As the Yankees hung on in their cross-country division playoffs, horses hoping for a trip to New York and a spot in the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships also did battle around the country during the weekend.
From a defending champion to brash newcomers, some final pieces fell into place for the big show in eight equine divisions Oct. 29 at Belmont Park. The highlights:
$1 million NetJets Mile
-- At the Oak Tree Meeting at Santa Anita, Singletary moved into position to defend his championship with a workmanlike victory in Saturday's $250,000 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile. The 5-year-old son of Sultry Song trailed five rivals before coming out for room on the second turn, then angled in again during the stretch run to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Designed for Luck. Buckland Manor was third and the favorite, We All Love Aleyna, got home fourth in a rough finish. Singletary, with David Flores in the irons, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:34.54. "This is exactly what we wanted," said trainer Don Chatlos Jr. "I didn't expect him to get squeezed out in the first turn like that and be last but I'm glad it happened because that's how I wanted him to run." Flores, asked about the Breeders' Cup, said, "He's ready."
-- At Keeneland, Host led a string of upsetters across the wire in Saturday's $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile. After tracking the pace, the 5-year-old Chilean-bred horse came wide into the stretch and just got to Vanderlin at the wire. Gulch Approval, after pressing the pace, held on for third, completing an $11,210.20 trifecta. The favorite, Three Valleys, finished fifth. Host, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.67. "Even though he usually shows speed, he relaxed for me," Bejarano said. "When I asked him to run, he just exploded."
-- Intercontinental led from gate to wire in winning Sunday's $400,000 WinStar Galaxy for fillies and mares at Keeneland. With Jerry Bailey up, the 5-year-old, British-bred daughter of Danehill was never seriously challenged and finished 3/4 length ahead of Wend. Katdogawn was third. Intercontinental ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.40. "She's a great filly," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "If she would have run all her races like this, she would be undefeated. We may run her through the (Hollywood Park) Matriarch but we'll have to wait and see."
$2 million Distaff
-- Pampered Princess pressed the early pace in Sunday's $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland, took the lead and was headed by Capeside Lady with a furlong to go, then came back to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Pleasant Home. Capeside Lady held third. Pampered Princess, a 5-year-old daughter of Indian Charlie, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.91 under Eddie Castro. "Even though she had a lot of pressure on her today, she handled it very well," Castro said. Shug McGaughey said Pleasant Home also likely will contest the Distaff.
$1 million TVG Sprint
-- Captain Squire jumped right to the front in Saturday's $250,000 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, got a clear lead at mid-stretch and then held on to beat Zanzibar by 1/2 length. Indian Country was third. Captain Squire, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Flying Chevron, was making his second start off a long layoff. He ran the 6 furlongs for Alex Solis in 1:08.85 after surviving a first-quarter speed duel clocked in 21.12 seconds. "I knew we were going fast," Solis said. "I wasn't sure how fast ... I'm sure he was tired but he has such a big heart that as soon as the other horse got next to him, he fought him off and fought him to the ending." Trainer Jeff Mullins said of the Breeders' Cup, "We'll talk about it." Captain Squire is owned by Bob Bone and Jeffrey Diener.
-- Elusive Jazz pulled off a minor upset in Saturday's $250,000 Phoenix Breeders' Cup at Keeneland, rallying from mid-pack to win by 3 lengths over Wild Tale. Premium Saltine finished third. Elusive Jazz, a 4-year-old son of Elusive Quality, bred in Kentucky by Richard Forbush and Richard Lueck, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.60. "The Breeders' Cup is coming up," noted winning trainer Bobby Barnett. "We'll see how he comes out of this race and then decide. Robby Albarado applied the winning ride.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- First Samurai sat off a suicidal pace duel in Saturday's $500,000 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, then took charge in the stretch run to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Henny Hughes, part of the pace race, held on for second and Superfly was well up the track in third. The 1 mile on a sloppy track went in 1:36.29. First Samurai is a Kentucky-bred son of Giant's Causeway. "He's an undefeated colt," said winning trainer Frank Brothers. "He's done a lot of nice things. Hopefully he stays well." Both Henny Hughes and Superfly likely will go on to the Breeders' Cup, said trainers Patrick Biancone and Nick Zito.
