Upsets were more the rule than the exception in the weekend's big races, including events that start to point the way to year-end honors in the Classic and Sprint divisions.
On the grass, however, Gio Ponte performed as advertised in Saturday's $500,000 Man o' War at Belmont Park, jumping right to the top of that division's roster.
Gio Ponte, a 4-year-old Tale of the Cat colt, came into the Man o' War off back-to-back victories in the Frank Kilroe Handicap at Santa Anita and the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont last month. He was stretching out beyond 10 furlongs for the first time for trainer Christophe Clement.
The added distance, if anything, proved an asset as Gio Ponte sat well off the pace, responded when asked by jockey Ramon Dominguez and rallied nicely in the final furlong to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Pace-setting longshot Musketier was second and Quijano was third. Both Musketier and Quijano are German-breds and their supporters said "jawohl" to a trifecta payoff of $1,050, even with the favorite on top.
Gio Ponte ran the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:12.56 after a deliberate early pace and now has eight wins from 13 starts. Grand Couturier finished fifth, Dancing Forever eighth and Midships last of nine.
"This is his third Grade 1 in a row," said Clement. "It just confirms that at the moment, I'm afraid, he's got to be the leader of the turf division here. He did not have the best trip, being wide. He was widest of all going in to the first turn. But Ramon gave him a great ride. He did not panic and he still had enough to finish and finished very well. That's the great thing about good horses. They overcome a few things."
Clement said the next start for Gio Ponti likely will be the Aug. 8 Arlington Million.
In other potential preps for the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf:
-- In the final local prep for the Arlington Million, Just as Well circled the field turning for home in Saturday's $200,000 Arlington Handicap at Arlington Park and got clear at the end to win by 1 length over Gentleman Chester. Cosmonaut, the favorite, tracked the pace and missed second by a neck. Another longshot, My Happiness, completed the superfecta. Just as Well, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of A.P. Indy, ran the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:02.84 under E.T. Baird. Jonathan Sheppard owns and trains the horse. Just as Well has been close in many of his recent starts but Saturday's win was his first in six tries this year. "He needs a longer run," Sheppard said. "At one time, we were trying to blow the whole field away in the stretch and he's not quite quick enough to do that. He's figured it out now and couldn't be happier. I was concerned about the pace. When he was in company with horses he was a little too rank. (Baird) took him back behind the field and then he settled pretty nicely for him."
-- In Saturday's $300,000 American Derby at Arlington, a prep for the Grade I Secretariat Stakes on Million Day, Reb kicked in strongly at the top of the stretch, closed quickly and won by a head over No Inflation. Oil Man finished third but was place fifth for stretch interference involving the favorite, Giant Oak, and Proceed Bee, who finished fifth and fourth respectively. They each moved up a placing. Reb, a Kentucky-bred colt by Stormy Atlantic, finished the 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:56.09 under Julien Leparoux. George Arnold is the winning trainer. "We don't know how good he is yet," said Leparoux. "He's still very green. The first time I rode him at Keeneland, he was green. He won both races by a neck and a nose. He's just learning, so I didn't want him to be in a rush. I was trying to get him to relax. Then I was afraid he was going to relax too much, but when Giant Oak started his run, my horse took the bit and gave me a very nice run."
-- Crown Isle, making his first start on the grass, took back to a pace-stalking position in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Toronto Cup for 3-year-olds at Woodbine, then took charge in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Coffee Bar was second, Hisaki was third and the favorite, Awesome Rhythm, failed to find any rally and finished fourth. Crown Isle, a Kentucky-bred Arch colt, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:48.86. Emma-Jayne Wilson had the mount for trainer John Charalambous. "We were waiting for the turf," Charalambous said. "It just didn't happen last year. This year we've been trying. He got it today."
In other races with potential implications for the $25.5 million Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita:
$5 million Classic
Rail Trip let longshot Tres Borrachos set the pace in Saturday's $700,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park, came to the front at the top of the stretch and drew off easily, winning by 3 lengths. Tres Borrachos held second, well clear of the filly, Life is Sweet. Defending champion Mast Track finished fourth and the favorite, Parading, got home fifth. Rail Trip, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Jump Start gelding, ran the 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in a course record 2:00.75 under Jose Valdivia Jr. Ron Ellis trains the winner. "Before I got to the quarter pole, I thought, 'I'm going to try to break the race open,'" Valdivia said. "I didn't think it was a matter if he was good enough. I just kept thinking whether he could get the mile and a quarter. I knew they were really going to have to run hard to get by me."
