With Del Mar already racing and Saratoga coming on line this week, the racing world has shifted into serious preparations for the Breeders' Cup World Championships three months from now at Santa Anita.
A handful of weekend races provide automatic entry into those defining events and others provided a glimpse of some likely contenders.
The weekend action with potential Breeders' Cup implications:
Go Ponti came four-wide to challenge for the lead in Saturday's $750,000 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, got the advantage at the top of the stretch and then was all out to hang on at the wire, winning by a nose over Court Vision. Sailor's Cap, the favorite, made a late run but wound up third, 2 1/4 lengths farther back. Go Ponti, a Kentucky-bred colt by Tale of the Cat out of the Alydar mare Chipeta Springs, ran the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:02.22. Garrett Gomez handled the reins for trainer Christophe Clement. Gomez said Kent Desormeaux, aboard Court Vision, "was actually trying to push his way out in the middle to make some room and I had to use my horse to hold him down inside there. I thought I hung on. You know, it was a very rough run race from about the three-eighths. But, he took it and it was good seasoning for him and hopefully he will keep moving forward." Forward could include a run in next month's Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park.
Montmartre was an appropriately named winner of the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris on Bastille Day at Longchamp. With Christophe Soumillon handling the reins, the 3-year-old son of Montjeu began his rally with 2 furlongs to run and won by 4 lengths. Prospect Wells was second with a late run from the back and Magadan finished third. Owned by the Aga Khan and trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre, Montmartre now is a candidate for the Oct. 5 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Monzante came from last to post a mild upset in Sunday's $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar in California, rallying past Whatsthescript and Storm Military to win by 1/2 length. Whatsthescript was second by 3/4 length over Storm Military, who led the pack into the stretch. Lava Man, once unbeatable in his home state, faded to finish last of six. Monzante, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Maria's Mon, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.53. Rafael Bejarano rode for trainer Mike Mitchell. "We're going to stay on the turf and we'll probably run here or at Oak Tree," Mitchell said of plans for Monzante. "We're going to aim for the Breeders' Cup Mile. That's his best distance." The win was Monzante's third in seven outings since coming to California from England last fall. Overall, he has four wins from 13 starts.
Filly & Mare Turf
I Lost My Choo rallied dramatically from the back of a nine-filly field to win Saturday's $200,000 Virginia Oaks at Colonial Downs, drawing clear at the end to score by 1 1/2 lengths over Namaste's Wish. Julia Tuttle, who led by as much as 15 lengths down the backstretch, held on for show money. I Lost My Choo, a New York-bred daughter of Western Expression, ran the 9 furlongs on the firm outer turf course in 1:50.12 with Edgar Prado up for trainer Philip Serpe. It was her fifth win in eight starts but her first in a graded stakes. "Speed can be very dangerous," Serpe said, "and a lot of times they just forget to stop and back up. That seemed like it might be the case at the three-eighths pole. But I could see in the stretch that our filly had cut loose and was gaining and the other filly looked like she might be tiring just a little bit."
Music Note hit the right note in Saturday's $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park, shaking loose from four rivals at the top of the stretch and winning by 11 lengths over stablemate Little Belle. The Godolphin Racing pair, trained by Saeed bin Suroor, ran as an entry. Flaming Slew finished third and Acoma was fourth. Never Retreat retreated from the early lead to complete the order of finish. Music Note, a Kentucky-bred filly by A.P. Indy out of the Sadler's Wells mare Musicale, finished the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:01.66 under Javier Castellano. It was her fourth straight win after a career-opening loss. The win string includes an easy victory in the Grade I Mother Goose on June 28 at Belmont, after which Suroor planned to give the filly a rest until the Alabama at Saratoga on Aug. 16. But, said assistant trainer Rick Mettee, "We found a lot more positives about running her (in the CCA Oaks) than in keeping her in the barn." Suroor added: "She has really improved from her last race. She showed a different class than the rest of them. I told the jockey to keep her nice and relaxed. She looked like she was stronger than her last race." He added Little Belle, also a Grade I winner who was making her first start since finishing second to Proud Spell in the Kentucky Oaks, "needed the race." He said both now will advance to the Alabama.
Bear Now, eighth in last year's Distaff at Monmouth Park, had all she needed in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Matron at Woodbine, leading all the way and winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Serenading. Arden Belle was third. Bear Now, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Tiznow, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.85 with Jerry Baird up for trainer Reade Baker. "There was no real speed in the race other than her," Baker said. "They couldn't go and waste their horse chasing her and then she's tough if you leave her alone … She's at the top of her game right now."
