The "old year" in racing was a bit unsettled and sometimes unsettling so perhaps it's fitting that the biggest stakes event of the final weekend resulted in a minor upset of a favorite returning from an injury.
Downthedustyroad rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win Saturday's $250,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita by 4 1/4 lengths over Squallacious. The favorite, Balance, off since May for removal of a bone chip in her ankle, finished third. Balance was the beaten favorite in the 2006 Kentucky Oaks after winning a pair of Grade I stakes at Santa Anita.
In the La Brea, Balance settled well back in the nine-filly field for jockey Victor Espinoza, came around traffic on the turn and couldn't find enough to challenge the leaders.
Downthedustyroad, an Arkansas-bred daughter of Storm and a Half, meanwhile, stayed closer to the pace under Jon Court, dueled for the lead on the turn and drew off in the stretch to win easily, finishing the 7 furlongs in 1:21.40.
The winner had been second in her last three starts and the La Brea was her first stakes win.
"She's got natural speed," said Court. "We saved what we could for the stretch and she finished great." Trainer Bob Baffert noted the victory won't hurt Downthedustyroad's value as she is catalogued to sell at Keeneland.
In other racing on the final weekend of 2006 and the first day of 2007 (and a Happy New Year to all!):
Calder Race Course
In the year's first Derby, Soldier's Dancer rallied smartly, five-wide, to win Monday's $100,000 Tropical Park Derby by 3/4 length over Sedgefield. Storm in May finished third. Soldier's Dancer, a Florida-bred son of Lost Soldier, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.95 with Cornelio Velasquez aboard. The gelding won the Arthur Appleton Juvenile Turf on Florida Million Day in November. "I still think he'll run on dirt," said winning trainer Dave Vivian. "That's probably where we'll go next with him at Gulfstream -- maybe the Holy Bull." That Feb. 3 event is an early Florida Derby prep.
The companion $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks went to Christmas Kid, who was trapped on the hedge on the turn for home but was up in time to win by 1/2 length over Perfect Motion once jockey Kent Desormeaux got her outside. The Virginia-bred filly, by Lemon Drop Kid, ran the 1 1/16 mile on the firm turf in 1:43.19. She now has two wins from four starts. "I don't think there is much on the schedule at Gulfstream for her division on the grass," said winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "So going back to dirt is definitely a possibility."
Favorites did well in Saturday's Grand Slam III races, winning two of the four $100,000 events and finishing second in the others.
Take D'Tour led all the way to a handy 14-lengths win in the Stage Door Betty for fillies and mares, with Tiger Belle second, a head in front of Running Lass. Take D'Tour, a multiple Grade I winner, finished the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:45.38 with Eibar Coa along for the ride. "She broke a step slow today but I wasn't concerned," Coa confided. "I knew I was on the best horse in the race." Winning trainer David Fawkes said the 5-year-old Tour d'Or mare will go on to the Sunshine Millions Distaff at Santa Anita on Jan. 27.
The other winning favorite, Can't Beat It, took the opposite approach in the Pete Axthelm Stakes for 3-year-olds, rallying from second-last in the 11-horse field to win by 2 lengths over Fancy Silver. El Lobo finished third. Jockey Eddie Castro guided Can't Beat It, a Kentucky-bred son of Atticus, over the 7 1/2 furlongs of "good" turf in 1:29.08. In October, the colt won the Calder Derby. "I'll probably run him back in the Canadian (Turf Handicap) at Gulfstream" on Feb. 3, said winning trainer Marty Wolfson.
In the Frances A. Genter Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Bayou's Lassie got the jump on the field and held on to win by a head over the favorite, J'ray. Amansara finished third. Bayou's Lassie, a Florida-bred filly by Outflanker, ran the 7 1/2 furlongs on the "good" turf course in 1:29.37 for Elvis Trujillo. "This filly is very aggressive," Trujillo said. "Actually, it's hard to keep her off the lead." Trainer Stanley Gold said he hopes the Grade III victory will be enough to get the filly into the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf, run at Gulfstream this year.
