The Virginia Derby and Virginia Oaks at Colonial Downs and the "Million Preview Day" at Arlington Park highlighted a weekend that also included several other major events on the green course from coast to coast and north into Canada.
The biggest event of the weekend was Saturday's $1 million Virginia Derby, with 10 starters including one-time Triple Crown hopeful Circular Quay, who went to the post as the favorite for trainer Todd Pletcher.
However, it was a less-heralded Pletcher trainee, Red Giant, who rallied from a pace-stalking position to nip Strike a Deal in the final strides and win by a nose at odds of 37-1. Soldier's Dancer, another double-digit longshot, finished third, completing a $5,114 trifecta payoff. Summer Doldrums, winner of the Colonial Turf Cup in his last outing, finished fourth Saturday.
Red Giant, a Kentucky-bred son of Giant's Causeway, won a small stakes event at Monmouth Park in his last start but was taking a big jump in class for Pletcher. He now has four wins from eight starts and is 4-for-5 on the grass.
Ramon Dominguez, who rode Strike a Deal, said his colt "tried hard. He's just as good as any of these other horses. He's a super horse. We just got a little late today."
The Virginia Derby is a logical stepping stone to the $3 million John Deere Turf -- part of the Breeders' Cup World Championships this October at Monmouth Park. So are two of the three races run Saturday at Arlington Park -- preps for the Aug. 11 Arlington Million and Secretariat Stakes.
In the $200,000 Arlington Handicap, Cosmonaut led gate to wire, winning the event for the second straight year by 2 1/4 lengths. He followed last year's win by running fifth in the Arlington Million with a good effort. Revved Up got revved up in the stretch run to finish second Saturday and Go Between was third. The 1 1/4 miles over turf rated "good" took 2:01.32. Patrick Biancone trains Cosmonaut, a 5-year-old son of Lemon
"We ran in the Arlington Million (in 2006) and he was beaten (by) 2 lengths," Biancone said. "Hopefully we'll come back in three weeks and run better."
In the $250,000 American Derby, final local prep for the Secretariat, Lattice rallied down the middle of the course to win by 3/4 length over Going Ballistic. Eighteenthofmarch was third while the favorite, Pleasant Strike, finished fourth.
Lattice, a son of Arch, completed the 1 3/16 miles in stakes-record time of 1:54.85.
"I had a great trip," said winning rider Robby Albarado. "I had an outside spot. I was able to punch on him when I needed to. They stretched the race out so much turning for home ... . He's a nice colt. He's been getting better every time."
The weekend's other major turf contest was the $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar. There, After Market, the 3-5 favorite, stalked the early pace, went by pace-setters Out of Control and Rob Roy entering the stretch and won off by 1 1/2 lengths. Out of Control held second and Rob Roy third. The 9 furlongs took 1:47.36.
After Market, a 4-year-old son of Storm Cat out of Tranquility Lake, won the Inglewood Handicap and then upset Lava Man in the Charlie Whittingham Handicap before Saturday's win. He now has seven wins from 11 career starts.
"He just has a big kick and Alex (jockey Solis) can ask for it when he needs it," said winning trainer John Shirreffs. "He's just a big, lazy colt and when you ask him to run, he takes off. That's lazy in a good way. He always likes something to run at. It keeps him in the game."
North of the border at Woodbine, near Toronto, Sky Conquerer dominated Sunday's $700,000 (Canadian) Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf Stakes. Taking over from Jambalaya as the field ran down the stretch, Sky Conquerer drew off easily under a hand ride by Edgar Prado to win by 1 1/2 lengths, finishing the 1 1/2 miles in 2:27.45. Marsh Side made a late run to beat Jambalaya by a 1/2 length for second.
Sky Conquerer, a 5-year-old son of Sky Classic, also won the inaugural running of the Northern Dancer last year.
"I was a very lucky passenger all the way around," said Prado. "He broke running out of the gate and I saw a couple of horses go on early. So I just let him do his own thing ... . I sort of showed him the stick at the top of the stretch and he just took off. I would love to stay on him as long as I can."
Sky Conquerer now has won twice in four starts this year. The other win came in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs -- and despite stumbling badly at the start in that event.
Winning trainer Darwin Banach said Sky Conquerer might run next in the Arlington Million, the Sword Dancer at Saratoga or the Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine. "We're not going to put our cards on the table until it's time, though," he said.
In other weekend races with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Championships:
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
In Saturday's third major stakes race at Arlington Park, Bridge Game caught pace-setting Jennie R. in the stretch run to win the $150,000 Modesty Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths. Rich In Spirit finished third in the final local prep for the Aug. 11 Beverly D. Bridge Game, a 4-year-old daughter of Giant's Causeway, ran 1 3/16 miles over "good" turf in 1:54.62 under Jeremy Rose. The filly flipped three times in the paddock before the race. "She made it a little scary for us at times," said Mary Jo Trotter, assistant to winning trainer Graham Motion. "But as long as we keep her moving, she's happy."
