at any time during the race and she just moved up nicely," said winning trainer Andrew Balding. He said the filly will stay in Canada now.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Henny Hughes remained undefeated in three starts by winning Thursday's $150,000 Saratoga Special by 3 3/4 lengths over Master of Disaster. Union Course was third. Henny Hughes, a son of Hennessey from the Meadowlake mare Meadow Flyer, led by as much as 7 lengths and won ridden out by Gary Stevens. He completed the 6 furlongs in 1:10.38. "My only concern was to get a clean break," Stevens said. "He did stumble the other day, but he got away on all four feet and it was just a matter of me dictating the pace around there." Trainer Patrick Biancone said Henny Hughes will go on to the $250,000 Hopeful on Travers Stakes day, Aug. 27. His sire won the Hopeful. "He could be anything. He could be the next Secretariat," Biancone said. "I don't know if he will be but he does it so easily."
-- Cougar Mtn Lodge hit the gate at the start of Wednesday's $125,000 Graduation Stakes for Cal-bred 2-year-olds at Del Mar, caught the leaders on the inside on the turn and went on to win by 2 lengths over Blaze It. Irish Bar was third. Cougar Mtn Lodge, a son of Comic Strip, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.23 with Alex Solis aboard. "I want to be able to run him next year," said happy trainer Mike Mitchell. We want to stretch him out. He could run in the I'm Smokin at the end of the meet. But I really want to give him a little break somewhere along the way."
-- He's Got Grit lived up to his name in Saturday's $60,000 Tyro Stakes at Monmouth Park, opening up a daylight lead and then holding on to win by 3/4 length over Confront. Creve Coeur was third. He's Got Grit, a Florida-bred gelding by Songandaprayer, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.97 with Aaron Gryder up for trainer Steve Asmussen.
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
Folklore came from last to first to post a mild upset in Wednesday's $150,000 Adirondack at Saratoga. After tracking the pace, jockey Cornelio Velasquez sent his filly between horses and got her home first after a furious drive down the lane. Fifth Avenue was second, 3/4 length back, with Truart third and the favorite, Adieu, fourth. Folklore, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Tiznow, ran 6 furlongs in 1:13.66 on a track that was sealed earlier in the day but listed as fast at race time. "This was a very nice field and the best she has faced so far," said winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "She stepped up to them. I think she'll be better going longer." He said the Spinaway on Aug. 26 is the next likely race for Folklore, who is owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis.
In other weekend racing:
One for Rose held on in the late going to win her second consecutive Seagram Cup Stakes Saturday by 3/4 length over Honolua Storm. The odds-on favorite, Cuba, was 2 lengths farther back in third. One for Rose, a 6-year-old mare by Tejano Run, finished the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:44.18 while taking on a field of male rivals. "She broke well," said winning rider Emile Ramsammy, who won his third straight Seagram. "When she came out, she wanted to be part of the action. She did it her way."
L'Oiseau d'Argent led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $100,000 Sussex Handicap by 1 length over Stage Call. Mr. O'Brien was third. L'Oiseau d'Argent, with Abel Castellano Jr. up, finished the 1 1/16 on firm turf in 1:41.24. The 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, now has eight wins from 21 starts. "There was not a whole lot of speed in the race and I think that helped me a lot," said Castellano.
Sterling Gold came four-wide between horses on the turn in Saturday's $75,000 Don Bernhardt Stakes and went on to win by a lengthening 2 1/4 lengths over Level Playingfield. Private Horde was third and the favorite, Coach Jimi Lee, stumbled at the start, dumping jockey Craig Perret. Sterling Gold, a 6-year-old gelding by Mutakddim, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.29.
Flip Side set the early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Queen City Oaks for state-bred fillies, lost the lead to Bold Passage after a half mile, then came again to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Bring Spring was third under the wire. Flip Side, a daughter of Devil His Due, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53 with Lori Wydick in the irons. "Any time a horse goes by you like that, it means you have to go catch 'em," Wydick said. "I just laid on her and said, 'C'mon.'"
Silver Axe chopped off five rivals in Saturday's $75,000 Prairie Meadows Handicap, ranging up from last to draw clear in the stretch and win by 1 1/2 lengths. Azucar was second and Silver Axe's stablemate Tricky Mocha finished third. The 9 furlongs went in 1:59.09 on a fast track. Silver Axe is an 8-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Silver Ghost.
Leesburg Express took complete charge in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Tippett Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, drawing clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Whiteface. Red Liquor n' Lace was third. Leesburg Express, a Kentucky-bred by Exploit, went to the post as the favorite and finished the 5 1/2 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:04.54.
Glitter Star rallied through the lane to win Saturday's $60,000 Minnesota Oaks by 1 1/2 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Oh You Again. Ma Home Cat finished third. Glitter
Star, a daughter of Glitterman, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.22.
Key Issues redeemed the favorite's role by winning the companion $60,000 Minnesota Derby by 3 1/4 lengths over Bisquik, who failed to rise to the occasion. Roust About was third. Key Issue, a son of Victory Speech, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41.16.
Whenthedoveflies flew home to win Saturday's $55,000 Klassy Briefcase Stakes for fillies and mares by a neck over Melody of Colors. Letthefreedomroar was third. Whenthedoveflies, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred mare by Dove Hunt, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.89 seconds.
Grand Bank stayed close to the early pace in Saturday's $50,000 Island Whirl Handicap, hooked Rodeo's Castle for a long stretch duel and prevailed by a neck over that rival. That Tat, the favorite, finished third. Grand Bank is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Dixieland Band.