Flower Alley and Bellamy Road, two also-rans in the Kentucky Derby only four months ago, vaulted to the top of their division with a 1-2 finish in Saturday's Travers Stakes at Saratoga -- the "Midsummer Derby."
As a result, both now loom as contenders for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic Oct. 29 at Belmont Park, the highlight of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
Flower Alley let Bellamy Road set the pace in the Travers. It wasn't until the field neared the stretch that jockey Joh Velazquez sent the Kentucky-bred son of Distorted Humor after the leader. When he did, Flower Alley responded nicely, drawing clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Roman Ruler, ran evenly to finish third. The 1 1/4 mile took 2:02.76 on a fast track.
"It's huge," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "It ranks right up there with winning two Breeders' Cup races last year." Pletcher saddled Ashado to victory in last year's Distaff at Lone Star Park and Speightstown to win the Sprint.
Flower Alley, ninth in the Kentucky Derby, came into the Travers off a win in the Jim Dandy. Bellamy Road was making his first start since finishing seventh in the Run for the Roses.
"He ran an unbelievable race," trainer Nick Zito said of Bellamy Road. "He hasn't run in four months. He just came up a tad short."
With many of the older handicap horses sidelined, watch out for the up-and-coming sophomores. They have done well in quite a few past Classics.
-- At Monmouth Park in New Jersey, West Virginia rallied through the lane to win Sunday's $250,000 Philip H. Iselin Breeders Cup Handicap by 1 length over Zoffinger. Purge was third. Zoffinger's rider, Eddie King, claimed foul against the winner but the allegation was not allowed by the stewards. West Virginia, a 4-year-old son of Tomorrow's Cat, ran 1 1/8 mile on a fast track in 1:50.83. West Virginia is not Breeders' Cup nominated and trainer Todd Pletcher said he is pointing for the Empire Classic Oct. 22 at Belmont Park.
In other races with potential bearing on the Breeders' Cup card:
$2 million Emirates Airlines Distaff
Shadow Cast, a 14-1 long shot, passed the leaders in the stretch to win Friday's $400,000 Personal Ensign at Saratoga. Personal Legend was second and Two Trail Sioux, the early leader, held on for third, beating odds-on favorite Ashado. "The race unfolded like I needed it to," said winning rider Robby Albarado. "I knew when I go to Johnny on Ashado that he was riding her. My filly was waiting for me to call on her. When I did, I was just a passenger." Ashado finished in a dead-heat for fourth with Island Sand. "I don't know what happened to her," said jockey John Velazquez. "She just wasn't herself today."
$1 million TVG Sprint
-- Don't look now but Lost in the Fog is starting to look like the best bet of the day for Oct. 29. The undefeated 3-year-old son of Lost Soldier ran his record to 9-for-9 with another easy win, this time in Saturday's $250,000 King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga. Bumped at the start, the colt still went to the lead under Russell Baze and extended the advantage to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Social Probation was best of the rest, with Better than Bonds third. Lost in the Fog finished in 1:22.56 after setting a good early pace. "He's an exceptional animal" said Baze, "and it's going to take an exceptional animal to beat him." Added trainer Greg Gilchrist: "People need to realize he shipped across the country six times now, not counting a 14-hour van ride to Phoenix and back. To keep putting on these kinds of performances, it just takes a special horse to do that."
-- Fillies often have done well in the Sprint, so take another look at Happy Ticket, who won Sunday's $250,000 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga. The Anet filly stayed close to the front, drew clear after the turn and won by an authoritative 5 1/2 lengths under John Velazquez. Pleaasant Home was second and Molto Vita third. The 7 furlongs took 1:24.53 on a muddy track.
$ 2 million John Deere Turf
Leprechaun Kid got off to a big lead in Sunday's $250,000 Del Mar Handicap, then just held on to beat Laura's Lucky Boy by a nose. Exterior was third and the favorite, Runaway Dancer, finished fifth. Leprechaun Kid, a 6-year-old son of 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup, ran the 11 furlongs on firm turf in 2:12.81 with Tyler Baze up for trainer Mike Mitchell.
$1.5 million NetJets Mile (turf)
Leroidesanimaux went right to the lead in Saturday's $200,000 Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, turned back all challengers and eased clear in the stretch to win by 1 1/4 length over Silver Tree. Steel Light was third. Leroidesanimaux, a Brazilian-bred 5-year-old by Candy Sripes, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in course-record time of 1:39.92 for John Velazquez. "When he gets competition, he tries even harder," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "When horses come to him, he'll go on by himself." Frankel said it's too late to try to stretch his charge to a mile and a half, "so our objective is the Breeders' Cup Mile." He has eight wins in 11 starts.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
Really, no 2-year-old should go to the post as a 1-2 favorite. Well, maybe Secretariat. But otherwise ... Henny Hughes proved the point Saturday at Saratoga. The odds-on favorite, a big winner in three previous starts, was positioned to make a run in Saturday's $250,000 Hopeful at Saratoga. But First Samurai got away from him, scooting off to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Henny Hughes held second by a length over Too Much Bling. First Samurai, a Kentucky-bred son of Giant's Causeway, also sat off the pace set by Too Much Bling but made the most of his first-run chance. He finished 7 furlongs in 1:23.25 with Jerry Bailey up. The victory was First Samurai's third without a loss but he continued to race very greenly. "But he's young and we hope it's just a learning process," Bailey said. Trainer Frankie Brothers said the winner will either stay in New York to prep for the Breeders' Cup or detour back to Kentucky for the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity Oct. 8 at Keeneland.
