Memo to anyone who still doubted the competitive nature of the handicap division as summertime racing hits its stride: See the results of Saturday's Stephen Foster Handicap.
A 91-1 shot, Seek Gold, came 12-wide from last place to win the $750,000 event at Churchill Downs -- coincidentally the site of this fall's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. Perfect Drift, a warrior who looked like a sure winner at the 16th pole, had to settle for second, followed by West Virginia and the favorite, Buzzards Bay.
Seek Gold, recently sold to a new ownership team, had four wins from 27 lifetime starts and hadn't won in five tries at Churchill Downs although he was a good second to Saint Liam in the 2004 Clark Handicap, beating Perfect Drift that day. In his last start, the Alysheba on Derby Day, he was fifth.
Saturday, he was a new animal for trainer Ron Moquett and jockey Calvin Borel. After breaking awkwardly, he settled near the back of the field, came out to the middle of the track turning for home and blew by the field like he was shot from a rocket in the final 3-16ths of a mile. Perfect Drift and jockey Mark Guidry, apparently caught by surprise by the flanking move, lost by a nose.
"I thought we had it won," said Guidry, adding that Perfect Drift "was getting a little bored" on the lead.
The 9 furlongs took 1:49.24 while Seek Gold paid $185.40 to win and the $2 exacta returned $1,040.
"This horse has run big races over this track and at this distance," said Moquett. "There's no way he should have gone off at those odds."
In other races with potential implications for the Classic:
-- At Hollywood Park, two well-fancied but unsuccessful Kentucky Derby contenders battled to the finish in Saturday's $100,000 Affirmed Handicap for 3-year-olds. Point Determined, a Bob Baffert trainee which was ninth in the Derby, tracked A.P. Warrior, the 18th-place Derby finisher, until the second turn. The two then duked it out, with Point Determined putting a nose in front under the wire. Arson Squad was third and Cause to Believe, who finished 13th in the Derby as a relative long shot, was fourth in the Affirmed. Point Determined, a Maryland-bred son of Point Given, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.55 for Victor Espinoza. "He's like riding a bicycle with a rusty chain," Baffert said of Point Determined. "If he had his dad's attitude, we could have been relaxed there watching him come home. But he's like Silver Charm. You've got to force it out of him."
-- High Cotton, a defector from the Derby trail, rallied nicely in the final furlong to win Saturday's $200,000 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs by 1 1/2 lengths over Simon Pure. Sayhellotolarry was third. High Cotton, a Kentucky-bred son of Dixie Union, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.33 for jockey Garrett Gomez and trainer Todd Pletcher. High Cotton's only really poor finish has been a ninth-place in the Arkansas Derby and Pletcher said his colt "got annihilated at the start and came back all cut up" in that event. "Since then, he's put together two really good races."
-- Also on Saturday's card at Hollywood, Dixie Meister rallied nicely on the outside to win the $250,000 Californian Stakes by 1 length over Super Frolic, with That's an Outrage third. Dixie Meister, a 4-year-old, Texas-bred gelding by Holzmeister, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:49.53 with David Flores up for trainer Julio Canani. "There was plenty of speed in the race and they were sending," said Flores. "So I was just sitting on my horse." Dixie Meister now may be a contender in the upcoming $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup.
In other races with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs:
$2 million Emirates Airlines Distaff
-- Happy Ticket hooked up with favorite Oonagh Maccool a furlong from home in Saturday's $300,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs and won the battle to the wire by a hard-fought head. Character Builder was third. Happy Ticket, a 4-year-old, Louisiana-bred daughter of Anet, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.23 with Julien Leparoux up for trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. "When I asked her, it was a very good feeling," said Lepaoux. "It was good that the leader broke so sharp because I could just sit and track the leader. That was good for me and my filly, too."
