At least two horses came into Saturday's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships with a chance for "Horse of the Year" honors. One of them, Saint Liam, made the most of it while the other, Lost in the Fog, faltered.
There were some other big winners on the card:
-- Jockey Jerry Bailey won his fifth Classic on Saint Liam.
-- Trainer Richard Dutrow won the Classic with Saint Liam and the Sprint, with Silver Train.
-- Three jockeys who had never won a Breeders' Cup race broke their droughts -- Edgar Prado (who won two after 41 losses), Garrett Gomez (who also won two after 8 also-rans), French rider Christophe Coumillon who scored on his fourth try and rising star Rafael Bejarano.
-- The European contingent swept the top four spots in the Turf, contested over soft going that obviously wasn't as comfortable to the home team.
But Saint Liam was the big winner. The 5-year-old son of Saint Ballado is headed for stud after this season and his initial value if he achieves top year-end honors will be enhanced.
The bay, Kentucky-bred horse started the year by winning the Donn Handicap in Florida. He then ran a poor race in the Santa Anita Handicap, won by Rock Hard Ten (who was scratched from the Classic with a bad hoof). But Saint Liam rebounded with a victory in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, a close second in the Whitney at Saratoga and a victory in the Woodward at Belmont Park in his final prep for the Classic.
A 4-for-6 season might not always be enough to win top honors. But when previously undefeated Lost in the Fog faltered in the stretch run of the Sprint earlier on Saturday's card, Saint Liam basically was the last horse standing. Rock Hard Ten also would have been under consideration for Horse of the Year had he run and won. And Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, seemingly sure of 3-year-old honors, was sidelined for the second half of the year by injury.
Dutrow started his Horse of the Year campaign early. "We have the best horse around," he announced in the post-race interview. "Afleet Alex is a 3-year-old. We're a 5-year-old. We'd expect to win" a match race.
A sizeable crowd announced at 54,289 turned out in chilly but dry weather at Belmont Park, wagering a record on-track handle of $14,658,560.
The Breeders' Cup races:
$4 million Classic, powered by Dodge
Front-runners had been faring poorly all day and some other runners seemed willing to take the lead, so Bailey let Saint Liam linger fourth, then fifth, in the 13-horse field until they entered the sweeping stretch turn. Then, with little apparent urging, Saint Liam surged to the front and was working hard in the late going to hold off the late run of 3-year-old challenger Flower Alley. Perfect Drift rallied for third. New Zealand-bred world traveler Starcraft, supplemented to the Classic at a cost of $800,000, could not overcome the outside post position and got home seventh after making a run at the leaders on the turn. Borrego, second-favorite after Saint Liam, was 10th and Canadian champion A Bit O'Gold finished last in his first start south of the border. "I was trying to keep him off the leaders as long as I could to give him an edge," Bailey said of Saint Liam's run.
$2 million John Deere Turf
Shirocco, a German-bred colt who had been racing in France, posted his first win of the year on American soil, cruising to a 1 3/4-length, mild upset. Ace, a British-based Irish-bred, was second. Irish-bred Azamour was third and French-bred Bago fourth, making a rare all-Euro superfecta. None of the highly touted American starters, including previously undefeated Shakespeare, showed much over the soft Belmont Park turf course. Shirocco, a 4-year-old son of Monsun, ridden by Christophe Soumillon for trainer Andre Fabre, ran the 1 1/2 mile in 2:29.30. The early stages of the race were dominated by Shake the Bank, who was entered as a "rabbit" for defending Turf champion Better Talk Now. Shake the Bank set a good pace, with Shriocco sitting well behind him but easily in second. As the field neared the end of the long backstretch, Shirocco took over the lead and was never seriously challenged after that. Better Talk Now finished seventh and Shakespeare was next-to-last in the field of 13. "If you'd put anybody on and they just wait like I do, it would be okay," said Soumillon. "You just can't go too soon."
