As the "calm before the storm" settled on Breeders' Cup preparations, Saturday's $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland provided a typically classy and wide-open diversion for weekend racing.
With many of the 11 starters appearing evenly matched for the 9-furlong turf event, Shadwell Stable's homebred, Alwajeeha got to the post at odds of more than 11-1, showing but a pair of wins for her previous eight starts. But one of those victories was in her only previous start on the Keeneland grass -- the Grade III Appalachian during the spring meeting.
She reprised that effort Saturday, stalking the pace into the second turn, then running clear on the lead to the wire, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Backseat Rhythm. My Princess Jess was third. John Velazquez, returning from an injury suffered early in the meeting, rode Alwajeeha 9 furlongs in 1:48.09.
"We really looked at the pace scenario and didn't think there was a lot of speed in the race," said Neal McLaughlin, assistant and brother to winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "She seems to run better closer to the lead and she seems to like the turf course here."
Alwajeeha is by Dixieland Band out of the Seattle Slew mare Ridaa.
An allowance race for non-winners of two, run 13 days before the big event, is not usually a prep for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. This year, it was.
Casino Drive, the Japanese-based horse that missed a chance to win the Belmont Stakes when he suffered a stone bruise in the days before that event, is back in the United States and pointing toward the Classic. To get him ready after a long layoff, trainer Kazuo Fujisawa sent the Kentucky-bred son of Mineshaft out in Sunday's eighth race at Santa Anita.
With Victor Espinoza in the irons, Casino Drive stalked the pace, moved up on the turn and got to the lead in the stretch, winning by 3/4 length. He ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.14 and his connections were pleased with the effort.
"Victor did a great job on him," said Nobutaka Tada, racing manager for owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto. "The horse saved plenty of energy for the Breeders' Cup. It was really a perfect prep race. He was ready to run, we knew, but he's not at the top of his form, so we hope that after the race, he's going to improve ... We want to see him after the race at the stable safe and happy, not too tired … We are going to enter him in the Classic." He said he expects Espinoza will keep the mount.
Casino Drive is undefeated in three starts -- a maiden race in Japan, the Peter Pan as a prep for the Belmont and Sunday's effort.
The only other weekend race with obvious implications for the Oct. 24-25 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita was Thursday's $150,000 JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland. The final "Win and You're In" offered an automatic berth in the $1 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies Turf and the winner, Laragh, is a possibility for that race. After bumping at the start, the Kentucky-bred Tapit filly was quickly on the lead and not to be caught. Habaya was second with a late bid and Complicity finished third. The favorite, Abbott Hall, was fourth after a wide trip. Laragh, under Edgar Prado, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.54. Trainer John Terranova, who took over the filly from Mark Casse when she shipped from Canada, said the Breeders' Cup has "been in the back of our minds … We'll have to talk it over with the owners and everybody but we're just excited about this one right now."
Horse racing lost two of its superstars Monday as the winners of this year's Kentucky Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe both were retired.
Zarkava, the first filly to win the Arc since 1993, was retired for breeding, her owner, the Aga Khan, announced in Paris.
Big Brown, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, was retired after suffering a training injury Monday morning at Belmont Park in New York.
Big Brown worked 6 furlongs on the grass at Belmont and both trainer Rick Dutrow and owner Michael Iavarone said they were happy with the effort -- until it was discovered the colt had injured his right front hoof.
Iavarone said the injury was impossible to treat before the Breeders' Cup Classic and the decision to retire Big Brown was inevitable. He will stand at Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Ky.
Zarkava, undefeated in seven career starts, capped her career with a victory in the Arc earlier this month. The Aga Khan said he consulted with trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre before making the decision, which was based in part on his pre-eminent position in Thoroughbred breeding and Zarkava's value as a broodmare in that effort.
In other weekend racing:
Strait of Mewsina trailed the field through the first half of Saturday's $250,000 Hawthorne Derby, came five-wide around the leaders on the turn and into the stretch and was up in time to score by a neck. A head, nose and head separated the next three -- Cherokee Triangle, Snoose Goose and the odds-on favorite, Adriano. Strait of Mewsina, an Irish-bred colt by Spartacus, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.98 under E.T. Baird, benefiting from unexpectedly fast early fractions. "I was feeling pretty good after the fast fractions," Baird said. "When you ride a lot of races, sometimes it happens. When you look at a race like this, in a race that doesn't figure to have a lot of pace, sometimes the riders might be told keep their runners forwardly placed. It just set up nicely for us." Trainer Larry Rivelli said Strait of Mewsina probably will not race again this year.