Atomic Rain, an early defector from the Triple Crown trail, put it all together in Saturday's $175,000 Long Branch Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park. After settling well behind the leaders, the Kentucky-bred Smart Strike colt circled four-wide into the stretch and drove home 4 3/4 lengths in front. Despite the Odds and Papa Clem finished second and third, respectively. With Joe Bravo up for trainer Kelly Breen, Atomic Rain finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.79. "This was the most professional race I've seen him run," Breen said. "I don't know yet what we'll do between now and the Haskell. He was pretty cranked up for this, but if I can crank him up anymore I will. He's really coming into his own and if there's a time for that, it's now."
Gallant took the lead heading into the backstretch in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. Milwaukee Appeal ranged up to challenge on the far turn and the pair battled to the wire. A long examination of the photo was required to post Gallant's No. 3 as the winner. Eye of the Leopard, the winner of the Queen's Plate, challenged late in the stretch run but fell 1/2 length short of the runner-up. Gallant, a gray son of Aptitude, ran the 1 3/16 miles on a fast track with Corey Frasier riding. It was just the second win from eight starts for Gallant, who went to the post at odds of better than 15-1. The final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Breeders' Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on the grass, will be at Woodbine on Aug. 2.
Pocket Cowboys came up aces in Saturday's $150,000 New York Derby for state-breds at Finger Lakes, leading all the way to a 1 1/4-lengths victory over Slevin. Uncle T Seven finished third and the favorite, Legal Consent, finished fourth. Pocket Cowboys, a gelded son of Wild Event, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:45.12 with Paul Nicol Jr. in the irons.
$2 million Sentient Sprint
Benny the Bull, last year's champion sprinter, couldn't get the job done in Saturday's $350,000 Smile Sprint Handicap, the highlight of the "Summit of Speed" at Calder Race Course. After dawdling near the back of the six-horse field, Benny the Bull couldn't catch Eaton's Gift, a double-digit longshot who stalked the pace and took over the lead inside the furlong marker. Eaton's Gift, a 4-year-old Johannesburg colt who finished third in an optional claimer on the Churchill Downs grass last time out, ran the 6 furlongs on the fast Calder main track in 1:11.25 under Jose Lezcano. Processor's Turf, an extreme longshot, clunked up for third. "He's always been a nice horse," said winning trainer Dale Romans. "But I didn't really know going in if he was good enough to beat Benny the Bull if he ran his race." Eaton's Gift earned an automatic spot in the Breeders' Cup Sprint as part of the "win and you're in" program but Romans said he hasn't yet decided where he will run next. "I'll be taking 28 (horses) to Saratoga," he said. "We'll see."
Not for Silver came from last of six to win Saturday's $200,000 Carry Back Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters at Calder, drawing off in the final sixteenth to win by 4 1/2 lengths over the favorite, You Luckie Mann. Prince Joshua finished third. Not for Silver, a Maryland-bred colt by Not for Love, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.91 with Jose Lezcano in the irons for trainer Mike Trombetta. He picked up his fourth win in seven career starts. "I am tickled to death that he was able to make up that kind of ground," Trombetta said. "We hoped for some early speed and got it. Not really sure where he'll run next, I'm just enjoying this moment right now."
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
Pure Clan moved to the lead with a four-wide effort in Saturday's $200,000 Modesty Handicap at Arlington Park and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Tizaqueena. Dynaforce finished third. Pure Clan, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Pure Prize, ran the 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:55.27. Julien Leparoux rode for trainer Robert Holthus. Pure Clan, who finished last in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, was making her second start of the year after finishing second in the Mint Julep over the Churchill Downs grass June 6. She now has five wins and two seconds from eight turf starts. "We had a good trip, and she ran a very, very good race," said Leparoux. "She won easily and she was the best. I was very pleased with her."
Points of Grace dueled for the lead in Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian) Dance Smartly Stakes at Woodbine, then opened up and went on to post the upset victory, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Ginger Brew. Mushka was third and the favorite, Callwood Dancer, finished fourth. Points of Grace, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Point Given filly, finished the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:45.51. Luis Contreras rode for trainer Malcolm Pierce. "I was happy where she was sitting," Pierce said. Contreras "actually was able to give her a little breather where Ginger Brew went to the lead there for a little part. They sure picked it up. After a half-mile they got a little quicker."
Sariska easily won Sunday's Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh, becoming just the 12th filly to capture both the Irish and Epsom Oaks. The daughter of Pivotal was reserved behind pace-setting Roses For The Lady until the final furlong, when she went by without much effort when asked by jockey Jamie Spencer and won by 3 lengths. Roses For The Lady held second and Midday was third. Trainer Michael Bell said Sariska will point to the Darley Yorkshire Oaks Aug. 20. Among the other dual Oaks winners was Ouija Board in 2004. She went on to compete very successfully in North America, winning the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf in 2004 and 2006 and finishing second to Intercontinental in 2005.
