The Fourth of July weekend, as usual, featured a slew of races that will go a long way toward shaping this fall's Breeders' Cup World Championship events and the resulting divisional championships.
From New York and New Jersey to California, on turf, dirt and synthetics and at all distances, there were some surprises and some tried-and-true favorites.
The races with potential implications for the $25.5 million Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita:
$5 million Classic
Dry Martini was next-to-last turning for home in Saturday's $400,000 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park. But, with patient handling and good placement by jockey Edgar Prado, the 6-year-old Slew Gin Fizz gelding made his way through horses, accelerated through the final sixteenth and won by 2 lengths over the favorite, globe-trotting Asiatic Boy. Rising Moon was a late-running third, another neck in arrears. Dry Martini finished the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:00.8. "He's a lovely, lovely horse. He always runs his race," said winning trainer Barclay Tagg. "With all the speed in there, I thought it would work out. There was a very fast half mile and it worked out well for us. I guess we'll have to look now at the Whitney." That's Aug. 8 at Saratoga, where he likely will meet Asiatic Boy again. "He ran well," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said of the 12th-place finisher in the Dubai World Cup. "We'll have more time going into the Whitney -- five weeks. And the winner ran well."
Marchfield waited, then waited some more before making his move in Wednesday's $200,000 (Canadian) Dominion Day Handicap at Woodbine. But when jockey Patrick Husbands gave the go-ahead to the 5-year-old son of A.P. Indy, that's just what he did. Dropping to the rail, he went by pace-setting Approval Rating and drew off in the final sixteenth to win by 1 3/4 lengths over that rival with the odds-on favorite, Vacation, a belated third. Marchfield, trained by Mark Casse, covered the 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather surface in 2:03.63. "If you look at his races in California," Casse said, "he got beat four or five lengths by a horse that won (the Dubai World Cup). He's a nice horse and a mile and a quarter might be his distance. We may try again south of the border."
$3 million Turf
Presious Passion ran his own race through most of Saturday's $750,000 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park. Leading by as much as 20 lengths down most of the backstretch, the 6-year-old Royal Anthem gelding turned for home full of run and was still 2 lengths clear of his closest challenger, Lauro, under the wire. Brass Hat finished third. Presious Passion also shaved a full 2 seconds off the course record, finishing the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:10.97 with Elvis Trujillo doling out the speed. The race was a "win and you're in" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup. After Presious Passion won the same event last year, he tailed off and trainer Mary Hartmann opted not to try the big race. "I think it was a super performance," Hartmann said of Saturday's race. "Elvis rides him great. He's really grown up and matured … This year I'm hoping to go to the Breeders' Cup with him. If all goes well and he stays healthy, it's very likely."
Wiener Walzer won Sunday's Deutches Derby at Hamburg, beating Sordino by 1 1/4 lengths and finishing the 2,400 meters in 2:39.56 on "good" turf. Wiener Walzer has won all three of his starts as a 3-year-old. Despite his name and German breeding, he is by Dynaformer.
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
Gozzip Girl shipped in from the East Coast to win Sunday's $700,000 American Oaks Invitational at Hollywood Park by 3 1/4 lengths. Well Monied rallied from near the back of the 14-filly field to finish second and Lexlenos was third at log odds. Gozzip Girl, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Dynaformer, ran the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:00.22 under Kent Desormeaux. Thomas Albertrani trains her for owner Myron Miller. She now is 5-for-8, with four consecutive turf wins but Albertrani said she is not limited to the green course. "We're going to talk about it, but the Alabama might be in our sights at Saratoga," he said. "She is very versatile. She can win on the lead and come from behind. She looks like she is just getting stronger and improving all the time."
$2 million Turf Mile
Strawberry Tart wore down Jehan in deep stretch to capture Friday night's $100,000 Flawlessly Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length. Dash Dot Dash finished third. Strawberry Tart, a California-bred daughter of Atticus, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.28 under Martin Garcia. It was her fourth win in six starts and her first try around two turns. "I rode her with a lot of confidence," Garcia said. "She didn't show her usual speed last time, so I took her back and it worked out. So today I did the same thing. She broke real good and I took her back to make one run. When I asked her to go, she kicked home like a superstar."
Mr. Sidney sat behind the early pace in Saturday's $150,000 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs, came four-wide into the stretch and validated his favorite's status, winning off by 1 1/2 lengths. Inca King led through the first half of the long stretch and held on for second with Seaspeak third. Mr. Sidney, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Storm Cat, finished the 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:37.28. Kent Desormeaux rode for trainer Bill Mott. Mr. Sidney now has five wins from 10 starts. "The weather didn't bother us in the least," said Mott assistant Ken McCarthy. "It set up good with the speed in there. I thought actually they'd go even a little quicker than what they did, but you know it set up nicely for us to come. He was right on today."