$2 million Emirates Airline Distaff
Pleasant Home blew past the leaders early in the stretch run and drew off easily, winning by 9 1/4 lengths over Society Selection at odds of 30-1. Ashado, last year's winner, was third. Pleasant Home, with Cornelio Velasquez riding for trainer Shug McGaughey, was running to her odds through the early stages of the 9-furlong race. But when Velasquez swung her to the outside and asked her to run, none of her 12 rivals could do much about it. The 4-year-old Seeking the Gold filly hadn't won since taking a small stakes at nearby Aqueduct in April although she had run second in her last two races -- both Grade I stakes. She is a homebred from the Ogden Phipps stable, which has had significant success in filly and mare races in the Breeders' Cup. "I learned a long time ago from Shug that when you have a horse that's 'on the up,' that's doing good, that's the time you run them," said Phipps. McGaughey added he thought the last two races, at Saratoga and Keeneland, "set her up for this. Whether she was good enough was the question." The only Breeders' Cup winner by more than 9 1/4 lengths was Inside Information, another Phipps runner who won the 1995 Distaff at Belmont by 13 1/2 lengths.
$1.5 million NetJets Mile (turf)
Artie Schiller, a disappointing 12th in last year's Mile, redeemed himself in spades Saturday, running down heavily favored Leroidesanimaux in the final sixteenth to win by 3/4 length. Gorella, a French-bred filly, was third after finding running room on the rail late in the stretch drive. Last year's winner, Singletary, finished eighth. Artie Schiller, a 4-year-old son of El Prado, ran right behind the first flight of leaders over the soggy Belmont Park turf. At the top of the stretch, jockey Garrett Gomez swung him around the front two and he drove stoutly to the wire. Leroidesanimaux (the name means "king of the animals") came into the Mile riding an eight-race winning streak. Winning trainer James Jerkens said after last year's Mile, where Artie Schiller was forced wide on both turns, "If I can't get a Grade I win with this horse, I'll take it as a personal failure."
$1 million TVG Sprint
Undefeated Horse-of-the-Year candidate Lost in the Fog got lost in the stretch after leading the field into the turn and longshot Silver Train came on to win the year's richest sprint by a head over Taste of Paradise. Lion Tamer was third. Silver Train, a 3-year-old son of Old Trieste, made it back-to-back victories at Belmont Park, backing up a dominating victory in the Jerome Handicap last time out. In the Jerome, he led all the way. Saturday, jockey Edgar Prado let the Kentucky-bred colt relax in mid pack and it wasn't until the field straightened out into the stretch that he came running on the outside. At the end, he was clocked in 1:08.86. Greg Gilchrist, trainer of Lost in the Fog, said his colt may have been sent to "one too many stops this year, one too many trips. Anytime you can win 11 of 12 races (his lifetime record), you'll take it. But it would have been nice to win this one, too." Had Lost in the Fog won the Sprint, he would have been a leading candidate for the Eclipse Award as the year's top horse. He still is likely to win the Eclipse in the Sprint division. Prado, who had not won a Breeders' Cup race before Saturday, won his second event on the card. Silver Train is owned by Buckram Oak Farm, which in turn is owned by Mahmoud Fustok, a Saudi-based graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a degree in petrochemical engineering.
