Last weekend's Breeders' Cup World Championship races are the highlight of the racing season for the sport's international stars. But locally focused championship days for state-bred horses are the real stellar attraction for the owners, breeders, riders, trainers and fans who make up the bedrock of the U.S. Thoroughbred industry.
Rich in purses and vital for breeding recognition, the state-based championship days are a key target in day-to-day racing. This weekend saw some prime examples in states as diverse as Florida, Illinois and New Mexico.
Florida's well-established reward programs, including the Florida Stallion Stakes program, also are extremely well funded. The Illinois state-bred cards have become key in year-end championship balloting. And New Mexico, with slot machine money pumping purses, has become among the richest of the state-bred competitions.
This weekend's programs:
Calder Race Course hosted the "Florida Million" program on Saturday- - eight races that actually offered $1.2 million in purses and attracted some accomplished Florida-bred back home from around the country to compete with locally based rivals. As an added honor, the races are named for the state's top owners and breeders.
The climactic race of the day, the $200,000 Carl Rose Classic, went to Rehoboth, which rallied up the inside during the stretch run to score by a nose over Dazzling Dr. Cevin. Rehoboth, a 3-year-old son of Wagon Limit, got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:52.57 under Eibar Coa, who won three of the stakes events. The colt has seven wins from 20 starts.
Revved Up also rallied from far back to win the $150,000 Bonnie Heath Turf Cup, scoring by a head over Magic Mecke. The 8-year-old Sultry Song gelding ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.94 under Eddie Castro, pushing his lifetime earnings to nearly $1.3 million.
D'artagnans'spirit beat Eternal Look to the wire by a head in the $150,000 Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap as the early speed collapsed in the final furlong. D'artagnans'spirit, a 4-year-old son of Secret Hello, got there in 1:11.30 with Edgar Prado in the irons. Last year's winner, Weigelia, battled for the lead and faded to finish fifth.
Take D'Tour, a Grade I stakes winner, had no trouble with state-bred competition or a stretch-out to two turns as she drew off in the stretch to win the $200,000 Elmer Heubeck Distaff by 3 3/4 lengths over Tiger Belle. The 5-year-old mare, by Tour d'Or, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.69 for Coa.
Soldier's Dancer, a son of Lost Soldier, won the $100,000 Arthur Appleton Juvenile Turf, rallying smartly in the stretch to beat Villainage by 6 3/4 lengths, completing the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.31 under Rene Douglas. And Pay Wright captured the $100,000 John Franks Juvenile Fillies Turf in a front-running effort, beating Dantrelle Light by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:42.43 with Coa up.
Dream of Angels led most of the way to win the $150,000 Jack Price Juvenile by a neck over Green Vegas, running 7 furlongs on the main track in 1:23.77 for Richard Eramia. And Secrets of the Heart also took the point in scoring a 3-lengths victory over Bianco in the $150,000 Joe O'Farrell Juvenile Fillies, getting the distance in 1:25.53 for Prado.
Hawthorne Race Course
More than 96,000 times, Phil Georgeff peered through his binoculars, leaned into his microphone and called the race for Chicago-area fans, bringing them home with his trademark, "Here they come, spinning out of the turn." He called his final race at Hawthorne on New Year's Eve 1992 and retired to Alabama at the top of his game.
Saturday's state-bred festival at Hawthorne, fittingly, was the Phil Georgeff Festival of Racing.
Tenpointfive upset the $100,000 High Alexander Handicap, leading all the way to a 1-length victory over the odds-on favorite, Wiggins. Tally Up finished third. Tenpointfive, a 4-year-old gelding by Richter Scale, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a good (sealed) track in 1:44.82 with Jerry La Sala aboard for trainer Mike Reavis.
Stop a Train was the best of seven Illinois-bred distaffers in the $100,000 Illini Princess Handicap. After racing close to the lead, the 4-year-old daughter of Devil His Due got to the fore at the top of the lane and worked clear, winning by 1 1/4 length over Lampoon. Dyna Slam got home third. Stop a Train ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.64 with Chris Emigh up for trainer Christine Janks.
Out for a Spin rallied to the lead well down the stretch in the $100,000 Lightning Jet Handicap and held on to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, High Expectations. Alabama Clay was third. Out for a Spin, at 16-1, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.07 with E.T. Baird riding. Greg Geier trains the 5-year-old son of Distorted Humor.
