Racing has a way of working out in an unusual fashion -- often biting those who assume too much. So it's almost tempting fate to point out how well trainer Todd Pletcher's horses are doing as the Breeders' Cup World Championships loom.
Pletcher, once an assistant to the legendary D. Wayne Lukas, broke Lukas's record for stakes wins in a year during yet another hot weekend. After Master Command provided Pletcher his 92nd stakes victory of the year in Friday night's Meadowlands Breeders' Cup, Scat Daddy moved the conditioner to new heights of accomplishment by capturing Saturday's Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.
A week earlier, Pletcher's horses won four stakes and placed in another, earning more than $1.5 million. That blitz gave him the single-year stakes earnings record for trainers, previously held by Bobby Frankel. Through Saturday, Pletcher had saddled horses earning $16,638,709 in stakes races.
"It's a little bit bittersweet," Pletcher said of the stakes-victories record, "because I hold all of Wayne's accomplishments in highest regard. To be honest, I didn't think it was an attainable record. We had one of those remarkable years where everything has been clicking and horses have been running well.
"It's been a lot of fun."
Going into the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs, Pletcher has horses that will be highly regarded, if not favored, in six of the eight championship races. In the $2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile, he has three top candidates, including Scat Daddy. He has three possibles for the $2 million Emirates Airline Distaff, as many as three in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies and the rapidly improving English Channel in the $3 million John Deere Turf.
He didn't have a likely candidate for the setpiece of the Breeders' Cup, the $5 million Classic. Not, that is, until the talented Lawyer Ron was transferred to his barn a few weeks ago.
Weekend races with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Championships:
$5 million Classic
-- Master Command led all the way to a 1 1/4-length victory in Friday night's $500,000 Meadowlands Breeders' Cup Stakes, giving trainer Pletcher his record-tying 92nd stakes victory of 2006 and another option for the Breeders' Cup. With John Velzaquez in the irons, the 4-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred son of A.P. Indy got the 9 furlongs in 1:46.21. Wild Desert was second and Awesome Twist third. The favorite, Park Avenue Ball, finished fifth. "If there were a race for him, it would be the Breeders' Cup Classic," said Pletcher. "We weren't using this race as a Breeders' Cup prep. He sure ran well, so we're pleased with that."
-- OK, it's no surprise to hear trainer Bob Baffert describe any stakes-winning son of Real Quiet as a "monster." His understandable bias doesn't necessarily mean it's not true. So it was after Midnight Lute rallied stoutly down the stretch to win Friday's $200,000 Perryville Stakes for 3-year-olds at Keeneland, beating Lewis Michael by 4 3/4 lengths, with Court Folly third and the favorite, High Finance, fourth. "We've always thought he was a monster," Baffert said. "He had some throat problems early on, but we healed those and now he really is starting to show his stuff." The colt has three wins from four starts. Midnight Lute, out of the Dehere mare Candytuft, ran the "about" 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:24.38 for Victor Espinoza.
$2 million TVG Sprint
-- Malibu Mint came from well off the pace to score a minor upset in Saturday's $300,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland. Swinging six-wide into the stretch, Malibu Mint got home 1 length ahead of Hide and Chic. Hot Storm finished third and the favorite, Behaving Badly, faded a bit in the lane to finish fourth. Malibu Mint is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Malibu Moon. Kyle Kaenel was up for trainer James Chapman.
$3 million John Deere Turf
-- Best of Buddies set a pressured but measured pace in Saturday's $250,000 Hawthorne Derby but held on gamely all the way around to win by a neck over Crested. Arbuckle Bandit finished third and the favorite, Brilliant, wasn't, finishing sixth in a fade job. Best of Buddies, an Illinois-bred son of Best of Luck, ran the 9 furlongs on the firm turf in 1:50.59 with Eddie Martin Jr. riding for trainer Michelle Boyce. He now has won all four of his turf starts. "He's just a gutty, game little horse," Boyce said.
