While participants in Saturday's Breeders Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park were in their final week, some horses not coming to Belmont were putting in championship-caliber performances of their own in weekend racing around the globe.
Eyes focused on New York couldn't ignore performances in Japan, France, Canada and Australia.
But first, preparations for the eight races on the Breeders' Cup card:
$4 million Classic, Powered by Dodge
Defending champion Ghostzapper is retired and the Triple Crown event winners are nowhere to be found (remember Giacomo?). But that doesn't mean this race isn't loaded with talent. Borrego has won two $1 million races in a row; Rock Hard Ten brings a four-race winning streak to the big one; Saint Liam posted a 123 Beyer Speed Figure two races back at Saratoga; Canadian star A Bit O'Gold ventures south of the border for the first time; Super Frolic and Lord of the Game were 1-2 in the Hawthorne Gold Cup; and the overseas contingent could include horses from England, Ireland and Australia. And Nick Zito, ever the optimist, still is looking for a breakthrough from Sun King, who finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby.
$2 million John Deere Turf
English Derby winner Motivator has been removed from contention and retired after pulling a muscle during a workout at Newmarket. Again, there's no shortage of talent, including defending champion Better Talk Now, who has won the United Nations at Monmouth and the Man O'War at Belmont since his triumph last year at Lone Star Park in Texas. Shakespeare is undefeated and comes off a win in the Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont. A very strong foreign contingent includes The Aga Khan's champion, Azamour, who won the Prince of Wales and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth this summer in England; last year's Arc d'Triomphe winner, Bago; and Grand Prix de Saint Cloud winner Alkaased.
$2 million Emirates Airline Distaff
Defending champion Ashado is back, off a nice win in the Beldame at Belmont. Two years ago, Ashado was runner-up to Halfbridled in the Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. Happy Ticket and Society Selection, second and third respectively in the Beldame, also will be back in the Distaff. Happy Ticket and Pleasant Home, 1-2 in the Ballerina at Saratoga, will give it a go. Kentucky Oaks runner-up In the Gold is here after a victory last time out in the Gazelle. Pampered Princess took a big step up to upset Pleasant Home and Capeside Lady in the Spinster at Keeneland and will try to take another step forward in the Distaff. Nothing But Fun has won all four of her starts and is stepping far up in class. Some others have a chance is a pretty wide-open event.
$1 million NetJets Mile
Leroidesanimaux, a 5-year-old Brazilian-bred, has won eight straight races, including the Atto Mile at Woodbine in his last outing and probably will be the favorite here. But this is a tough race to handicap, with defending champion Singletary back for more and fresh from a win in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile. And there is a small herd of tough foreigners. Australian-based superstar Starcraft is cross-entered here and in the Classic after winning back-to-back Group I events in France and England. Valixr won the Queen Anne Stakes at York in England. Gorella came in from a good summer in France to just miss by a head in the QEII at Keeneland two weeks ago. Several others should be in the mix at the end. This should be another good-value race at the windows, especially if Leroidesanimaux is bet way down.
$1 million TVG Sprint
Lost in the Fog is undefeated in 10 races over eight different tracks, has more frequent flier miles than most human road warriors and has done everything asked of him. His Beyer Speed Figures range from a low of 102 up to 116. He is a front-runner who doesn't absolutely need the lead so he can stay out of trouble in a full field. And yet ... he has never run against any of the 12 other horses expected to load into Saturday's starting gate. He's started in five graded stakes, of course. But of the 10 horses who finished second to him, only one has come back to win his next race. While Taste of Paradise and Lion Tamer were finishing first and third in the Vosburg at Belmont two weeks ago, Lost in the Fog was basically putting on an exhibition for his owner's friends at Bay Meadows. He won, of course, but the question remains: Will Saturday's foes provide a little more of a challenge? It's the usual diverse bunch of sprinters, including some like Roman Ruler, Gygistar and Imperialism, who are cutting back from route racing. Lost in the Fog deserves to be favored, but at what price?