Monterey Jazz opened up a big lead in Saturday's $150,000 American Handicap for fillies and mares at Hollywood Park, then coasted home first, 3 1/4 lengths better than Artiste Royale. The favorite, Whatsthescript, finished third. Monterey Jazz, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Thunderello, got the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.11 with Tyler Baze riding. He now has five wins in 9 starts on the grass. "He had a couple soft turf courses over at Santa Anita, which he does not like," said winning trainer Craig Dollase. "Now we had fast and firm. He's the man now. He's back … We'll keep our options open for Del Mar or possibly the Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs."
Closeout rallied from last of five to win Sunday's $100,000 Locust Grove Handicap for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs by 3 lengths over Gloria Goodbody. Stealin' Kisses finished third. Closeout, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Repriced filly, ran the 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:38.38 with Robby Albarado in the irons. "It was a Cadillac ride so I didn't have to do much on her," Albarado said. "I'm not going to take credit for this one. Give all the credit to the barn and everyone that did all the hard work. I was just a passenger."
$2 million Sentient Sprint
Zensational jumped out to an early lead in Sunday's $300,000 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park and held on to win by 1 length over Rush With Thunder. Noble Court finished third, coming from last of 10. Zensational, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Unbridled's Song colt, finished 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.34. Victor Espinoza was aboard for trainer Bob Baffert. "I like when they run like they train," Baffert said. "It's very rare. He just has that brilliant speed. He's getting better and he's relaxing a little bit."
Munnings stalked the pace in Sunday's $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap at Belmont Park, got through along the rail at the quarter pole and won by 2 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Riley Tucker finished second and Driven by Success was third. Munnings, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.08 with John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher. "I was a bit uneasy running against older horses this early in the year," Pletcher said. "But I just felt like it was the right race for him. The one thing I felt was that sometimes when you win races like this, it carries a lot of weight toward the end of the year for championship honors." Pletcher said the next start for Munnings likely will be the NetJets King's Bishop at Saratoga Aug. 29. "We'll most likely stick to that plan, but I don't know that he needs seven weeks or whatever it is. He's doing so good right now, I wish the King's Bishop was the first week" of the Saratoga meeting, Pletcher said.
Custom for Carlos led a trio of rivals a merry chase in Sunday's $200,000 Jersey Shore Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park, drawing off at the end to win by 6 1/4 lengths. Snapshot, Happy Bull and Wildcat Brief completed the order of finish. Custom for Carlos, a Kentucky-bred More Than Ready colt, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.19. Eddie Castro rode for trainer Eddie Kenneally. Custom for Carlos now has three wins from six starts. "There's a couple of races at Saratoga for him, so that's where we'll go next," Kenneally said. "The Breeders' Cup would be a nice goal. Three-year-olds have won it before."
$1 million Sentient Filly & Mare Sprint
Cat Moves broke badly in Saturday's $300,000 Prioress Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, recovered along the backstretch to reach contention and then edged clear in deep stretch to win by 3/4 length over her entrymate, Light Green. Reforestation was third at long odds. Cat Moves, a Virginia-bred daughter of Tale of the Cat, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.65 with Ramon Dominguez up, improving her career record to three wins from three starts. The Prioress was her first stakes try. "I came over here today thinking she was live," said winning trainer Anthony Dutrow. "I was so confident this filly was going to run a great race. I was okay all during the race. I didn't know if we were going to win it but I knew it was going to be an exciting stretch." The top two finishers are owned by Edward P. Evans. Todd Pletcher trains Light Green.
Julien Leparoux decided to take Informed Decision right to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Chicago Handicap at Arlington Park and that decision was well-informed. Coasting along, Informed Decision opened up in the stretch to win by 4 3/4 lengths over Unforgotten. Authenticat finished third. The winner, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Monarchos filly, got the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.49. Jonathan Sheppard trains. "Seven furlongs is a good distance for her and she likes the synthetic tracks," Sheppard said. "I've never run a horse at such a short price before (odds of 1-5), so I was a bit nervous to be honest." The odds should not have been such a surprise since Sheppard's filly came into the race on a four-race winning streak.
$2 million Juvenile
Backtalk stumbled at the start of Friday's $100,000 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs, recovered to race behind the leaders, then got to the fore in the stretch and won by 1 length over Flatter Than Me. Brassy Boy finished third in the field of eight. Backtalk, a Florida-bred Smarty Jones colt, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.08 with Miguel Mena up for trainer Tom Amoss. Backtalk now has two wins from two starts and becomes the first U.S. graded stakes winner for Smarty Jones, the 2004 Kentucky Derby winner. "It was a rough trip," Amoss said. "He stumbled out of the gate and he was in tight quarters and had to bull his way through down the lane … Look, this was a great learning experience for him and it will help him moving forward." He said he has not yet planned the colt's next race.
