With just more than two months to go until the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, some of the leading contenders are starting to put their best hooves forward -- none more so than Bernardini.
Sheik Mohammed's colt, a lightly raced son of A.P. Indy, dominated the $1 million Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga, toying with Kentucky Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat before drawing off to win easily.
But Bernardini wasn't the only impressive Breeders' Cup contender in action during the weekend.
Henny Hughes stated his case in the Sprint division with a solid victory in the King's Bishop at Saratoga. Gold Storm looked to be providing some competition with a nice win in the Arlington Breeders' Cup Sprint outside Chicago.
Ashkal Way, My Typhoon and Aragorn all showed well in grass events from coast to coast.
And, in the unlikely venue of humble Fairmount Park in Collinsville, Ill., across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Lawyer Ron returned from a 4-month layoff to win the $250,000 St. Louis Derby with a nice effort.
Bernardini's effort was as good as any. Out to the lead as the field hit the first turn, Bernardini raced just in front of Bluegrass Cat until the stretch turn, then simply ran away, winning by 7 1/2 lengths in 2 minutes, 1.60 seconds.
"I put Bernardini in that category with a horse like Cigar and Dubai Millenium," he said after the Travers. "This horse is only a 3-year-old and he hasn't even hit has best stride. There's more to come from this horse as he gets older."
So far, all Bernardini has done is win five consecutive races since losing his first outing. The victories include the Withers, Preakness and Jim Dandy.
"A horse like this is great for racing," Albertrani said.
Other races that could affect the classic:
-- Lawyer Ron came into this year's Kentucky Derby on a roll. But he finished 12th in the Run for the Roses and vanished from the scene for repair of a bone chip. Saturday at Fairmount Park, Lawyer Ron returned to action and appeared none the worse for either wear or rest. After tracking the leaders in the first running of the $250,000 St. Louis Derby, the Langfuhr gelding bulled his way between rivals on the turn and edged clear to win by 3/4 length over Smokeyjonessutton. Lewis Michael finished third. Lawyer Ron got the 1 1/16 mile for jockey John McKee in 1:42 4/5. "It was very easy," McKee told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "(Trainer) Bob Holthus had this horse ready to go today. I was just trying to be a passenger." Added Holthus, "I think he's back 100 percent."
-- Discreet Cat also had been away from the races for some time -- in fact, since his stunning victory in the March 25 UAE Derby in Dubai. His return came Friday in an allowance event at Saratoga. The Forestry colt went off as the heavy, odds-on favorite, and won by 11 lengths, covering 7 furlongs in 1:21.53 with Garret Gomez wrapping up on him almost as he broke from the gate. After Henny Hughes's victory on Saturday, his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin said, "I'm glad Discreet Cat ran in an allowance race yesterday, because he's a very nice horse also. Discreet Cat runs for Godolphin and racing manager Simon Crisford said the Jerome Handicap is next for him.
-- You never know, so pay attention to the results of Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian) Canadian Derby, run at Northlands Park. Shillelagh Slew, a son of Chief Seattle out of the Theatrical mare Frippalina, came from the back of the field, had to alter course to the rail to find running room on the final turn and still drew off to win by 6 1/2 lengths over The Visualizer. Mighty Cahill finished third while the favorite, Edenwold, hung in the final furlong and got home fourth. Shillelagh Slew, under Dino Luciani, got the 1 3/8 mile in 2:19.
The other weekend races with potential impact on the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, to be run this year at Churchill Downs:
$3 million John Deere Turf
-- Ashkal Way raced last of six down the backstretch in Saturday's $200,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga, got outside to make his run at the top of the stretch and was just along in time to win by a neck over Dreadnaught. Interpatation finished third. Ashkal Way, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred son of Ashkalani, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.78 with Garrett Gomez up. Saeed bin Suroor trains the gelding for Godolphin Racing. "I had a good trip," Gomez said. "I was able to save ground down the backside. The pace stayed pretty bold." Assistant trainer Rick Mettee said there's some doubt about the John Deere Turf. "I don't know if he can get a mile and a half," Mettee said. "I think he can get a mile and a quarter or a mile and three-eighths."
-- T.H. Approval, the even-money favorite, rallied from far back to win Sunday's $250,000 Del Mar Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths over Artiste Royale despite a slow early pace. Super Strut finished third. T.H. Approval, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of With Approval, came four-wide into the stretch to get to the lead and finished the 1 3/8 mile on firm turf in 2:12.34 under Alex Solis. Eduardo Inda trains the gray horse for Tadahiro Hotehama. Solis said T.H. Approval "has that great, long run in him and I can ask him for it whenever I want. About the five-eighths pole, I decided I wanted to go marching. And we went." Inda said T.H. Approval may march on to the Clement Hirsch at Oak Tree. "If you tell me Lava Man and The Tin Man will go head-and-head in 21 and change, I'll go." After that, he said, it's either the Breeders' Cup or the Japan Cup. "I'd like to go to Japan because Mr. Hotehama lives there."