$1 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
Defending champion Ouija Board returns. The Lord Derby-owned filly has raced only twice since last October, winning her last outing at Newmarket after a disastrous defeat in the Prince of Wales at York. Her form does not appear as good this year as last and there are others to consider, including a pair from trainer Bobby Frankel: Intercontinental and Megahertz. Frankel thinks a lot of Intercontinental, who has won two graded stakes in a row and three of her last four. Megahertz has won four of her last five, arguably in tougher company. And Megahertz was second in the Beverly D to Angara -- who also is in the "Disturf" field but has tailed off badly since August. Again, there are plenty of foreigners. Mona Lisa just missed in the Prix de l'Opera last time out. Wonder Again is improving and second to Risaverse in the Flower Bowl. Risk Averse also tries this field. Sundrop was bred in Japan, raced in England and looking for a breakthrough in her third U.S. start.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
First Samuri is undefeated in four starts and has beaten Henny Hughes twice. Henny Hughes won three straight, including the Saratoga Special, before those losses. Private Vow stepped up big-time to win the Futurity at Belmont in his last start. Sorcerer's Stone won the Arlington Washington Futurity impressively. Dawn of War led from gate to wire in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. And Stevie Wonderboy copped the Del Mar Futurity impressively. After that, this is a wide-open affair, including a trio of Eurostarters trying the main track for the first time -- Set Alight, Leo and Ivan Denisovich. Go figure. Last time this race was at Belmont, Johannesburg came in from England to win, capping a $3,665 trifecta. Repent finished second that year at 42-1 off a victory in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile. This year's KC Juvenile winner, Stream Cat, also is in Saturday's field.
$1 million Alberto VO5 Juvenile Fillies
Folklore won the Matron at Belmont by 14 lengths. But in her previous start, she lost to Adieu in the Spinaway at Saratoga. Both are here. Knights Templar raced well in Canada, winning the Mazarine Breeders' Cup by 13 1/4 lengths in her last outing. Original Spin won the Arlington Lassie nicely. Sensation won the Astarita at Belmont but couldn't compete with Folklore or Adieu at the Spa. She Says It Best was a very impressive front-running winner of the Alcibiades at Keeneland. Folklore and Adieu are the most seasoned against tough company. But any of those -- or some others in the big field -- could be ready to make a jump forward.
Back to those interesting weekend races:
Sunday's $2 million Canadian International is Canada's richest race and it also enriched some bettors. Relaxed Gesture, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred colt by Indian Ridge, came from off the pace, rallied nicely through the stretch and won off by 4 1/2 lengths over fellow longshot Meteor Storm, a British-bred. Grey Swallow finished third but was disqualified to fourth because his rider's whip hit Electrocutionist, who was elevated to third-place money. Relaxed Gesture, with Corey Nakatani up for trainer Christophe Clement, finished the 1 1/2 mile on yielding turf in 2:32.64. Clement said he decided to run at Woodbine rather than in the Breeders' Cup Turf because "I like to be cold and I like to be wet." Seriously, he said, "We thought we had a better chance to win here."
Honey Ryder, named for the heroine in the first James Bond movie, "Dr. No," posted the biggest victory of her career in Sunday's $1 million (Canadian) E.P. Taylor Stakes for fillies and mares. Racing from near-last under John Velazquez, the 4-year-old Lasting Approval filly angled out at the top of the stretch and was just up to beat Latice by a head. Ambitious Cat was third while the favorite, Punctilious, faded badly to finish 10th of 12. Honey Ryder got the 1 1/4 mile on yielding turf in 2:06.70. "She's beaten a lot of good horses," said Velazquez. "She beat a whole lot of tougher horses today."
Steel Light rallied from mid-pack to win Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Nearctic Handicap by a neck over Sophia's Prince. Atticus Kristy was third. Steel Light, a 4-year-old Stravinsky gelding, ran 6 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:12.14 with Nakatani aboard.
Saturday, Sugar Swirl led most of the way to a 1 1/4-length victory in the $250,000 Princess Elizabeth Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Kimchi was second and Classical Miss was third. Sugar Swirl, an Ontario-bred daughter of Touch Gold, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a "good" main track in 1:50 flat. "At the quarter pole, I was a little worried," said Bryan Lynch, assistant to winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "But, luckily, the other ones were staying a bit one-paced behind her."
Makybe Dvia, an Australian national favorite, drew off to an easy victory in Saturday's Cox Plate. The 6-year-old mare by Desert King was a heavy favorite in the 14-horse field, rated well off the pace and got to even terms with the first flight turning for home. She then cruised home first, 1 1/4 lengths better than Lotteria. Fields of Omagh was third. The 2,040 metres went in 2:09.27 on a track rated "slow." Makybe Diva also has won the Melbourne Cup the past two years but trainer Lee Freedman said he hasn't yet made a firm decision to send the mare after a third straight Cup.