-- Take D' Tour posted a mild upset in Saturday's $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park, jumping quickly to the lead for jockey Cornelio Velasquez and winning off by 5 1/2 lengths over Nothing But Fun. Balletto was third and the favorite, Spun Sugar, was fourth after bobbling at the start. Take D' Tour, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred mare by Tour d'Or, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.63. Take D' Tour now has won four straight races as she has moved up the class ladder from optional claiming to Saturday's Grade I event.
-- Gasia tracked the early pace in Saturday's $175,000 Susan's Girl Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Delaware Park, then got to the front and won by 1 length over the late-running favorite, Wonder Lady Anne L. Amandatude was third. Gasia, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Silver Deputy, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.32 with Mario Pino up. Asked about Gasia's next race, trainer J. Larry Jones said simply, "Delaware Oaks. We are on our way."
-- In Saturday's $100,000 Obeah Handicap for fillies and mares at Delaware Park, odds-on favorite Fleet Indian led every jump of the way to a 7 3/4-lengths victory over Friel's for Real. Take a Check got a third-place check. Fleet Indian, a 5-year-old, New York-bred mare by Indian Charlie, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:49.05 with Jose Santos up for trainer Todd Pletcher. "She's very professional," said Santos. "She has been really impressive in her last three races."
$2 million TVG Sprint
-- Ebony Breeze rallied toward the leaders as the field turned for home in Saturday's $175,000 Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap for fillies and mares at Arlington Park and drew clear, winning by 1 1/4 length over Pentelicus Dance. The favorite, Annika Lass, put in a bid in deep stretch but could do no better than third. Ebony Breeze, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Belong to Me, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:09.13. "The race set up perfectly for her," said winning rider John Jacinto. "I just let her break easy and let her get her feet. When I asked her to go, she just ran away without any problem at all."
$3 million John Deere Turf
-- Trial by Jury survived some bumping at the top of the stretch, rallied along the outside and was just up to catch odds-on favorite New Export and win by a neck. Waupaca was third. Trial by Jury, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Deputy Minister, ran the 9 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:52.69 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. aboard for trainer Bruce Jackson. "He really relaxed nice and calm and that's what you really want in a race like this," said Juarez. Winning trainer Bruce Jackson said he threw Trial by Jury into the entry box almost as an afterthought "because of the short field." He added, "I think he liked it a little soft."
-- Brilliant battled Tahoe Warrior down the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds before edging to the front and winning by 1/2 length. Storm Treasure was third. Brilliant, a Kentucky-bred son of War Chant, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.47 under Robby Albarado. "Hopefully, he'll fit into the 3-year-old turf picture and then beyond that we'll just have to see as far as older horses go," said winning trainer Neil Howard. "I'm not crying at the fact that he likes this turf course, either, with the Breeders' Cup here this fall."
$2 million Emirates Airlines Filly & Mare Turf
-- My Typhoon sat right behind the leaders until the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs, came to the front with a furlong to run and drew clear, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Rich in Spirit was second with Louve Royale third. My Typhoon, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by Giant's Causeway, ran the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:41.55 for Robby Albarado. She now has won both her starts on the Churchill lawn. "I went in there with a lot of confidence," said Albarado.
-- In Saturday's $200,000 Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, Lady of Venice rallied from ninth of 11 to win by 4 lengths over Magnificent Song. Precious Kitten was third. Lady of Venice, a French-bred daughter of Loup Solitaire, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.31 under Julien Leparoux. It was her fourth consecutive victory. "She won some stakes in France and we knew she was really good and she keeps proving it," said winning trainer Patrick Biancone. "We've taken our time with her and are going step by step. Hopefully she likes Churchill and will be back here for the Breeders' Cup."
In other weekend racing:
Sabellina rallied in deep stretch to win Sunday's $100,000 Mount Vernon Handicap for New York-bred fillies and mares by a neck over Finlandia. Rahy's Appeal was third. Sabellina, a 5-year-old daughter of Langfuhr, had nothing but trouble before her winning rally. "I had very little room at the quarter pole," said jockey Javier Castellano. "She hit the hedge and I lost my balance. After that, every hole opened up." Sabellina picked up her fifth win in 24 career starts.