-- Showing Up showed up big time in Saturday's $300,000 Jamaica Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park, stalking the pace and then taking charge when asked by jockey Cornelio Velazquez. Drawing off in the stretch, the Kentucky-bred Strategic Mission colt won by 3 1/2 lengths over Outperformance, with Spider Power third. Showing Up ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:47.81. The colt is trained by Barclay Tagg. "When Outperformance came up alongside of him, he kicked in beautifully," Tagg said. "I loved his race. My plan is to go to Hollywood with him."
-- Dark Islander made his U.S. debut a winning one in Saturday's $150,000 Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita. Rallying three-wide into the lane, the Irish-bred son of Singspiel rallied smartly to get home 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Obrigado. The favorite, A.P. Warrior, finished third after having to look for running room on the turn. Dark Islander, trained by John Hills and ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.21. One month ago, Dark Islander won at Bath, England. "This is a horse that's been progressive and the ground has gone soft in England now and he's a fast-ground horse," said Hills. "It was either come to California or wait for Dubai. We decided to come here and go to the Hollywood Derby" on Nov. 26.
$2 million NetJets Mile (turf)
-- Gorella came between horses on the turn in Saturday's $400,000 First Lady Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland, swung wide into the stretch and was just up at the wire, winning by a nose over Karen's Caper. My Typhoon got home third. Gorella, a 4-year-old, French-bred mare trained by Patrick Biancone, finished in 1:34.14 under Julien Leparoux. She finished third in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, less than 1 length behind the winner, Artie Schiller. "I think what we have to notice today," said Biancone, "is the ride of Julien, because he won the race with the filly with the minimum effort because we have to be fresh in three weeks." Leparoux credited the filly. "Today she was a bit fresh," he said. "That's why she didn't win by 10 lengths, I think."
-- Kip Deville rallied to the lead early in the stretch run in Sunday's $150,000 Bryan Station Stakes for 3-year-olds at Keeneland and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Storm Treasure, with Smart Enough good enough for third. The favorite, Kingship, checked in fifth. Kip Deville, an Oklahoma-bred colt by Kipling, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.36 for Leparoux. The colt was cutting back in distance after running routes on the East Coast for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.
-- Illuminise, making her second U.S. start, caught pace-setting Diplomat Lady in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Harold C. Ramser Sr. Handicap for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita and went on to win by 3/4 length over that rival. Zoemeg was third. Illuminise, an Irish-bred daughter of Grand Lodge, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.62 with Corey Nakatani up for trainer Neil Drysdale. Drysdale was noncommittal about the filly's plans. "I'm not sure at this juncture," he said, adding he will "discuss it" with winning owner Belinda Elizabeth Strudwick of Dublin.
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
-- Vacare forced the pace in Saturday's $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland, was sent to the lead with a furlong to run and survived a long drive to win by 1/2 length over Mauralakana. Quiet Royal finished third and the favorite, Germance, put in a late bid to finish fourth. Vacare, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Lear Fan, finished the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.42 with Carlos Marquez Jr. up for trainer Chris Block, a Chicago mainstay who picked up his first Grade I win. "I was really, really confident going into this race until I picked up the Racing Form yesterday morning," Block said. "I was thinking, 'Well, do we belong in here?' She proved she did belong in here. ... Let's see if she can do it again."
-- Pride, runner-up in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, came back Saturday to win the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Newmarket in England, beating males. At the wire, the 6-year-old Peintre Celebre mare had come from a pace-stalking position to win by 3 lengths over Rob Roy. Hurricane Run was third. Globetrotting champion mare Ouija Board skipped the Champion Stakes and trainer Ed Dunlop said he expects her to wind up her stellar career with another world tour including the Breeders' Cup and either the Japan Cup or the Hong Kong International Races. Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre attributed Pride's loss in the Arc to the firm going in Paris.
-- Bayou's Lassie set the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Calder Oaks, opening up a daylight advantage in the stretch and hanging on for a 1 3/4-length victory over Private Betty. Jinni finished third. Bayou's Lassie, a Florida-bred filly by Outflanker, ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:50.34 with Elvis Trujillo aboard for trainer Stanley Gold. "It worked out good," Gold said. "We'll enjoy this one and regroup before deciding what's next."