-- Dawn of War, at 36-1, got the lead in Saturday's $500,000 Lanes End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and coasted home a 3 1/2-length winner over Catcominatcha, a 21-1 chance. Stream Cat completed the $6,894 trifecta. The favorite, Laity, finished fifth after pressing the pace. Dawn of War, a Kentucky-bred colt by Catienus, got the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:48.77 with John Jacinto handling the reins. "It's always nice to have a speed horse at Keeneland, regardless of how the earlier races have been running," said winning trainer Dale Romans, who ought to know. "I'm sure Mr. Ramsey will want to go to the Breeders' Cup."
-- Southern Success won for the second time in as many starts by capturing Saturday's $100,000 Dover Stakes at Delaware Park. Leading every jump, the Kentucky-bred son of Dixieland Band from the A.P. Indy mare My Success got home 4 1/4 lengths to the good of Mister Alimony. Charming Image was third. Southern Success, with Kendrick Carmouche in the irons, ran 1 1/16 mile on a sloppy track in 1:46.71
$1 million Alberto VO5 Juvenile Fillies
-- Adieu bid goodbye to eight rivals after 6 furlongs of Saturday's $500,000 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park, drawing off in the stretch to win by 2 lengths over Along the Sea. Keeneland Kat was third. Adieu, a Kentucky-bred daughter of El Corredor, ran 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:38.07 Under John Velazquez. She now has won four of five starts, losing only to Folklore in the Adirondack in July at Saratoga. "She has a 2-1 edge in her record over Folklore," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "It looks like the Spinaway and those races are holding up their form very good. But the way Folklore ran in the Matron and the way this filly ran today, hopefully (rival trainer and former boss D. Wayne Lukas) didn't outsmart me by running in the Matron and having more time for the Breeders' Cup." Trainer Ralph Ziadie said Along The Sea also is a possibility for the big race.
-- She Says It Best wasted no time getting to the front in Friday's $400,000 Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland turned back a challenge from Ex Caelis to win by 2 3/4 length. Performing Diva was third. She Says It Best, a daughter of Stormy Atlantic, won for the fourth time in six starts. "She's a fantastic filly with a lot of stamina," said winning trainer Vickie Foley. "I knew she wouldn't have any trouble going two turns."
In other major weekend races:
Saturday's $300,000 Jamaica Handicap for 3-year-olds was rained off the turf and all but three of the nine entrants stuck around to run on the slop. Best of them was Watchmon, a Kentucky-bred son of Maria's Mon who was entered for main-track only. He stalked the pace, led and drew off to win when asked by jockey Javier Castellano, finishing 9 furlongs in 1:49.28. Crown Point and Woodlander completed the order of finish. Trainer Patrick Reynolds said the Discovery Handicap on the Breeders' Cup undercard is the next likely stop for Watchmon.
Rochester won the Sycamore Stakes for the third time on Friday's Opening Day, scoring by 3 3/4 lengths with Gary Stevens up. The 9-year-old gelding also won the Sycamore in 2001 and 2002. "He takes good care of himself and we try to take good care of him," said winning trainer Jonathan Sheppard. The son of Green Dancer came from off the pace and finished the 1 1/2 miles in 2:34.30. "I wish they were all that much fun to ride," Stevens said.
Sgt. Bert came from mid-pack to win Sunday's $100,000 Woodford Stakes in a four-horse blanket finish. At the wire, the 4-year-old Crafty Prospector gelding was a neck better than Atticus Kristy, who was a neck better than Midwatch, who was a neck better than Rockhurst. Sgt. Bert, with Rafael Bejarano riding, got the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:04.06.
Invitational rallied from well back to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Carotene Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 2 lengths over Silver Impulse. The Queen's Stamp was third. Invitational, by Peaks and Valleys, ran 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:49.39 for Jono Jones.
Sunday, Palladio rallied from last to win the $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Derby by 1/2 length over New York-bred Gold and Roses. Ever So Free was third. The 9 furlongs took 1:50.67. Palladio now has five wins, including the Ohio Derby, from 11 starts. Trainer Roger Attfield said he next start isn't yet set but he will winter in Florida.