Kiss the Kid stalked the pace in Friday night's $150,000 Cliffhanger Stakes, got a short lead at the top of the stretch and held off Wheels Up At Noon to win by a neck. Nergal was another neck back in third while the favorite, Icy Atlantic, sailed home fifth. Kiss the Kid, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Lemon Drop Kid out of the Danzig mare Black Tie Kiss, got the 1 1/16 miles on "good" turf in 1:43.6 under Rajiv Maragh. "We are just so thrilled," said owner-trainer Amy Tarrant, who picked up her first graded stakes win. "I've had this horse since he was a baby and my whole team and I have worked so hard for this moment."
Seaspeak and Cowboy Cat bumped their way down the stretch in a duel to the wire in Sunday's $150,000 Bryan Station Stakes for 3-year-olds. Seaspeak got there first, a head in front, but the stewards revered that order of finish as a result of the contact. Deal Making was third. Cowboy Cat, the adjudged winner, is a Kentucky-bred colt by Giant's Causeway out of the Seeking the Gold mare Texas Tammy. John Velazquez rode for trainer Todd Pletcher. The winner of the Tropical Park Derby early this year, Cowboy Cal had not raced since finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby. Velazquez said Cowboy Cal "got to the lead and started waiting and when the other horse came to him, he started fighting right back. He put his head in front of the other horse, and the other horse started leaning on him and kind of took him off balance down the lane."
Sly Storm stalked a hot pace battle in Friday's $100,000 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes for fillies and mares, got the lead at the furlong marker and went on to win by a neck over the dead-heated duo of Taletobetold and Adhsilver. Creative Design completed the superfecta. Sly Storm, a 3-year-old Storm Cat filly, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.6. "She had a very good break, and it's all about the trip," said winning rider Jamie Theriot. "We had a perfect trip, and when I called on her she was there for me."
Hatta Fort raced near the back of the pack early in Saturday's $200,000 Perryville Stakes for 3-year-olds, got around traffic along the inside at mid-stretch and was just up in time to win by a neck over Amazing Results. The favorite, I'm So Lucky, was caught in traffic in the stretch and could do no better than third when he got room. Hatta Fort, a British-bred colt by Cape Cross out of the Barathea mare Oshiponga, ran the "about" 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:25.97 under Julien Leparoux. "I knew we had to be lucky to win," Leparoux said. "I could have tried to go outside … I would have had to wait so I took a shot on the inside."
Palladio advanced to the leaders on the turn in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Durham Cup, got clear and held well to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Marchfield. Artie Hot was third. Palladio, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred son of Lycius, got the 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:49.29. Richard Dos Ramos rode for trainer Roger Attfield. It was the seventh win in 27 career starts for Palladio. In two earlier races this year, he was third in the Seagram Cup and seventh in the Woodbine Mile. Trainer Roger Attfield said Palladio's season was limited by injury. "He hurt himself when he had his time off in Ocala," the trainer said. "We missed all those early races. It was just sickening that we couldn't win with him."
Sugar Bay, the odds-on favorite, stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Carotene Stakes for Ontario-bred 3-year-old fillies, then got the lead as they turned for home and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths. It was her fifth straight win. Roses 'n' Wine finished third. Sugar Bay, by Syncline out of the Rahy mare Otra Vez, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.75 with Jono Jones up. "She's done everything we've asked her to do this fall, so what more could we ask her to do," said winning trainer Mac Benson. "She's definitely one of my favorites and I don't think we've seen the best of her yet."
Sand Cove led all the way to a 3 1/4-lengths victory in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Bunty Lawless Stakes. Gone Trajectory was second and Knight's Cause was third. Sand Cove, a 3-year-old, Ontario-bred colt by Bold Executive, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.94 with Richard Dos Ramos up for Attfield. It was the third straight win for Sand Cove. "Turning for home, I knew it would take a pretty good horse to beat him," said Dos Ramos. "Since those last three races, he is a different horse. We were a little worried about no pace in the race, but Roger said, 'Let him run his own race and we'll see what happens.'"