Evening Attire drew off smartly in the stretch run of Saturday's $250,000 Greenwood Cup Breeders' Cup Handicap at Philadelphia Park, winning by 8 1/4 lengths and earning an automatic berth in the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Marathon -- a new race on the World Championship Card. Should the 10-year-old son of the immortal Black Tie Affair run in that race, he would be the oldest steed ever to compete in the championships. John's Call, at age 9, finished third in the 2000 Turf. Evening Attire, with Jose Espinoza up for trainer Patrick Kelly, ran the 1 1/2 miles on a fast track in 2:29.90.
Well Armed led all the way to win Saturday's $300,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, scoring by 1 1/4 lengths over Surf Cat with Mostacolli Mort third. Well Armed, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Tiznow, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:41.57, shaving more than 4 seconds off the record for the Del Mar artificial surface. Aaron Gryder was in the irons for trainer Eoin Harty in Well Armed's first start since finishing third in the Dubai World Cup in March. The win guaranteed Well Armed a spot in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile on Oct. 24 through the "Win and You're In" program and moved the gelding's career earnings past the $1 million mark. Said Gryder: "I was very confident with him today. I rode him that way. He's a free-flowing horse with a big stride and he was running easy with his ears pricked. It wasn't a matter of giving him a breather; he had a breather all the way. A horse like this makes my job easy."
Fatal Bullet came from a pace-stalking position to win Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Bold Venture Stakes at Woodbine by 3 lengths over Disfunction. Last Gran Standing finished third. Fatal Bullet, a 3-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Red Bullet, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:14.54 under Eurico Da Silva. The time was a record for the distance on the artificial surface. Winning trainer Reade Baker said the circumstances were more favorable than in Fatal Bullet's last effort -- an eighth-place finish in the Woody Stephens at Belmont on June 7. "At Belmont it was 97 degrees. It was the dirt. And that J Be K horse (winner), he's a superstar," Baker said. "He was coming into this race in great, great shape. He's a calm, cool horse." Fatal Bullet now has won five of his eight starts.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Sugar Swirl continued to march through her division successfully with a 1-length victory in Friday's $100,000 (Canadian) Scotzanna Stakes at Woodbine. After stalking the pace, the 5-year-old, Ontario-bred Told Touch mare went up to duel for the lead with Lucas Street before taking the advantage in the final sixteenth. Executive Flight finished third. Sugar Swirl, who swept Gulfstream Park's filly and mare sprints earlier this year, now is being pointed for the Ballerina at Saratoga on Aug. 24 and trainer Brian Lynch said the Breeders' Cup is on the agenda if she continues to perform at this level. "She's been a lot of fun," he said. "She is the best mare I've ever trained."
Southern Exchange drew off in the lane to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Colin Stakes at Woodbine, scoring by 3 1/4 lengths over Dryden. Bear's Rocket rocketed to the lead and faded to finish third. Southern Exchange, a Florida-bred colt by Exchange Rate, finished 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.74 with Jono Jones up.
Proud Jefe drew off smartly in the stretch to win Sunday's $50,000 Brian Barenscheer Juvenile at Canterbury Park in Minnesota by 5 3/4 lengths over Jumpifyoudare. Minnetonka Mist finished third. Proud Jefe, a Kentucky-bred colt by Proud Citizen, got the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.32. Paul Nolan rode for trainer Tom Amoss.
Streamin Heat jumped right to the lead in Friday's $125,000 CTBA Stakes for Cal-breds at Del Mar, set a brisk pace and held on at the end to win by 1/2 length over Saucey Evening. Laird's Lassie got home third. Streamin Heat, a daughter of Bring the Heat out of the Lit de Justice mare Newport Nikki, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:03.26. Julio Garcia had the mount for trainer Wesley Ward. Assistant trainer Blake Heap said, "She ran a great race. I was a little worried about the track. Speed wasn't always getting it done. But she's very fast and it worked. She seemed to handle it in the morning. Julio did a good job. It was a perfect ride. This race was our main objective, so we'll wait and see what's next."
In other weekend racing:
Lethal Heat started at the back of the pack in Sunday's $100,000 Fleet Treat Stakes for California-bred 3-year-old fillies, had to wait for running room at the top of the stretch, then came on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over North Rodeo. Quisisana finished third. Lethal Heat, a daughter of Unusual Heat, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.46 under Rafael Bejarano.