Deep Impact completed a sweep of the Japanese Triple Crown with a 2-length win in Sunday's Kikuka Sho. It was the first Triple Crown sweep in Japan since 1984. Deep Impact, a son of Sunday Silence, with Yutaka Take in the irons, came from far back to win the 15-furlong event in 3:04.6. Earlier, he won the 1 1/4-mile Satsuki Sho at Nakayama and the Inti Raimi at Tokyo. He is being considered for the Japan Cup on Nov. 26.
Alcazar, a 10-year-old son of Alzao, became the oldest horse ever to win a Group 1 race when he got home first in Sunday's Prix Royal Oak at the Paris track. The favorite, Reefscape, was second, reversing the order of finish of the Prix du Cadran three weeks earlier. Trainer Hugh Morrison told Thoroughbred Times, "There should be a Breeder's Cup race over 2 miles. The Breeders' Cup races at the moment are boring. These type of races are the real thing, the life and soul of racing." The Royal Oak is run at 15 1/2 furlongs.
Briviesca stuck close to the lead in Sunday's $150,000 Rood and Riddle Dowager Stakes for fillies and mares, got to the leaders with a quarter mile to go and got clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Cape Town Lass was second and Louve Royale third. Briviesca, a 4-year-old daughter of Peintre Celebre, ran 1 1/2 miles on soft turf in 2:38.77 with John Jacinto up.
On Saturday, For All We Know stuck close to the pace and pounced in the stretch to win the $300,000 Lexus Raven Run Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Flying Glitter was second, 2 lengths back, and Career Oriented finished third. The favorite, Leave Me Alone, got home eighth. For All We Know, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Stephen Got Even, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.74 under Shaun Bridgmohan. "I've believed in this filly from Day One," said Bridgmohan.
Asi Siempre was just up at the wire to win Friday's $125,000 Valley View Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a nose over Dynamite Lass. Victory Lap was third. Asi Siempre, a daughter of El Prado, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.37. Gary Stevens applied the winning ride.
Golden Gate Fields
Adreamisborn rallied to the outside in the stretch and went on to win Saturday's $100,00 Tanforan Handicap by 1 length over Noble Masterpiece. Secret Charm was third. Adreamisborn, a 6-year-old Kris S. gelding, ran 1 3/8 mile on firm turf in 2:17.77, well off the track record of 2:13 flat, held by the immortal John Henry.
Love Locket dueled with Stylish Yankee through the early stages of Saturday's $100,000 Blue Hen Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, then drew clear and went on to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Stylish Yankee held second and She's Indy Money was third. Love Locket, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Thunder Gulch, got the 1 1/16 mile on a sloppy track in 1:47.37 with Chris De Carlo up.
Spite the Devil won Saturday's $250,000 Empire Classic Handicap by 1 length over Organizer, capping New York Showcase Day. Spite the Devil, a 5-year-old Devil His Due gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:50.87 under Javier Castellano.
Win With Beck won the $150,000 Mohawk Handicap by 6 lengths over Continental Reins, running 9 furlongs on the sloppy track in 1:51.22, also for Castellano. John Velazquez guided Friendly Island to a 1/2-length win over Introspect in the $125,000 Hudson Stakes in 1:10.35. Rahy's Appeal ran off to win the $150,000 Ticonderoga Handicap for fillies and mares by 8 1/2 lengths over The Lamp Is Lit, getting 9 furlongs in 1:51.32 under Jerry Bailey.
Seeking the Ante came from well back to win the $125,000 Iroquois Handicap for fillies and mares by 3 1/2 lengths over Travelator, running 7 furlongs in 1:25.40 for Mike Luzzi. Cinderella's Dream captured the $100,000 Maid of the Mist Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 3/4 length over Zippy Missy, running 1 mile in 1:39.33 with Velazquez up. And Sharp Humor won the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow for 2-year-olds by 1/2 length over Parkhimonbroadway in 1:39.55 with Edgar Prado riding.
Military Major scored a minor upset in Friday's $150,000 Oklahoma Derby. The Kentucky-bred son of Rahy got to the front in the stretch and held off the favorite, Real Dandy, by 3/4 length. Golden Rainbow found a minor pot of gold by finishing third. Military Major ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.49 with Jeffery Burningham aboard.
Humoristic got to the front in the stretch in Friday's $150,000 Violet Stakes for fillies and mares and drew clear to win by 3 lengths. Delta Princess, the favorite, came from last but could do no better than second. Brunilda was third. Humoristic is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Sefapiano. She ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.23 with Harry Vega in the irons.