Dreaming of Anna, last year's champion 2-year-old filly, got off to a rough start this year, switching between surfaces without much success. She seems to have regained her form on the grass, confirming that with a handy, pace-setting victory in Saturday's $200,000 Virginia Oaks at Colonial Downs. With E.T. Baird up for trainer Wayne Catalano, the Rahy filly set an unpressured pace into the stretch run, then held gamely to win by a 1/2 length over New Edition. Christmas Kid was third and the favorite, Bit of Whimsey, finished fourth. Dreaming of Anna ran the 9 furlongs on the outer turf course in 1:47.38. "To get her back on track like that -- there were a lot of question marks," Catalano said of Dreaming of Anna. "I thought I had her ready for this race and she was training super. So she had to go out and do it and she won a great race. E.T. rode a great race."
$1 million NetJets Mile (turf)
Wednesday's Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds was split into three $75,000 divisions and each division was won from off the pace. Ten a Penny, a Kentucky-bred son of Gulch, came four-wide into the lane to win the first installment by 1 1/2 lengths over Unusual Suspect, finishing the grassy 1 mile in 1:34.51 under Michael Baze. Knockout Artist, a Kentucky-bred Exploit gelding, rallied late to nip Medici Code by a head in the second heat, finishing in 1:35.45 with Baze winning another. And in the final division, Vauquelin came from last to win by 1 length over Yarlo, with Teeman third. Vauquelin, an Irish-bred colt by Xaar, got home in 1:36.78 under Victor Espinoza. The favorite, Mayor Bozarth, broke down in the lane and was vanned off.
$2 million Emirates Airline Distaff
Rags to Riches skipped Saturday's $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park after spiking a fever earlier in the week. Instead, trainer Todd Pletcher sent out the second string, Octave, winner of the Mother Goose at Belmont just three weeks earlier. And she proceeded to run a picture-perfect race, winning by a 1/2 length over Lear's Princess. Folk finished third. Octave, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Unbridled's Song, ran second until jockey John Velazquez asked her for more turning for home. At that point, the filly did what was needed. She finished the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:02.17. "It turned out to be a great race," Pletcher said. "This filly's been a gem of consistency ... . We'll keep our options open with her. I'm not sure where she'll go next."
$1 million Dirt Mile (new race)
Sun Boat, claimed in April for $50,000, came from last in a field of nine in Saturday's $300,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, split horses while swinging five-wide on the turn and got home first by 1 length over Awesome Gem. Salty Humor was up late to take show money. Sun Boat, a 5-year-old, British-bred gelding by Machiavellian, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.39. Trainer Mike Mitchell gave the leg-up to jockey Michael Baze. Sun Boat came into the race off a second-place finish, by a nose, in the Californian at Hollywood Park. He now has four wins from a dozen starts. The victory was worth $180,000 -- more than three times the claiming price.
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
Bear Holiday caught loose-on-the-lead favorite Dancing Allstar in the final strides to win Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Conin stakes at Woodbine by a nose. Mighty Vow was far back in third. Bear Holiday, a Kentucky-bred colt by Harlan's Holiday, came four-wide around the turn to launch his charge toward the front. He finished the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:11.05 with Jerry Baird up for trainer Reade Baker. "I thought I had it by a good head," said Baird. But I guess it was a lot closer than I thought."
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies
Treadmill ran and ran and ran, chasing I Dig Her in Friday's $125,000 California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Stakes at Del Mar, wore down that rival in the late going and went on to win by a 1/2 length. I Dig Her held on for second and Livia La Vida Loca dead-heated with the favorite, Billie Bob, for fourth and fifth. Treadmill, a daughter of E Dubai, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:05.79 with Corey Nakatani riding for trainer Craig Dollase.
In other weekend racing:
Kris' Sis dueled for the lead in Saturday's $85,000 Osunitas Handicap for fillies and mares, got the advantage and held on gamely to win by 1 length over Private Banking. Double Trouble was third home. Kris' Sis, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Forestry, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.75 for Michael Baze.
Jungle Fighter stalked the early pace in Saturday's $60,000 Kitten's Joy Stakes, moved to the leaders on the turn and held well through the stretch to win by a 1/2 length over Karelian. Logaritimo was third. Jungle Fighter, a 6-year-old, Ontario-bred gelding by Wild Rush, ran 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf course in 1:41.8 for Horacio Karamanos. Justin Nixon trains Jungle Fighter for Stronach Stables.
Calder Race Course
Cat Can Do could, indeed, do in Saturday's $90,000 Nancy's Glitter Handicap for fillies and mares. After saving ground, the 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Adcat got past the leaders along the rail and won by 3 lengths. Mia's Reflection was second after showing the way and Gadolinium finished third. Cat Can Do finished the 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:46.7 with Elvis Trujillo in the irons.
Exchanging Fire led all the way to a 2 3/4-lengths victory over Ethan's Car in Saturday's $60,000 Serena's Song Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Lady Marlboro finished third, just a nose farther back. Exchanging Fire, a Florida-bred Exchange Rate filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:40.22 With Edwin King Jr. aboard.