-- In Sunday's $300,000 (Canadian) Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine, Rush Bay dueled for the lead to the top of the stretch, opened up a daylight advantage and then held on to win by a neck over Last Answer. The favorite, Jambalaya, raced evenly to finish third. Rush Bay, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Cozzene, ran the 1 1/2 mile on yielding turf in 2:33.89 with David Clark riding for trainer Tom Amoss. "He was so relaxed and I had so much horse, it gave me such a good feel going to the first turn," said Clark. "It seemed like nobody wanted the lead today and he basically went there on his own." Rush Bay won for the third time in five tries this year but was coming off a disappointing outing in his last start, the July 22 Arlington Handicap.
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
-- My Typhoon led virtually all the way to a 3/4-length victory in Saturday's $200,000 Ballston Spa Handicap at Saratoga. After opening up a 3-lengths advantage early in the stretch run, My Typhoon held on gamely to defeat Karen's Caper. Asi Siempre finished third and the favorite, Sweet Talker, got home fourth. My Typhoon, with Garrett Gomez aboard, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.72.
$2 million NetJets Mile (turf)
-- Aragorn, the heavy favorite, found running room along the rail in deep stretch and went on to win Saturday's $400,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths over Wild Buddy. Hendrix finished third. Aragorn, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred son of Giant's Causeway, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.68. Corey Nakatani was up for trainer Neil Drysdale. Aragorn came into the race off consecutive wins in the Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park and the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar a month ago. Drysdale said he was concerned Aragorn might be trapped by rivals in Saturday's effort. "Corey wasn't too worried about it," he said. "He felt that Wild Buddy drifted a bit. It was important that he slid up the rail. The race scenario unfolded exactly the way we expected."
-- Le Cinquieme Essai stalked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Play the King Stakes at Woodbine, got the lead on the turn and held on to win by 1/2 length over the late-running Becrux. Millfleet finished third. Le Cinquiemme Essai, a 7-year-old, Ontario-bred gelding by Fastness, ran 7 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:22.79 with Steven Bahen in the irons.
$2 million Emirates Airline Distaff
-- Fleet Indian wasn't very fleet in Friday's $400,000 Personal Ensign at Saratoga, setting a dawdling pace early and then holding on to win by 4 1/4 lengths over Balletto. Soul Search was third. Fleet Indian, with Jose Santos up, loped the half in 50.67 seconds, the mile in 1:39.51 and finished the 10 furlongs in 2:03.87. "Sometimes, you can go too slow," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "That was my only concern. When she got into that rhythm, Balletto put in a run but she had a lot left." Fleet Indian, a 5-year-old daughter of Indian Charlie, has won seven consecutive races and 12 of 17 career starts. Pletcher said the Beldame at Belmont Park on Oct. 7 is the likely next start for Fleet Indian.
-- Sunday's $300,000 Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park went to Promenade Girl, who raced on the lead all the way around the sloppy, sealed track. The odds-on favorite, Round Pond, tracked the winner to the stretch, reached even terms with a 16th to go but couldn't maintain the momentum and fell a head short under the wire. La Reason was third. Capeside Lady was a late scratch. Promenade Girl, a 4-year-old, Maryland-bred daughter of Carson City, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.98 with Jeremy Rose in the irons. "We didn't necessarily want the lead," said winning trainer Larry Murray. "But I told Jeremy that if she broke well, to go on with it. She was really game in the stretch."
-- Brunilda caught the leaders turning for home in Saturday's $150,000 Eatontown Stakes at Monmouth Park, battled down the stretch head-to-head with Rahy's Appeal and then edged away in the final yards to win by 3/4 length. Prop Me Up finished third. Brunilda, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred mare by Mutakddim, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44 for jockey Eddie Castro.
$2 million TVG Sprint
-- When Henny Hughes finished second to Stevie Wonderboy in last year's Juvenile, it appeared the Hennessey colt would be a Kentucky Derby contender. Instead, he stayed in the Middle East and finally came back to the United States as a sprinter. A good sprinter. In his return, the won the Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup at Monmouth Park by 10 lengths. Saturday, Henny Hughes ran away from the field in the $250,000 King's Bishop for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, winning by 5 1/4 lengths from Star Dabbler. Court Folly finished third. Henny Hughes, the odds-on favorite, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:21.96 with John Velazquez up for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "The Vosburgh (Belmont, Oct. 7) is where we'll go," said McLaughlin. "And then the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The Vosburgh is against older, but he's ready for it."