Flaming Heart Flaming Heart stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Hill 'N' Dale Stakes for fillies and mares, caught the leader at the top of the stretch and eventually edged off to a 1/2 length win over Colonial Surprise.Ballroom Deputy was along for third. Flaming Heart, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Touch of Gold, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.45 for jockey Todd Kabel.
Sunday, Chace City ran away from the field to win the $125,000 (Canadian) Victoria Stakes for 2-year-olds by 5 1/4 lengths. Pete's Wonder was second and Dafoe third. The even-money favorite, Bear Soldier, was never a factor. Chace City, a son of Carson City, ran the 5 furlongs in 59.21 seconds under Shaun Bridgmohan despite wandering down the stretch. "A little erratic," Bridgmohan said of the final furlong.
Consider a Florida-bred winning the Alberta Derby. Yup. Halo Steven dueled for the early lead in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) event, got the advantage and held it to the wire, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Bell n' Gone. Teagues Fight completed the tri. Halo Steven, a bay gelding by Halo's Image, ran 1 1/16 mile under Pedro Alvarado in 1:43.60.
R. Associate, with Ben Russell up, was just up in the final yards to beat Norm's Nephew by 1 length in Sunday's $75,000 Budweiser Emerald Handicap. Flamethrowintexan, the odds-on favorite, was third after showing the way early. R. Associate, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Crafty Prospector, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.20.
King Freddie saved ground behind the first flight until the field hit the top of the stretch in Saturday's $70,000 Cyclones Handicap for Iowa-breds, then angled out and went by to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Plum Sober. Sur Sandpit was third. King Freddie, a 4-year-old gelding by King of Scat, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.31 with Tim Doocy up. "He's really starting to mature," said winning trainer Doug Anderson. "We're just tickled pink that he ran as great as he did tonight. That was a tough, tough bunch of horses that we ran against."
Union Avenue, the heavy favorite, rallied nicely in the stretch to win Saturday's $60,000 John D. Marsh Stakes for 3- and 4-year-old Virginia-breds by 4 lengths over Love Conquers. All the rest were well back, with Class Vantage third. Union Avenue, a 3-year-old son of Gone West, ran the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:43.25 with Ryan Fogelsonger in the irons.
Calista Ridge led from gate to wire in Saturday's $50,000 Seven Stars Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares. Nicks Nights was second all the way around and Intractabie rallied to take third. Calista Ridge is a 4-year-old filly by Belek. She got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.92 with Ricky Faul aboard.
Julie B was bumped at the start, then rallied from near the back of the eight-horse field to win Saturday's $50,000 Lady Charles Town Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. At the wire, the West Virginia-bred daughter of Eastover Court was 1/2 length to the good of favorite Phoney Exchange. Matuko was third. Julie B got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.25 with Larry Reynolds up.
Zoning In scored a hard-fought, 3/4-length victory over Youandiatdelmar in Saturday's $60,000 Malcolm Anderson Stakes for 2-year-olds. Hot Flame was third. Zoning In, a California-bred colt by Bertrando, ran the 5 furlongs in 57.46 seconds with Frank Alvarado riding.
News and notes:
The Dubai Racing Club has appointed the International Racing Bureau as its European agent. In that new role, the IRB will facilitate continued European representation in the Dubai International Racing Carnival and the Dubai World Cup meeting. "The appointment of the IRB will ensure that we are able to effectively meet the needs of all the European owners, trainers and jockeys who are looking to travel to Dubai and compete on the world stage at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse," said Frank Gabriel Jr., chief executive officer of the Dubai Racing Club. Alastair Donald, managing director of the IRB, said his organization is "fully committed to playing our part in ensuring their success continues in 2007 and beyond."... Lil Red finished eighth of nine in his comeback at River Downs on Sunday for Gamer Racing Stables and undoubtedly needed the race after a long vacation.