-- Pommes Frites stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Athenia Handicap at Belmont Park, was sent to the lead when asked leaving the second turn and held on to win by 3/4 length over Chaibia. Dream Lady finished third. Pommes Frites, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Dynaformer, ran the 1 1/16 mile on the firm inner turf in 1:42.95 under Jose Santos.
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Scat Daddy got the outside position in the stretch run of Saturday's $400,000 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park and came on late to pull off a minor upset, beating favorite Nobiz Like Showbiz by 3/4 length. Pegasus Wind finished third. Scat Daddy, a Kentucky-bred son of Johannesburg, ran the 1 mile in 1:36.97 for jockey John Velazquez, picking up his third win in four starts. He won the Sanford at Saratoga and was second to Circular Quay in his last start, the Hopeful. "It was a huge race. With each race, he's gotten a little better and a little more professional," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. It was Pletcher's 93rd stakes win of the year, breaking a record previously held by D. Wayne Lukas. Pletcher is a former Lukas assistant. "I would think all three horses -- Scat Daddy, Circular Quay, King of the Roxy -- if they are doing well, have all earned the right to be there (in the Juvenile)."
-- Green Vegas rated behind a quick early pace in Saturday's $400,000 In Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes, moved to the lead at the top of the stretch and held off Wonderous Glory to win by 1/2 length. Imawildandcrazyguy finished third and the favorite, Straight Faced, who won the first two legs of the series, faded to finish fourth after leading early on. Green Vegas, a bay son of Trippi, won the Foolish Pleasure in his last start and now has three wins from six starts. He got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:47.87 under Julio Garcia. "They called about the Breeders' Cup," said winning trainer Luis Olivares. "He's done a lot. Let's say I'm not ready to rule it out yet."
-- Leonnatus Anteas got to the leaders at the top of the stretch in Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Cup and Saucer Stakes at Woodbine and drew off, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Seaside Links. Mike Fox was third home. Leonnatus Anteas, an Ontario-bred colt by Stormy Atlantic, ran the 1 1/16 mile on yielding turf in 1:45.58 with Jono Jones in the irons. Trainer Kevin Attard said he will point the colt to the Cornation Futurity on Nov. 5, hoping a victory will bring year-end honors.
-- Just for the record, Teofilo remained unbeaten in top competition in Europe by defeating Holy Roman Emperor by a head in Saturday's Daley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. The son of Galileo is 5-for-5 and jockey Kevin Manning told Channel 4 Racing, "I don't think we'll see the best of him until next year."
$2 million Juvenile Fillies
-- Sutra ran near the back of the field early in Saturday's $400,000 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park, found room on the inside around the turn and into the stretch and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Enchanting Star. Lilly Carson finished third and the favorite, Allude, got home sixth. Sutra, who came into the race off a second-place finish in the Arlington-Washington Lassie, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.22 with Michael Luzzi in the irons for trainer Michael Stidham. The filly has two wins from three starts. "It was a decision to go outside or inside turning for home," Luzzi said. "At Belmont, you don't want to, but I made the decision to stay inside." Added Stidham, "We're very happy with her. Certainly, after this, we would have to think about the Breeders' Cup."
-- Adhrhythm got off to a poor start in Saturday's $400,000 My Dear Girl Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes but recovered quickly and drew off to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Silkily was best of the rest and Snow Lady finished third. Adhrhythm, a daughter of Adhocracy, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:48.48 with Manoel Cruz up for trainer Edward Plesa Jr. "I'm very pleased with the way she ran," said Plesa. "I haven't talked about anything beyond today, including the Breeders' Cup. We'll see."
In other weekend racing:
Calder Race Course
Can't Beat It rallied to the lead four-wide on the stretch turn in Saturday's $200,000 Calder Derby and got clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Croton Road. Elizabul finished third. Can't Beat It, a Kentucky-bred son of Atticus, ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:48.79. Rene Douglas was aboard for trainer Marty Wolfson. Can't Beat It has four wins from 13 lifetime starts. "We always liked him and were waiting for the turf," said Wolfson. "He ran some deceivingly good races early this year against really good horses."