$1 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
It almost seemed as if trainer Bobby Frankel entered Intercontinental as a tribute to her in her final season. Throughout her career, Frankel had said the 5-year-old Danehill mare could have been undefeated if she had stayed focused on her work. Recently, she had been focused, winning two straight, including the Winstar Galaxy. So she got her chance at the big race and made the most of it. With Rafael Bejarano up, Intercontinental broke a few steps slowly but quickly went to the lead, set a reasonable pace and had more than enough left to turn away defending champion Ouija Board in the final furlong. At the wire, she was 1 1/4 length to the good of Ouija Board, with Film Maker third. The 1 1/4 mile on "good" turf took 2:02.34. It was Bejarano's first Breeders' Cup win in his fifth try. Intercontinental, bred and owned by Juddmonte Farms of Saudi prince Khalid Abdullah, picked up her 13th win from 22 trips to the track. Asked about any plans for next year for Intercontinental, Frankel said, "She'll probably be a mother." Juddmonte bred not only Intercontinental but also her sire, dam and full sister, Banks Hill, who won the Filly & Mare Turf four years ago.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
Stevie Wonderboy rallied determinedly through the stretch to beat Henny Hughes by 1 1/4 length and jump right into contention for the 2006 Kentucky Derby. First Samurai, previously undefeated, finished fourth, another 2 lengths back. Coming into the Juvenile off a convincing win in the Del Mar Futurity, Stevie Wonderboy sat well back in the pack through most of the Juvenile, swung to the outside and got the best of a long duel down the stretch under jockey Garrett Gomez. He finished in 1:41.64. Stevie Wonderboy, a son of Stephen Got Even, is owned by entertainer Merv Griffin. Gomez won his first Breeders' Cup event in his ninth try. "He needed every bit of the stretch," said winning trainer Doug O'Neill, indicating the 1 1/4 mile of the Kentucky Derby will not be a problem for the colt. Griffin, asked about the Derby, quickly named the date of the race (May 6), sang the first line of "My Old Kentucky Home," then quipped, "No, we're not thinking about that." To laughter, he added, "Are we ever thinking about that!" Stevie Wonder made an early appearance on Griffin's old television show. "I like to name my horses with something of the sire's or dam's name in them. ...When I saw Stephen Got Even, I thought, 'Gee, Stevie. That's nice.'"
$1 million Alberto VO5 Juvenile Fillies
Folklore sat right off a quick early pace set by Canadian invader Knights Templar, then came along on the outside and got clear to win by 1 1/4 length over late-closing Californian import Wild Fit. Original Spin was third. Folklore, a Kentucky-bred daughter of two-time Breeders Cup Classic winner Tiznow, broke on top in the 1 1/16-mile event but jockey Edgar Prado, previously winless in 41 Breeders' Cup starts, took her back as Knights Templar went to the front. As the field hit the turn, Folklore came back and was not seriously threatened. Folklore, runaway winner of the Matron at Belmont Park in her last outing, finished in 1:43.85. Wild Fit fell far behind the field early and had some traffic issues before getting rolling at mid-stretch, else she might have provided more competition in the final sixteenth. Winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he expects more in the future from Folklore. "She's a slight-made filly," Lukas said. "I think she's going to be a great two-turn filly. I'm already thinking (Kentucky) Oaks. You can put that down."
In other top weekend racing:
On Saturday's BC undercard, Magna Graduate rallied past pace-setting favorite Scrappy T in the final yards to win the $250,000 Emirates Airline Discovery Handicap by 3/4 length. Santa Anita Derby winner Buzzards Bay rallied from well back to be third in the event for 3-year-olds, which featured several of this year's Triple Crown hopefuls. Magna Graduate, a son of Honor Grades, contested four derbies this year -- Illinois, Lone Star, Ohio and West Virginia -- without posting a victory in any of them. He negotiated Saturday's 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.35 under John Velazquez.
Gotaghostofachance had nothing but traffic trouble in Saturday's $250,000 Emirates Sport Page Handicap but once jockey Jon Court found him running room, the 4-year-old son of Silver Ghost exploded to win by 1/2 length over Captain Squire. Wild Tale was third. Gotaghostofachance ran the 7 furlongs in 1:23.16, winning for the first time in 16 months. "We had to make some alterations," said Court, "but we got a clear run."
Sunday, Atlando came from last to win the $150,000 Knickerbocker Handicap at 9 furlongs on the inner turf. The 4-year-old, Irish-bred Hernando gelding was just up on the outside to beat pace-setting Certifiably Crazy by a neck. Rousing Victory was third. Atlando got the trip in 1:50.93 on "good" going with Jerry Bailey up.
Great Intentions stalked the pace in Sunday's $150,000 First Flight Handicap for fillies and mares, got to the lead early in the stretch run and finished first, 3 lengths to the good of Habiboo. The fave, Smokey Glacken, led and then held on for third. Great Intentions got the 7 furlongs in 1:23.98 under Edgar Prado.
In Sunday's final stakes event, the $100,000 Tempted Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, Better Now rallied from last and took command in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Capote's Crown. Wonder Lady Ann L, the favorite, was third. The 1 mile went in 1:38.35. Javier Castellano rode the winner for trainer Mark Hennig.