Who's Big Daddy was the big dog in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Clarendon Stakes at Woodbine, leading quickly out of the start and hold well at the end to win by 3/4 lengths over Takiddm. Doctor Jack was third, another 1/2 length back. Who's Big Daddy, an Ontario-bred Where's the Ring gelding, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:04.82 with Gerry Olguin in the irons. He now has two wins from three starts. Olguin said trainer Scott Fairlie "just said try to control the race. That's how it worked out. He was relaxed on the lead. When they come to him, he finds another gear every time. He's a bundle of class."
Heavenville rallied on the outside down the stretch to win Saturday night's $114,825 D.S. Shine Young Memorial Futurity for Louisiana-breds at Evangeline Downs by 1/2 length over Feelthelightening. Bout was third. Heavenville, a son of Offlee Wild, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 59.86 seconds under Francisco Torres. Steve Asmussen trains the winner for Heiligbrodt Racing Stables.
$2 million Juvenile Fillies
Happyfromthegitgo stalked the pace in Saturday's $121,900 D.S. Shine Young Memorial Futurity for Louisiana-bred fillies at Evangeline Downs, then took charge and won by 3 1/2 lengths over Rebel Queen. Deltalicious was third. Happyfromthegitgo, a daughter of Easyfromthegitgo, got the 5 furlongs in 58.54 under Luis Quinonez. Steve Asmussen is the winning trainer.
$1 million Dirt Mile
Coal Play was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $250,000 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park and coasted home first, 3 lengths to the good of the favorite, Smooth Air. Solar Flare was 3 lengths farther back in third. Coal Play, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Mineshaft colt, ran the 1 mile on a fast main track in 1:34.54. Joe Bravo rode for trainer Nick Zito. "When this horse gets things his way, he's real tough," Bravo said. "They gave me the first quarter and after that, they tried him several times. But he just kept giving me more. The fractions were pretty honest."
Kensei drew off in the stretch to win Saturday's $200,000 Dwyer Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park by 3 1/4 lengths. Convocation was third and the favorite, Warrior's Reward, settled for third. Kensei, a Kentucky-bred colt by Mr. Greeley out of the Belong to Me mare Private Feeling, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:40.47. Edgar Prado had the mount for trainer Steve Asmussen. Kensei is owned in partnership by Jess Jackson's Stonerstreet Stables, which also owns Rachel Alexandra. "Saratoga is on our screen," Jackson said. "But we have to look at other alternatives, as well. We have hard decisions but first we have to see how he comes out of the race. Curlin spoiled me. Now these horses (Rachel Alexandra and Kensei) are spoiling me."
In other weekend racing:
Mullins Beach stalked the pace in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Damsel for 3-year-old fillies, then went by odds-on favorite Woodsmoke to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Woodsmoke held second, a nose better than How Far is Heaven. Mullins Beach, an Ontario-bred filly by Speightstown, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:14.97 with Eurico Da Silva up.
Hurley's Way rallied six-wide at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Cleveland Gold Cup for Ohio-bred 3-year-olds and won a stretch duel, getting home a head better than Bold Captain. Gordon finished third after leading early in the stretch run. Hurley's Way, a Siphon colt, ran the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:53 for jockey Rodney Prescott.
Bernie Blue took command in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Dale Baird Memorial Stakes, jetting home 4 lengths in front of runner-up Wise Answer. Run Brother Run got home third. Bernie Blue, a 7-year-old, Florida-bred Bernstein gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.06 under Ricardo Feliciano.
Timeless Fashion sat behind a quick early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Independence Day Stakes, then worked his way to the lead at the top of the lane and won by 1 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Blues Street. Guardian of the North finished third. Timeless Fashion, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Sky Classic gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:38.59 with Hector Rosario Jr. up.
Beautiful Venue rallied three-wide at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Firecracker Stakes for fillies and mares and ran on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Hungry Tigress. The favorite, Si Si Mon Amie, finished third. Beautiful Venue, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Came Home mare, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:39 for jockey Rex Stokes III.
Go Go Shoot went out to a comfortable lead at the top of the stretch in Friday's $75,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes, then held off Timely Advice to win by 1/2 length. Unwritten was third. Go Go Shoot, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Songandaprayer gelding, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.74 under Eddie Castro.
American Border locked up in a tough stretch duel in Friday's $75,000 Miss Liberty Stakes for fillies and mares, prevailing by a head over Quiet Meadow. Captain's Lover rallied for third. American Border, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Boundary mare, rand the 1 1/16 miles on "good" turf in 1:45.27 with Elvis Trujillo aboard.