Nkosi Reigns was out to an early lead in Saturday's $100,000 Spend a Buck Handicap at Calder Race Course and held the advantage all the way to a 1-length victory. Big Lover was second and the favorite, Siphon City, finished last of eight. Nkosi Reigns, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Out of Place, finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.40 with Jeffrey Sanchez up. Trainer Ron Spatz, handling Nkosi Reigns for Chicago-based Christine Janks, said his charge will run back on Florida Million Day, along with others. "They are here because of the opportunities," he said.
-- Darluna led from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Shocker T. Handicap, losing her seven rivals in the stretch run to win (all alooooone, as Kevin Goemer would have said) by 18 1/2 lengths. Sunset Kisses was the far-distant second and American Miss finished third. Darluna, with Eduardo Nunez riding, finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.22. "I wasn't supposed to win by so much," Nunez joked. "She is fast. I just let her go at the top of the stretch." Trainer Stephen DiMauro said he will move Darluna on to another stakes event against Florida-breds next month.
Yesbyjimminy led most of the way to a 5-lengths score in Saturday's $100,000 Criterium Stakes at Calder Race Course. Pop Goes the Tiger was second, a neck better than Five Towns. Yesbyjimminy, a son of Yes It's True, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.39 under Abel Castellano Jr. Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said the colt's third-place finish in the Foolish Pleasure last month was a result of lingering effects of a virus, not distance limitations. "I'm looking forward to trying him at a distance again at the right time," Plesa said.
Yesshecandance also can run. The Yes It's True filly went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 J J'sdream Stakes and never gave it up, winning by 3/4 length over Bianco. Mountain Tiger was third. Yesshecandance, with Elvis Trujillo aboard, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.62. "She's a sprinter and still learning," said winning trainer Jose Pinchin, who is pointing to a Tampa Bay Downs event for Florida-breds.
Due swept from last to first to win Saturday's $250,000 Maryland Million Classic by 2 1/4 lengths over Diamond David with Evil Storm third. Due, with Rosie Napravnik up, ran the 1 3/16 mile on a fast track in 1:58.38, capping Maryland Million Day. In other races on the rich state-bred card:
Private Scandal rallied from far back to win the $150,000 Turf by 2 1/4 lengths over D.J.'s Hero; Smart and Fancy led most of the way to victory in the $150,000 Oaks; Spectacular Malibu was always prominent, then drew off to win the $125,000 Lassie for juvenile fillies by 3 3/4 lengths; Debbie Sue came from near the rear to capture the $150,000 Ladies on the turf by 3 3/4 lengths; Ironton dominated the $150,000 Sprint, winning by 6 1/4 lengths over odds-on favorite Celtic Innis; Deliver the Roses led most of the way to a big upset in the $100,000 Turf Sprint; Clifton Park led all the way in winning the $125,000 Nursery for 2-year-olds by 2 1/4 length; and Silmaril held well in the stretch to beat favorite Yolanda B. Too in the $150,000 Distaff.
Charles Town Races
Speed Whiz came from the middle of the pack to take the lead turning for home in Saturday's $500,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic and drew clear to win by 2 lengths over Shenandoah Harley. King Cohl was third. Speed Whiz, a 5-year-old son of Weshaam, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.40 with Anthony Mawing aboard for trainer William Campbell.
In the other big race on the day of state-bred stakes, Julie B came from far back to win the $350,000 West Virginia Jefferson Security Bank Cavada Breeders' Classic by 1 1/2 lengths over Carnival Chrome. Alaska Ash finished third in the 7-furlong event, clocked in 1:26.23. Julie B, a 3-year-old daughter of Eastover Court, was ridden by Larry Reynolds.