$1 million Alberto VO5 Juvenile Fillies
-- Adieu passed early leader Effectual at the top of the stretch in Friday's $250,000 Spinaway at Saratoga and bid adieu to the rest of the field. Then, jockey John Velazquez found the El Corredor filly waiting for competition. "She started waiting and pulling up and I said, 'Oh boy, let someone else come early so she doesn't get surprised." But Adieu kept running long enough to hold off Folklore for the victory. She now has three wins from four starts.
-- Wild Fit had to come five-wide to get around the leaders in Saturday's $250,000 Del Mar Debutante. But that was no problem as the Florida-bred daughter of Wild Wonder drew off to win by 2 lengths over Mystery Girl. River's Prayer was third. Wild Fit, with Alex Solis aboard, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.20. Wild Fit was the favorite coming off an impressive debut. "We'll be laying plans for the Breeders' Cup," said winning trainer Jeff Mullins. "But we'll let her get over this first."
In other weekend racing:
Vanderlin rallied from well back to upset Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Play The King Handicap, scoring by a head over fellow long shot Le Cinquieme Essai. Frank's Selection, who wasn't selected by many others than Frank, completed a $7,514 (Canadian) triactor. Vanderlin, a 6-year-old, British-bred son of Halling, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:21.18. "They went fast and I knew we'd come home good," said winning rider Martin Dwyer.
Sunday, Decew Falls came from off the pace to win the $125,000 (Canadian) Vice Regent Stakes for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds by 1/2 length over Miracle Alley. The favorite, Flat Rock, was third with a late run. Decew Falls, a son of Kiridashi, ran 1 mile on "soft" turf in 1:39.38 for Emile Ramsammy.
Alabama Rain -- appropriate, given the hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast, moved toward the leaders midway down the backstretch in Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian) Canadian Derby, then drew clear in the stretch and won by 4 3/4 lengths over Ding Dong Dandy. Knight's Covenant was third. Alabama Rain is a British Columbia-bred son of Vying Victor. He ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22 4/5, picking up his third consecutive stakes score.
Fifteen Rounds battled down the stretch with Elusive Jazz in Saturday's $150,000 Arlington Breeders' Cup Sprint Handicap before winning by a neck. Level Playingfield was home third. Fifteen Rounds, a 5-year-old Fit to Fight gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.51. "I just wanted to get my horse to relax," said winning rider Chris Emigh, who has been aboard Fifteen Rounds in each of her five victories so far in the Arlington meet. "I was hoping to get to the outside because I thought the rail was a little dead."
Krasnaya led much of the way to a 1/2-length win in Saturday's $65,000 Omnibus Stakes. Smart N Classy was second and My Limit third. The odds-on favorite, Emerald Earrings, led early but faded steadily to finish last of six. The 1 1/16 mile on firm turf took 1:45.15.
Trueamericanspirit rallied from well back, came four-wide into the lane and drew clear in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Bill Wheeler Stakes for Jersey-breds, winning by 4 lengths. Jayu's Wish was second and War's Prospect was put up to third by the disqualification of the favorite, Who's the Cowboy. Trueamericansprit, a 5-year-old gelding by Is It True, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.45.
Gilded Gold made her move rounding the turn in Saturday's $55,000 Incredible Revenge Stakes for fillies and mares and won by 1 length over Clay's Rocket. Pretty Imposing finished third. Gilded Gold is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Gilded Time. She got 5 furlongs in 57.82 seconds.
Time to Book got booking in the stretch run of Saturday's $65,000 Iowa Cradle Stakes and won by 1 length over Casper Who. Hesluckytoo finished third. Time to Book, a son of Gilded Time, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.85.
Also Saturday, Louis Leggs came from far back to win the $65,000 Iowa Sorority by 1 length over Thekatcamehome. L D's Shes Special was third. Louis Leggs, a Louis Quatorze filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.09.
Saturday's $65,000 Iowa Breeders's Derby went to Count Rock, who rallied from a pace-stalking trip to get home 1 length in front of King Freddie. Mingo Mohawk was third. Count Rock a 3-year-old son of Count the Time, got 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.20.
And in the $75,000 Donna Reed Stakes for fillies and mares, Gamblers Passion rallied past the leaders in the late going to win by 1 length over Switch Lanes. Blanchetta was third. Gamblers Passion, a 5-year-old mare by Prospectors Gamble, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.39.
Sur Sandpit, a 5-year-old son of the immortal Sandpit (not Sandspit), came from near the back of the field to win the $75,000 Ralph Hayes Stakes by a neck over fellow closer Rubianos Image. Take Me Up completed the trifecta. Sur Sandpit ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.27.
Zarb's Dahar took back early in Saturday's $50,000 Folklore Handicap, then came again with a four-wide move into the lane and won by 1/2 length over That Tat. Nuttyboom was third and the favorite, Joe Six Pack, checked in fourth. Zarb's Dahar, a 5-year-old Louisiana-bred by Zarbyev, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:16.69.
Nakayama Kun came from far back, swung six-wide into the lane and went on to win Saturday's $50,000 Governor's Handicap by 1 length over the favorite, Paging. Artemus Sunrise was third. Nakayama Kun, a 5-year-old daughter of Known Fact, ran 1 mile in 1:36.87 for Eddie Martin Jr.