Pretty Jenny was right on the lead in the $100,000 Powerless Handicap for fillies and mares and extended the advantage down the stretch. At the wire, the 4-year-old daughter of Pioneering was 4 lengths to the good of Trout River Red, with Storm Rolling In third. Pretty Jenny, with Emigh up, finished in 1:11.31.
In the 2-year-old races, Caruso came from just off the pace to win the $100,000 Sun Power Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths over Chillin Villain, finishing the 6 furlongs in 1:11.18 for Carlos Silva, and Magnetic Miss enjoyed a similar trip and was just up in time to win the $100,000 Showtime Deb by a neck over Rich N Clever in 1:12.81 with Emigh riding. Caruso is a gelded son of Cape Canaveral. Magnetic Miss was sired by Artax.
New Mexico's newest track, in Hobbs, also is the site of the biggest single day for state-bred horses anywhere in the country, by its own admission. A total of $2 million was up for grabs in purses, including $1.2 million in seven races for Thoroughbreds.
When the dust had cleared, seven different owners and seven different trainers went to the winner's circle to pick up the big checks.
Rocky Gulch stalked the pace and surged to the lead late in the stretch run to win the $212,000 Classic Championship by a neck over El Minuto. The 5-year-old, gelded son of Dry Gulch, picked up his fourth win in his last five starts and advanced his career earnings to more than $1 million -- the first New Mexico-bred Thoroughbred to reach the seven-figure earnings total.
In other races, Gulchrunssweet dueled for the lead, then took charge and won the $197,000 Sprint Championship by 2 3/4 lengths over Romeos Wilson. Skirt Alert came five-wide into the stretch and drew off to win the $196,000 Championship Fillies & Mares by 4 3/4 lengths over La Mamie. Matchstick Man rallied from well back to win the Championship Colts & Geldings by 3/4 length over pace-setting Da Candy Man. Peppers Pride, appropriately named for New Mexico, got the best of a stretch battle to win the $171,000 Championship Fillies for 3-year-old distaffers by 1 length over Theregoesdancer.
In the juvenile events, Ky's Quest, a son of Night Fright, led most of the way to an impressive, 9 1/2-length score over Persuasive Guy in the $171,000 Juvenile, finishing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18 3/5. And Silver Expression, a daughter of Silver Season, came from far back to take the $171,000 Juvenile Fillies by a neck over extreme longshot Sizzle in a glacial 1:20.
In other weekend racing:
A pair of Japanese stablemates finished first and second in Monday's Emirates Melbourne Cup, an historic fixture on the Australian racing scene. Delta Blues, always prominent in the 23-horse field, was put to the drive in the final furlong to hold off the late surge of Pop Rock. At the wire, the margin was a neck. Both horses are trained by Katsuiko Sumii for the owners of the Shadai Stallion Station. Maybe Better was well back in third. Delta Blues, a 5-year-old son of Dance in the Dark, had finished third in the Caulfield Cup last month in his final tuneup for this event. He was ridden to victory by Yasunari Iwata.
Passage of Time caught Soldier of Fortune in the late going to win Sunday's Criterium Saint-Cloud. Empire Day finished third. Trainer Henry Cecil said his 2-year-old Dansili filly provides a lot of promise for his string in 2007 but did not commit to either the Epsom Oaks or the Prix de Diane as his main target for next season. The filly is owned by Khalid Abdullah.
Howaboutrightnow had 'em all the way in Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Maple Leaf Stakes for fillies and mares. Jumping right to the lead under Emma-Jayne Wilson, the 3-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Montbrook set a moderate pace until the turn for home, then accelerated and held on to win by a nose over Silver Highlight. Ballroom Deputy was third and the odds-on favorite, Soul Search, got home fourth. Howaboutrightnow finished the 1 1/4 mile on the all-weather track in 2 minutes, 7.66 seconds. "The last 16th of a mile was all heart," said Wilson. "She was so tired." The filly has three wins, three seconds and one third from nine starts this year.
Sunday, Strike Softly got past the leader with a furlong to go and went on to win the $150,000 (Canadian) Jammed Lovely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 3 1/4 lengths over London Snow. Seductively was third under the wire. Strike Softly, an Ontario-bred daughter of Smart Strike, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:24.51 under Todd Kabel. Winning trainer Mark Frostad noted Strike Softly had been running longer earlier in the year. "She's pretty useful at seven-eighths," he added. "She ran a big race today."