And in the Chaposa Springs Hanidcap for fillies and mares, another 3-yaer-old daughter of Outflanker, Annabill, gained the lead at the top of the lane and held gamely to win by a neck over the favorite, Grecian Lover. Toll Taker was third. Annabill ran the 7 furlongs in 1:24.68 with John Velazquez aboard for trainer Marty Wolfson, who claimed the filly for $25,000 on Aug. 13 -- then had second thoughts. "I might not have done it if I got a good look at her head-on," Wolfson said. "She has a funny way of going. But that doesn't stop her from running." He said the Sunshine Million Filly & Mare Sprint may by on Annabill's dance card.
King's Drama used a late surge to overtake pace-setting Railroad near the wire and win Sunday's $150,000 San Gabriel Handicap by 1/2 length. Hendrix finished third. King's Drama, a 6-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by King's Theatre, ran well in three graded stakes early in the year in California after finishing 16th in the 2005 Japan Cup. He had been on the sidelines since June. With David Flores up for trainer Bobby Frankel, King's Drama ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf Sunday in 1:48.53. "The Tin Man proved you're never too old to win on the turf," said Frankel. "This horse tries hard and he's a gelding, so he's going to be around a long time -- as long as I take good care of him."
Kolo pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Eddie Logan Stakes for 2-year-olds, got to the front in the stretch only to find himself in a three-horse sandwich to the wire. At the end, and despite jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. losing his whip, Kolo survived to win by a neck over Mystery Island, with Law Breaker third. Kolo, a Kentucky-bred colt by Dynaformer, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.52. The race is named for the 96-year-old gentleman who has maintained a shoeshine stand at Santa Anita since the track opened on Christmas Day of 1934. Logan made the winner's circle presentation.
In Monday's $100,000 Monrovia Handicap for fillies and mares, Society Hostess could see all 11 rivals while running down the backstretch. But when jockey Garrett Gomez came out for room entering the stretch, the 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Seeking the Gold ran past all of them to win by 1 length over Clinet. Kitty Hawk finished third. Society Hostess ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.85.
Harvard Avenue, also with Gomez riding, duplicated the last-to-first feat in Monday's $100,000 El Conejo Handicap, just getting up to win by a nose over Areyoutalkintome. Proud Tower Too, returning after a long post-Dubai layoff, finished third after leading early. Harvard Avenue, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by You and I, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:02.68.
Ky's Quest dueled for the lead in Saturday's $125,000 Red Hedeman Mile for New Mexico-bred 2-year-olds, shook clear on the second turn and drew off to win by 6 lengths over Band Champ. Blazing Rockstar finished third. Ky's Quest, a gelded son of Night Fright, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.25 with Casey Lambert in the irons for owner/trainer Clifford Lambert Sr.
Sir Five Star was the star of Sunday's $100,000 Riley Allison Futurity, dueling for the lead before taking command, then holding on to win by a neck over Song of Navarone. The Zipster finished third. Sir Five Star, a Kentucky-bred colt by Five Star Day, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.72 with Glen Murphy up for trainer Scott Blasi.
Also Sunday, Tempting Date led all the way in winning the $50,000 Bold Ego Handicap for fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths over Texas Kitty. Tempting Date, a 4-year-old, Cal-bred filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.02 with Ken Tohill in the irons.
Welcome Inn took the overland route in Saturday's $75,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship, touring five-wide around the stretch turn, then won the race to the wire by a neck over odds-on favorite Spectacular Malibu. Paying Off only paid off in the third column. Welcome Inn, a daughter of Orientate, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.26 for jockey Jeremy Rose.
In the $75,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship, Roaring Lion recovered from a stumbling start to take the lead down the backstretch, then just held on at the end to beat Bianchi's Boy by a neck. Digger finished third. Roaring Lion, a son of Lion Hearted, ran the 1 mile for Luis Garcia in 1:38.56.
In Monday's $70,000 Dancing Count Stakes for newly turned 3-year-olds, Heart Throbbin' stalked the pace and then took charge in the stretch, winning by 1/2 length over the favorite, Place Your Bet (preferably to place). Crafty Bear was third. Heart Throbbin', a Maryland-bred gelding by Formal Gold, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:06.21 for jockey Ryan Fogelsonger.