Send Me an Angel also made all the going in Saturday's $60,000 Incredible Revenge Stakes for fillies and mares, then held on to win by a nose over the onrushing favorite, Jazzy. Top Ten List finished third. Send Me an Angel, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Halo's Image, got the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.86 under Stewart Elliott.
Favorites finished first or second in all by one of the eight $100,000 stakes races in Saturday's state-bred festival.
In the Louisiana Breeders' Derby, odds-on choice St. Zarb rallied from a pace-pressing position to take a big lead at mid-stretch, then just held on to win by a neck over Hallway. St. Zarb, a Zarbyev gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.07. Desert Wheat, the favorite, came from last of nine to win the Shiskabob States for 3-year-olds and up by a nose over Lee's Say So. The 4-year-old Wheaton colt got the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:43.92.
Raspberry Wine, the favorite, took the lead on the second turn in the Walmac Farm Matchmaker Stakes for fillies and mares and went on to win by a neck over Tortuga Flats. Raspberry Wine, a 5-year-old daughter of Change Takes Time, ran 1 1/16 miles on the turf in 1:44.41. In the Cajun Stakes for 3-year-olds and up, Zarb's Dehar rallied four-wide to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Fass Feat, then survived a foul claim before the "official" sign was illuminated. Zarb's Dahar, a 7-year-old Zarbyev gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.46
Ahead of Her Time, the odds-on favorite, got the best of a stretch duel in the Louisiana Breeders' Oaks, winning by a 1/2 length over Tensas Yucatan. Ahead of Her Time, a daughter of Leestown, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.27. In the Victoria Stakes for sprinting distaffers, Ida Maria got through on the rail in the stretch run and went on to beat the favorite, Leesa Lee, by 3/4 length. Ida Maria, a daughter of Gold Case, finished in 1:10.54
Hisse rallied late to win the Laurel Lane Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by a 1/2 length over stablemate Iknowuthinkimsexy. The latter then was disqualified to fourth for erratic running in the stretch, promoting Rich and Famous to place money. Hisse, part of the favored Steve Asmussen entry, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.56. In the Stardust Stakes for 2-year-olds, Pantara Phantom led from gate to wire, beating Smith B Quick by 1 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Must Acquit, finished fourth.
Lone Star Park
Sing Baby Sing led most of the way in Saturday's $50,000 Bob Johnson Memorial, was headed at the top of the stretch but came back to win by a 1/2 length over the favorite, Waupaca. Almost Certain was third, another head back, as little more than 1 length covered the first seven finishers. Sing Baby Sing, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Unbridled's Song, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.45 with Justin Shepherd up.
He's Royal Dee hit the afterburners in the stretch drive of Saturday's $50,000 Oak Hall Stakes, drawing off easily to win by 5 1/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Watchem Smokey. Marion's Man finished third. He's Royal Dee, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Afternoon Deelines, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.90 with Brian Hernandez in the irons.
Off Duty was very much on duty in Saturday's $50,000 Don Bernhardt Stakes, taking the lead quickly and holding well to win by 1 length over Funky Pirate. Junior Collage finished third as the favorite. Off Duty, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Yes It's True, got the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.43 for jockey Larry Melancon.
Pay the Man fought for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Queen City Oaks for Ohio-breds. Once the Bernstein filly got the advantage, she made the most of it, jetting off to a 6-lengths victory. Megg's Choice was second, 1 length ahead of Cryptohio. Pay the Man, with Ricardo Feliciano aboard, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:52.4.
Diamond Fever advanced from a stalking position at mid-stretch in Saturday's $55,000 Stanton Stakes for 3-year-olds, got the lead and held on to win by a 1/2 length over Wheels Up At Noon. Dinner in Odem finished third. Diamond Fever, a Kentucky-bred colt by Seeking the Gold, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.96 Under Jose Caraballo.
Ghazi Up took the early lead in Saturday's $60,000 Iowa Stallion Auction Stakes for 3-year-olds, surrendered the advantage briefly a furlong from home but then battled back to win by a neck over Nitak. Timelysupreme finished third. Ghazi Up, a gelded son of Ghazi, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:41.67 for jockey Cesar Torres.
Tanika pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Northlands Oaks, came alongside leader Calendar Girl on the third turn and won the sprint to the wire by a neck. Zaylaway was well back in third. Tanika, a Kentucky-bred filly by Orientate. Ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.4 under Stephen Heiler.
Deputy Dance won the pace duel in Saturday's $45,000 Brian Barenscheer Juvenile Stakes, then shook clear to win by 3 lengths over Rumbling Cloud. Tovah finished third as the 5 1/2 furlongs went in 1:03.97 over a fast track. Terry Thompson rode Deputy Dance, a Florida-bred colt by Posse.
Hurricane Bernie had things all her own way in Saturday's $45,000 Canterbury Park Lassie for 2-year-old fillies, drawing off to a 3-lengths win over Mizzcan'tbewrong. Carolina Mist finished third. Hurricane Bernie, a Kentucky-bred filly by Sea of Secrets, got the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.58 under Paul Nolan.