-- Dubai Escapade capped a fabulous, multinational weekend for Darley Stable by winning Sunday's $250,000 Ballerina Breeders' Cup at Saratoga by 8 1/2 lengths. Nothing But Fun was best of the rest, with Stormy Kiss third. Dubai Escapade, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Awesome Again, coming off a disappointing performance at Calder, went quickly to the lead and extended the advantage at each call, finishing 7 furlongs in 1:23.07 under Edgar Prado. "When they didn't run with me early, I knew she was going to be very tough today," Prado said. "I wasn't worried because I knew that if she went back to her old form, she would be fine." Trainer Eoin Harty said there are "several options to take with her. I will have to talk to Sheik Mohammed to find out what direction they want to take."
-- Gold Storm raced close to the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Arlington Breeders' Cup Sprint, took over the lead from Coach Jimi Lee in the stretch drive and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Coach Jimi Lee held second and Level Playingfield finished third. Gold Storm is a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Seeking the Gold. He finished the 6 furlongs in 1:08.39 over a fast track for jockey Tracy Hebert.
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Barilko, a Kentucky-bred son of E Dubai, got the jump on five rivals in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Silver Deputy Stakes at Woodbine and stole off to win by 5 3/4 lengths. Bilbo was second and Acoustic Shadow finished third. Barilko, owned and trained by David Dwyer, ran 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:33.31 for jockey Constant Montpellier.
-- Winamac Jack rallied from near the back of the field to win Saturday's $65,000 Iowa Cradle Stakes for Iowa-breds at Prairie Meadows. At the wire, the long-shot son of Pioneering was 2 1/2 lengths to the good of Crimson King Cat. Red Hot N Gold finished third. Winamac Jack, with Alex Birzer aboard, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.39.
$2 million Emirates Airline Juvenile Fillies
-- Irish Party was quickly in front in Saturday's $65,000 Iowa Sorority Stakes for state-breds at Prairie Meadows and stayed in front, winning by 1 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Tejano's Oasis was second and Blake's Cat third. Irish Party, a daughter of Twining, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.90 with Glenn Corbett up.
In other weekend racing:
Velvet Snow was up to win Saturday's $75,000 Belle Geste Stakes for fillies and mares by a nose over Count to Three. See the Wind held on for third after setting the early pace. Velvet Snow, a 5-year-old daughter of Subordination, ran 7 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:23.47 with Corey Fraser riding.
Pretty Imposing lived up to her name in Sunday's $80,000 Incredible Revenge Stakes for fillies and mares. Leading essentially all the way, the 6-year-old Defrere mare won by 5 3/4 lengths over Gilded Gold, with Big City Danse third. The race came off the turf, with eight scratches. Pretty Imposing ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on the sloppy main track in 1:03.27 with Alan Garcia in the irons.
Rich Fantasy led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $75,000 Lyrique Handicap for 3-year-old fillies by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Brownie Points. Aly's Vow finished third. Rich Fantasy, an Illinois-bred daughter of Richter Scale, ran the "about" 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.04. Jamie Theriot was aboard for the win.
Jazzy Okie came from mid-pack to win Saturday's $50,000 Black Mesa Stakes for Oklahoma-bred fillies and mares by a neck over Starry Pie. Shiloah was third. Jazzy Okie, a 3-year-old filly by King of Scat, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.59.
Golden Gate Fields
Private Banking rallied from last in a field of six to win Saturday's $50,000 Half Moon Bay Stakes for fillies and mares by a neck over Katdogawn. Ghurra was third. Private Banking is a 4-year-old, French-bred filly by Anabaa. She got the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.96 for jockey Frank Alvarado.
Junior College led from gate to wire in Saturday's $50,000 Governor's Handicap, winning by 3/4 length over Espirit du Roi. Huntin Gene finished third. Junior College, a 4-year-old gelding by Ide, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.14 with Jesus Castanon in the irons.
News and Notes
"Team Barbaro," both equine and human, will receive the "Mr. Fitz" Award from the National Turf Writers Association at this year's awards dinner. The honor is for the individual or group typifying the spirit of racing. The Joe Palmer Award for meritorious service to racing will go to Dr. Dean W. Richardson and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Center. And Steven Crist, chairman and publisher of Daily Racing Form, will receive the Walter Haight Award for excellence in turf writing. Congratulations to all for these well-deserved honors.