On Wednesday's opening day card, Kilderry, with Rafael Bejarano in the irons, and Dixie Chatter, guided by Richard Migliore, won the divisions of the Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds. Kilderry, a son of E. Dubai, got home a diminishing nose in front of Moral Compass, finishing the 1 mile in 1:35.45 with Jungle Wave third. Dixie Chatter also had to hang on in the final sixteenth to win by 1/2 length over Mr. Keppel. Liberian Freighter and Tangled Tango dead-heated for third. Dixie Chatter, by Dixie Union, ran the 1 mile in 1:35.81.
Zardana got through between horses in the stretch run of Saturday's money-restricted $110,000 Osunitas Handicap for fillies and mares and won by 1/2 length over Fleet Caroline. Bahama Mama led early and held on for third. Zardana, a 4-year-old, Brazilian-bred filly by Crimson Tide, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.28 with Aaron Gryder up for Ron McAnally.
Piper in the Glen rallied in the final strides to catch odds-on favorite Stuck and win Wednesday's $125,000 (Canadian) Deputy Minister Stakes at Woodbine. Delaforce finished third. After racing at the back of the four-horse field early, the son of Trajectory finished the 7 furlongs in 1:24.3 under Chad Beckon. Piper In The Glen picked up his second victory in his fifth start.
Mulmur took charge with a wide move on the stretch turn in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Ontario Jockey Club Stakes and drew clear to win by 2 lengths at odds of better than 30-1. Le Cinquieme Essai was second, Just Rushing third and the favorite, Ice Bear, finished seventh, never in the mix. Mulmur, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred gelding by Smart Strike, finished the 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:19.81 under Eurico Da Silva.
J'espere ran near the rear of the field early in Saturday's $100,000 Queen City Oaks for Ohio-breds, came wide around the turn and drew off to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Pyrite Marci. Part Girlie Girl finished third. J'espere, a daughter of Mercer Mill, got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:58.2 under Julio Felix. Brad Sparks trains the filly.
Doyouwanttodance wanted to run in Saturday's $75,000 Hallowed Dreams Stakes for fillies and mares, jumping right to the lead, opening up a comfortable lead and then holding off the favorite, Precious Kiss, by 1/2 length under the wire. South Atlantic was well back in third. Doyouwanttodance, a 4-year-old, West Virginia-bred filly by Disco Rico, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.33. The race is named for the filly who won 16 consecutive races on the Louisiana circuit.
Euphony came three-wide to challenge the leaders on the stretch bend in Saturday's $50,000 Marie P. DeBartolo Oaks, then won a stretch battle with Doc's Delight to prevail by 3/4 length. Love to Tell finished third. Euphony, a Kentucky-bred filly by Forest Wildcat, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.5.
Zigaree came from last of eight to win Saturday's $50,000 Minstrel Stakes for 2-year-olds, beating the favorite, Bertsgoldenmissile, by 1 1/4 lengths. Takin' the Bullet finished third. Zigaree, a Kentucky-bred colt by Congaree, ran the "about" 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.03 seconds with Randall Toups in the irons.
Smokin Again rallied from just off the pace to win Saturday's $50,000 Princess Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Run Don't Stroll. Scamp and a Half finished third. Smokin Again, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Smoke Glacken, finished the "about" 5 furlongs on firm grass in 56.69 seconds under Kirk LeBlanc.
Abidon dueled down the stretch with heavy odds-on favorite Hesablumin in Saturday's $65,000 Iowa Stallion Stakes for 3-year-olds, winning by a nose at the wire. C J Ramrod was 9 lengths up the track in third. Abidon, a gelded son of Devil His Due, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.28 under Joe Campbell.
Sonoma Cat rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win Saturday's $60,000 Oak Hall Stakes by 3/4 length over Missed the Prom. State Power finished third. Sonoma Cat, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Storm Cat gelding, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.56 under Randall Toups.
Midwatch went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $60,000 Kitten's Joy Stakes, set a measured pace and held on at the wire to win by a nose over Hunting Print. Mint Slewlep finished third. Midwatch, a 9-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Sea Hero, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.1. Edgar Prado had the mount for trainer Rodney Jenkins.