In the $100,000 supporting stakes, Not for Same pulled off a minor upset in the 6-furlong event, winning by 2 1/2 lengths; Eagle Speed rallied to beat fellow 2-year-olds; Sue's Sweet Girl was victorious over other juvenile fillies; Confucius Say wisely led all the way to a 9 1/4-length score over older colts and geldings at 7 furlongs; Rhythmic Moves led all the way in beating fellow 3-year-olds easily; and Malibu Sue bested other 3-year-old fillies at 7 furlongs.
Legal Move pressed the early pace in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Bull Page Stakes for Ontario-breds at Woodbine, got to the front at the top of the stretch and won off by 4 lengths. Dancer's Bagan was second and Fudgethebottomline finished third. Legal Move, a bay colt by Bold Executive, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:11.41 under Patrick Husbands. "I really had nothing to worry about," Husbands said.
Barracuda Boy was out to an early lead in Saturday's $150,000 Durham Cup Stakes, never got any pressure and romped home first, 5 1/4 lengths better than Sextet. Pellegrino finished third. Barracuda Boy, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Unbridled's Song, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:50.49 with Emma-Jayne Wilson in the irons. "I was anticipating having some need to stalk," said Wilson. "But he broke sharp and put himself in his usual bowed-neck position. ... I was very content on where I was sitting."
Gins Majesty was just up in the final yards to win Saturday's $199,450 (Canadian) Ballerina Breeders' Cup Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Slewpast. Starlite Strike was third whilst the favorite, A Classic Life, finished fourth. Gins Majesty, a Kentucky-bred, 4-year-old filly by Go for Gin, ran the 9 furlongs through fog on a fast track in 1:52.80 with Kevin Krigger up.
Sunday, True Metropolitan stalked and pounced, winning the $125,000 (Canadian) BC Premiers Handicap by 3 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Spaghetti Mouse. Shacane was third. True Metropolitan, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Proud and True, ran the 1 3/8 mile on a sloppy, sealed track in 2:17.03 with Quincy Welch riding.
Great Lakes Downs
Six stakes, worth more than $132,000 each, rewarded Michigan breeders in Saturday's Michigan Sire Stakes. Dublin Dutchess led all the way to win the 2-year-old filly event; Q Fortunate Sun came from off the pace to win the 2-year-old colt/gelding race by 4 3/4 lengths; Nell's Enjoyment drew off in the stretch to win by 7 lengths against other 3-year-old fillies; Creative Miss stalked and scored by 3 3/4 lengths in the race for older fillies and mares; Weatherstorm pressed the pace and took charge to win the event for 3-year-old males by 5 1/4 lengths; and Meadow Vespers was victorious in the race for older males, drawing off to beat favorite Dorthys Champ by 3 lengths.
Daddy Warbucks came four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 My Dandy Texas Stallion Stakes and drew off to win by 4 lengths over Power Surge. Axel Pegasus finished third and the favorite, Holy Mission, settled for sixth. Daddy Warbucks is a bay son of Valid Expectations, with Roman Chapa up, he ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.03.
Wrenice led all the way to win Saturday's $125,000 Darby's Daughter Texas Stallion Stakes by 2 lengths over Stage Stop. Lady Be Tru finished third. Wrenice, a daughter of Uncle Abbie, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.72 under Bobby Walker Jr.
Grand Facile was out to a facile early lead in Saturday's $50,000 Delicada Stakes, battled gamely down the stretch and finished first in a four-horse finish. Plaid missed by just a head, with Raspberry Wine another nose back and I.B.'s Halo another head back in fourth. Grand Facile, a 3-year-old Zuppardo's Prince filly, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:45.32 under Tracy Hebert.
Golden Gate Fields
Bold Chieftain battled down the backstretch with Passive Income in Saturday's $50,000 Hayes Valley Stakes f or 3-year-olds, then drew clear when asked and won off by 5 lengths. Passive Income held on for second and Where's My Halo finished third. Courting Seattle completed the order of finish. Bold Chieftain, a California-bred colt by Chief Seattle, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:42.92. Russell Baze applied the winning ride.