Alumni Hall raced five-wide and in fifth place down the backstretch in Saturday's $150,000 Fayette Stakes, closed the gap to the leaders on the turn and then won a long stretch duel with On Thin Ice to prevail by 1/2 length. M B Sea was third. Alumni Hall, a 6-year-old son of A.P. Indy, finished the 9 furlongs in 1:51.37 with the track rated fast. "Alumni Hall is a perfect example of why it's so great to train for Mr. (owner Will) Farish," said winning trainer Neil Howard. "When he first came to our barn, we couldn't figure the horse out. But Mr. Farish told us to take our time and be patient with him. It has certainly paid off."
Back from "racing as it was meant to be" to racing of the future, Straight Line copped Sunday's $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap, rallying from a pace-stalking position to draw clear and beat odds-on favorite Vicarage by 1 3/4 lengths. Level Playingfield was third. Straight Line, a 3-year-old son of Boundary, ran the 7 1/2 furlongs for jockey Shaun Bridgmohan in 1:28.34.
Geronimo seems like a perfect battle cry for a race down the hillside turf course and it was Geronimo narrowly on top at the end of Saturday's toboggan ride -- the $100,000 Morvich Handicap. After dawdling at the back of the eight-horse field, the 6-year-old Chilean-bred gelding came out in the stretch and was just up to beat King Robyn by a head, with Jungle Prince just a nose farther back in third and Courageous King another head back in fourth, completing an all-royalty superfecta (chief-king-prince-king. Royal Place was home sixth). Geronimo, with Kent Desormeaux up, ran the unique 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:12.10. "I had planned on being closer early on," said Desormeaux. But the pace was generous and I went to Plan B and just elected to sit back."
Sunday, Golden Rahy was just up at the wire to beat Wild Buddy by a neck in the $100,000 Carleton F. Burke Handicap. Stage Shy was third. Golden Rahy, a 6-year-old gelding by Rahy out of the Deputed Testamony mare Gold Fleece, ran 1 1/2 mile on the turf in 2:27.02. Alex Solis provided the perfectly timed ride for trainer Bobby Frankel.
Golden Gate Fields
Jockey Chad Schvaneveldt had all he could do to find running room for Uninhibited Song in Sunday's $100,000 Miss America Handicap for fillies and mares. But when a lane finally opened to the inside in deep stretch, the 4-year-old filly went through. Meanwhile, Russell Baze had Girl Warrior in full stride and the two hit the wire together. First Draft was 3/4 length back in third as the 9 furlongs on "good' turf went in 1:50.67. Girl Warrior is a 4-year-old daughter of Elusive Quality. Uninhibited Song is the aptly named daughter of Unbridled's Song and Special Mistress.
Seattlespectacular, reborn on the turf, led every jump of the way to a 2 1/2-length victory in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Chief Bearheart Stakes. With Patrick Husbands up, the 5-year-old Seattle Slew gelding ran 1 1/4 mile on "good" turf in 2:05.42. Sky Conquerer was second and Lenny the Lender was third. "When I claimed this horse (for $40,000 on Aug. 11), we X-rayed his ankles and found some problems," said winning trainer Sid Attard. "I said to the owner, 'We'll wait a month and run him for $40,000.' My exercise rider said to me, 'Try him once on the grass.' He got to like it." The gelding made two starts on the lawn between the claim and Saturday's stakes triumph, winning both.
Also Saturday, Gumboots took the lead at the top of the stretch in the $150,000 (Canadian) Fanfreluche Stakes for 2-year-old, Ontario-bred fillies and jetter off to win by a comfortable 7 1/4 lengths over Devil's Bride. Salty Surprise was third. The 6 furlongs took 1:10.09.
Sunday, Tusayan came from next-to-last to win the $125,000 (Canadian) Bunty Lawless Stakes for Ontario-breds by 3/4 length over Decew Falls. The favorite, Arch Hall, finished third, another head back. Tusayan, a 5-year-old son of Canyon Creek, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.37.