Against the Sky outfinished odds-on favorite Lady Raj to win Saturday's $156,000 Ballerina Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length. Blue Sky Holiday was third. Against the Sky, a 6-year-old, British Columbia-bred mare by Regal Remark, was next-last of eight before making her move around the turn under jockey Francisco Fuentes. She finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.04.
Sunshine for Life was quickly out front in Saturday's $100,000 Athenia Handicap for fillies and mares, opened a comfortable lead at a moderate pace and survived by 1/2 length over Criticism. Criminologist was third. Sunshine for Life, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Giant's Causeway, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.55. Channing Hill had the mount for trainer Richard Schosberg. "I wasn't sure I was going to make the lead," Hill said. "She settled really nicely the first three jumps. I gave her a little chirp. No one really wanted to go with me, so I thought, 'I'll show them the way to the finish line.'"
Diamondrella broke last of six in Sunday's $100,000 Xtra Heat Handicap for fillies and mares, came five-wide into the stretch when asked for run and was just up in time to win by a nose over Smart and Fancy. Sheets was third. Diamondrella, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Rock of Gibraltar, ran the 6 furlongs on the firm inner turf in 1:08.92 with Rajiv Maragh in the irons. She has won four straight but they have all been close calls. "It's always a neck or a nose, but at least she gets there," said winning trainer Angel Penna Jr. "As long as she is in front at the photo. We may give her a rest and bring her back next year. It's difficult to find the right spot on the East Coast, especially at this time of year."
J Z Warrior stalked the pace in Sunday's $75,000 House Party Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, came after pace-setting Peisinoe early in the stretch run and edged clear late to win by 1 3/4 lengths over that one. Tar Hell Mom was a head farther back in third. J Z Warrior, a Kentucky-bred filly by Harlan's Holiday, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.13 with Joe Bravo riding.
Tasha's Miracle stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Harold C. Ramser Sr. Handicap for 3-year-old fillies, caught up with pace-setter Dawn Before Dawn at midstretch and then held on to win by a nose over the late-closing Gorgeous Goose. Dawn Before Dawn held third, 1 length farther back. Tasha's Miracle, a Florida-bred Harlans' Holiday filly, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.83. Mike Smith had the mount for trainer John Sadler. Sadler said the filly's success on the green course means "we're probably going to stay on the grass for a while. The race went like it looked like it would on paper. The wild card was that horse (Gorgeous Goose) ran so good on the inside."
Global Hunter came out for room in the stretch run of Sunday's $75,000 Lure Stakes and went on to win by 1 length over Vauquelin. Mr Napper Tandy was third. Global Hunter, a 5-year-old, Argentine-bred horse by Jade Hunter, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.82 with Jose Valdivia Jr. up.
Eddie C. took charge in the stretch run in Saturday night's $100,000 Wild and Wonderful West Virginia Stakes and went on to win by 3 lengths over Anthony J. Taint So finished third. Eddie C., a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Flying Chevron gelding, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:24.6.
Aspiring Nick came from last of seven to win Saturday's $75,000 Dover Stakes for 2-year-olds by a nose over Bunker Hill. Ask Joe led briefly and finished third. Aspiring Nick, a Florida-bred colt by Graeme Hall, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47 with Mario Pino up for trainer Timothy Kelly.
Labar saved ground well back in Saturday's $75,000 Mary D. Keim Illinois Owners Handicap, came five-wide into the stretch and ran down the rest of the field to win by 3/4 length at odds of better than 30-1. Royal Leah was second and Love Handles took third. Junior Alvarado steered Labar, a 6-year-old Bianconi mare, over 1 mile of firm turf in 1:36.6. Rickey Lindsay trains the mare for owner George Bates.
Zada Belle battled for the lead through much of Saturday night's $65,000 Seton Hall University Stakes for fillies and mares, then drew clear in the lane and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Shannies Song was second after contesting the lead and Princess Janie finished third. Zada Belle, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Indian Charlie filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.12 under Stewart Elliott. Saeed bin Suroor trains the filly for Godolphin Racing.