A Reel Buster led from the early going in Sunday's $60,000 Punch Line Stakes for Virginia-breds and rolled home a 3 1/4-lengths winner at odds of nearly 20-1. The favorite, Frisky Thunder, was second and Power Jeans finished third. A Reel Buster, a 5-year-old Housebuster gelding, ran the 5 furlongs on the inner turf in 57.14 seconds under Craig Gibbs.
Elusive Horizon led all the way to an 11-1 upset victory in Sunday's $60,000 Washington's Lottery Handicap for 3-year-old fillies. Under Juan Guiterrez, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Elusive Quality set a reasonable pace, was never threatened and got home 6 1/4 lengths ahead of runner-up Sweetheart Deal. The odds-on favorite, Enumclaw Girl, stalked the pace and had no closing bid, finishing third. Elusive Horizon ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42 1/5.
Beau Dare led from gate to wire in Saturday's $60,000 Klassy Briefcase Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 1/2 length over Sophie's Salad. Don't Stop Dreamin was third. Beau Dare, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Military, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:10.85 under Stewart Elliott.
Sly Storm took the lead early in Sunday's $70,000 Mongo Queen Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and drew off in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Shining Image with Throbbin' Heart third. Sly Storm, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Storm Cat, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.2 with Jose Lezcano in the irons.
Ride Em Cowgirl got to the lead on the turn in Saturday's $50,000 Nicole's Dream Stakes for fillies and mares and drew clear easily, winning by 4 lengths over Secret Kin. Bluesbdancing finished third. Ride Em Cowgirl, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Mazel Trick filly, finished the 5 furlongs on the all-weather track in 56.6 seconds for jockey Eusebio Razo Jr. Tom Amoss trains.
Calder Race Course
Saint Knows caught Mysterious Jule in the final strides to win Saturday's $55,000 Ms Brookski Stakes for fillies and mares by 1/2 length. Silversider finished third. Saint Knows, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred mare by Sweetsouthernsaint, finished the 7 1/2 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:29.02. Carlos Olivero had the mount for trainer Joseph Calascibetta.
Gaston A opened up a big lead midway through Sunday's $55,000 Gene's Big Sky Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then hung on at the end to win by a nose over the odds-on favorite, Asgoodasshelooks. Freedom Afleet finished third. Gaston A, a Florida-bred daughter of Concorde's Tune, got the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.71 seconds under Wesley Henry Sr.
Lone Star Park
Ernesto rallied from well back to upset Saturday's $50,000 Bob Johnson Memorial Stakes, beating favorite Red Rock Creek by 1 1/4 lengths. Objective finished third. Justin Shepherd rode Ernesto as the 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Royal Academy finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.49.
Bold Start, the odds-on favorite in a field of only five in Saturday's $50,000 Don Bernhardt Stakes, stalked the lead, went to the front leaving the turn and drew clear in the stretch to win by 3 lengths. Officer Rocket also ran well late to take second and True Course finished third. Bold Start got the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.92. Larry Melancon rode the 4-year-old Jump Start colt for trainer Kenny McPeek.
Blue Sailor was just up in the final jumps to win Saturday's $55,000 Mo Bay Stakes by a nose over True to Tradition with Secretintelligence third, another neck back. Blue Sailor, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Northern Afleet, ran the "about" 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.76 seconds. Rosie Napravnik rode for trainer Howard Wolfendale.
Tiganello engaged pace-setting favorite Prospective Kiss turning for home in Sunday's $50,000 John Bullit Stakes, dueled down the lane and prevailed by a nose. Cape San Blas finished third. Tiganello, a 7-year-old, German-bred gelding by Acalenango, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.78 under Scott Stevens.
Broken Hearted stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Northlands Oaks, got a daylight lead at the top of the stretch and held on gamely to win by 1/2 length over Briars Flash. Spicy Candy ran third all the way home. Broken Hearted, a Florida-bred filly by B L's Appeal, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.4.
Halo Flamingo led most of the way in Sunday's $50,000 Omaha Stakes, was headed in the far turn but came back to win by 1/2 length over The Nutz. The favorite, Crimson King Cat, finished third. Halo Flamingo, a 7-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Halos and Horns, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.
String of Diamonds led unchallenged most of the way to win Sunday's $27,500 Skunktail Stakes for 3-year-old, Nebraska-bred colts and geldings by 3 1/2 lengths. Blumin Won was second and the favorite, Tellin On You, finished third. String of Diamonds is a Blumin Affair gelding.