Arbuckle Bandit sat well back in the field during much of Saturday's $150,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes for 3-year-olds, came out about seven-wide on the stretch turn and was all out to put a head in front under the wire in a four-horse blanket finish. Storm Treasure was second, with Kingship another head back in third and the favorite, Outperformance, another neck back in fourth. Arbuckle Bandit, a Kentucky-bred gelding by Service Stripe, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.19 under Brice Blanc. "We were able tog et clear ground on the far turn into the top of the stretch," Blanc said, "and that was the move that won the race for me." Trainer Mike Stidham said Arbuckle Bandit "is a hard-trying horse and we lost a couple of tough ones at Arlington and Hawthorne, where we only got beat a half-length in those Grade IIIs. So it was a sweet victory for him to finally get up and win a photo."
In Sunday's $100,000 Pent Up Kiss Handicap for fillies and mares, Smitty's Sunshine dueled for the lead, opened a clear advantage at the top of the stretch and then held on gamely to win by 3/4 length over Beautiful Bets. Nicole's Dream was third. Smitty's Sunshine, a 3-year-old, Louisiana-bred daughter of Seeking a Home, ran the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.94 with Robby Albarado up.
Naughty New Yorker led all the way to a 1 3/4-length victory in Saturday's $150,000 Red Smith Handicap. Angliana chased the winner all the way and Crown Point was third. Most of the field scratched when the event was moved off the turf, leaving only five starters. Naughty New Yorker, a 4-year-old, New York-bred colt by Quiet American, finished the 1 1/4 mile on a fast track in 2:04.52 with Jean-Luc Samyn up. "He was running easy today and not fighting," said winning trainer Pat Kelly. "It's nice to win an open stakes." He said he has nominated Naughty New Yorker to the Cigar Mile "just in case Discreet Cat gets a headache or something."
Sweetnorthernsaint, racing for the second time since his second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes, had no trouble beating just two rivals in Saturday's $54,000 Odessa Stakes for 3-year-olds. After tracking the pace, set by Master of Disaster, Sweetnorthernsaint went to the front on the turn and drew off to win by 8 1/4 lengths. Master of Disaster was second, 19 1/4 lengths ahead of the only other starter, Berrytime. The winner, a Florida-bred son of Sweetsouthernsaint, finished the 1 /16 mile on a fast track in 1:43.04, ridden out. Winning rider Ramon Dominguez said the competition was "a little greater" than the two allowance foes Sweetnorthernsaint beat in his last start. "He had to push himself a little more. But, still, he handled himself well," Dominguez said.
Tartlet, with Mario Pino in for the ride, saved ground behind a hot early pace in Saturday night's $125,000 Mountaineer Mile, then moved to the lead at the top of the stretch and won off by 4 lengths. Forest Park was second after showing the way early and Yucatan finished third. Tartlet, a 4-year-old, Maryland-bred gelding by Zignew, ran the 1 mile on a muddy track in 1:39.53.
S W Aly'svalentine stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Kattegat's Pride Stakes for fillies and mares, came around the leaders into the turn and won off by 1 1/2 lengths over Deliver the Roses. Gilded Gold finished third. S W Aly'svalentine, a 4-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred filly by Malibu Moon, ran 5 furlongs on "good" turf in 58.33 seconds with Vladimir Diaz in the irons.
D Fine Okie was defined as a winner in Saturday night's $75,000 Lady's Secret Stakes for fillies and mares. After chasing the early pace, the 4-year-old, Oklahoma-bred daughter of Burbank surged to the lead at mid-stretch and won by 2 lengths over Plaid. Where Woody Bea was third at the end. D Fine Okie, with Don Pettinger in the irons, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:42.91.
Majestic Stream led the way in Saturday's $66,000 Veterans Stakes, dueling for the lead and then drawing off to win by a majestic 9 1/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Mr. Trieste. Don't Strike Out finished third. Majestic Stream, a 3-year-old, Louisiana-bred son of Fusaichi Pegasus out of a Dynaformer mare, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:47.80 with Christopher Zamora in the irons.
Bend a Little sat at the back of the field early in Saturday's $60,000 Hermosa Beach Handicap for fillies and mares, came through the leaders on the turn and took charge in the lane, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Aubonne. Trade Only finished third and the favorite, Naughty Rafaela, struggled home fifth. Bend a Little, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Benny the Dip, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:29.10 with Jose Valdivia Jr. up for trainer Christophe Clement.
Bai and Bai ran second-last during the early furlongs of Saturday's $55,000 Palo Alto Handicap for 3-year-old fillies. But, by and by, she came four-wide around the leaders and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Corcina. Bai and Bai, a Cal-bred filly by Falstaff, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:33.35.
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