Saturday's $75,000 Woodchopper Stakes for 3-year-olds came off the turf, with six of the original 10 starters scratched as a result. Of the remaining starters, Good and Lucky was good enough not to need any luck, leading most of the way to a 4 1/4-lengths victory. Flanders Fields was second as the odds-on favorite and Creative Force third. Good and Lucky, a Florida-bred gelding by Wild Rush, ran the 1 1/16 mile on the sloppy main track in 1:47.08 with Jesse Campbell up.
Sunday, Dash of Humor came from a pace-stalking position to win the $75,000 Furl Sail Handicap for fillies and mares by a head over Aly's Vow, with Rolling Sea just another neck back in third. Dash of Humor, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Distorted Humor, finished the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:45.64 with Brian Hernandez Jr. up.
And Monday, Total totally dominated the stretch run of the $75,000 Letellier Memorial for 3-year-old fillies, winning off by 6 3/4 lengths over Pro Pink. The favorite, Cat on a Cloud, drifted home third. Total, a Kentucky-bred filly by Forest Wildcat, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.05 with Jesse Campbell up.
Tampa Bay Downs
Special Cheers broke from the No. 10 stall in Saturday's $60,000 Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies but was hustled right to the lead by jockey Luis Gonzalez and never looked back. After surviving pressure for the entire 6 furlongs, the Florida-bred Concerto filly held on to win by a nose over Storm Savvy, with Foret third. Special Cheers completed the race in 1:11.60.
Successful Affair tracked the early pace in Saturday's $65,000 Gallant Fox Handicap, then beat Angliana to the wire by a head. Park Avenue Prince finished third. Successful Affair, a 4-year-old, New York-bred gelding by Successful Appeal, ran 13 furlongs on the fast inner track in 2:44.22 with Ramon Dominguez aboard.
Sunday, Naughty New Yorker came from last in a field of five to win the $65,000 Alex M. Robb Handicap for New York-breds by 2 3/4 lengths over Who What Win. Accountforthegold finished third. Naughty New Yorker, a 4-year-old son of Quiet American, had little trouble with the short field, needing only mild urging from jockey Jean-Luc Samyn as he completed the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.64.
On Monday, Oprah Winney led all the way to a 1/2-length upset victory over Smart and Fancy in the $65,000 Interborough Handicap for fillies and mares. The favorite, Magnolia Jackson, finished third. Oprah Winney, a 4-year-old, New York-bred filly by Royal Academy, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.51 on a sloppy track. Mike Smith rode.
Straight Line took the shortest line home in Saturday's $50,000 Holiday Cheer Stakes, hugging the rail en route to a 2 1/2-length score over Smoke Smoke Smoke. Sgt. Bert finished third in the 6-furlong event, timed in 1:08.40 over the all-weather track. Miguel Mena had the winning ride on Straight Line, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Boundary.
Torrance pressed the early pace in Saturday's $40,000 Arizona Juvenile Fillies, then was caught four-wide on the turn. But the California-bred Olympio filly was just getting going as she hit the stretch and ran off to win by 6 1/4 lengths over Staten Island with the heavy odds-on favorite, Against the Law, fading to finish third. Torrance, with Lorenzo Lopez up, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a "good" track in 1:18.61.
In Sunday's $50,000 Lost in the Fog Juvenile, Half Famous pressed the pace, took the lead along the rail entering the stretch and worked clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths over In to the West. Waltz Time finished third and the odds-on favorite, R Big Stuff, faded to finish fifth. Half Famous is a California-bred colt by Tribal Rule. He ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.31 under Michael Iammarino.
Golden Gate Fields
Vincarino led all the way to a popular, 1 3/4-length victory in Monday's $50,000 Stinson Beach Stakes for birthday partying 3-year-olds. Candy's Bro was second, Double Action third and Zoning In completed the order of finish. Vincarino, a Kentucky-bred colt by Vicar, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.23. Russell Baze rode for trainer Greg Gilchrist.
News and Notes:
Hall of Fame trainer Grover "Buddy" Delp died Friday night at age 74. Delp saddled 3,674 winners -- none better than Spectacular Bid, winner of the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and undefeated Horse of the Year in 1980. Delp also won the Eclipse Award as the nation's top trainer for the 1980 effort. "He worked for everything he had," said Delp's son, Cleve Delp. "He said if you want to be a horse trainer, you can't go in a classroom and learn how to be a horse trainer. You have to be with the horses and have a communication with them that you develop by being around them."