$1 million Sentient Filly & Mare Sprint
Game Face surged to the lead turning for home in Saturday's $350,000 Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder Race Course and accelerated to a 6 3/4-lengths victory. Keep the Peace was second with Orinoquia third. Morning-line favorite Indian Blessing was scratched with trainer Bob Baffert saying she hadn't had time to clear medication from an earlier minor injury. Game Face, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Menifee, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.74 under Edgar Prado. Todd Pletcher trains the filly, who now has three wins from six starts this year. It was her first Grade I victory and earned Game Face a spot in the Breeders' Cup. "This was the first time that I rode this filly and she seemed to respond to me pretty well," Prado said. "The first thing that I noticed about her was that she wanted to run a bit too early, but she rated for me and it was all about finishing strong from there."
First Passage stayed well back until the turn in Saturday's $200,000 Azalea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Calder Race Course, came around the leaders, got the lead with a furlong left and won by 3/4 length over early leader Kays and Jays. Royal Card was third. First Pasage, a Kentucky-bred Giant's Causeway filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.22 with Jermaine Bridgmohan up for trainer Marty Wolfson. She now has four wins from five lifetime starts, moving quickly up the class ladder. "I'm seriously looking at the Test (Stakes) at Saratoga next," Wolfson said. "I won the race with Chaposa Springs. I may take eight or 10 horses up there."
$2 million Turf Mile
Defending champion Goldikova had some questions to answer in Wednesday's Etihad Airways Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket. Coming off the only unplaced finish in her career -- a seventh in the May 17 Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp, the daughter of Anabaa bounced right back, going to the lead with two furlongs left to run and finishing 1/2 length ahead of Heaven Sent. Spacious was third. Goldikova won for the seventh time in 11 starts and trainer Freddie Head said he is planning a defense of her Breeders' Cup Mile title.
Caribbean Sunset rose to the occasion in Monday's $200,000 Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap at Philadelphia Park, stalking the pace, then getting by in the final furlong to win by 3/4 length. I Lost My Choo just missed with a late run and Scolara finished third. Caribbean Sunset, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by Danehill Dancer, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.59. Ramon Dominguez had the mount for trainer Christophe Clement.
Driving Snow got by the leaders on the turn for home in Tuesday's $200,000 Oliver Stakes for 3-year-olds at Indiana Downs and went on to win by 3/4 length over Quite a Handful. The favorite, Jack Spratt, put in a bid at mid-stretch but hung and finished third. Driving Snow is a British-bred son of Verglas. With Miguel Mena up for trainer Darrin Miller, the colt ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.2.
Keertana rallied around the turn in Monday's $200,000 Indiana Downs Distaff for 3-year-old fillies, got into contention at the head of the stretch and won a hot, three-way battle to the line by 3/4 length over Fleet Streak. Complicity was another 1/2 length back in third. Keertana, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Johar, finished 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.4 with Jesus Castanon aboard. Tom Proctor is the winning trainer.
Tuscan Evening caught pace-setting Patricia's Gem in deep stretch in Saturday's $250,000 Royal Heroine Mile Stakes for fillies and mares at Hollywood Park and held on to win by a nose. Gotta Have Her finished 1 3/4 lengths farther back in third. Tuscan Evening, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by Oasis Dream, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.71. Rafael Bejarano rode for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
$1 million Turf Sprint
Yankee Ingeniuty just found a way to win Saturday's $200,000 Arlington Sprint Handicap at Arlington Park, rallying steadily through the stretch to score by a neck over the favorite, Chamberlain Bridge. St. Joe finished third. Yankee Ingenuity, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Yankee Victor, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.5. E.T. Baird rode for trainer James McMullen. Yankee Ingenuity finished third in a small stake at Arlington in his season debut in May, then visited Indiana Downs and Woodbine before returning to the Chicago area. He now has seven wins from 30 lifetime starts. "I thought he'd run a littler sharper (than he did) at Woodbine," McMullen said. "Maybe it was the trip. He ran one of his biggest races in Indiana. He came out of the Woodbine race great and breezed terrific over this course. He showed up today." As part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge "win and you're in," Yankee Injunuity is guaranteed a spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita Park thanks to Saturday's triumph.
Little Nick nicked favorite Mr. Nightlinger by a neck in Saturday's $150,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint Championship at Calder Race Course, closing in the final strides for the victory. Mr. Nightlinger, who led at mid-stretch, held on for second, 1 3/4 lengths to the good of Dukes Flying Tiger. Little Nick, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Tiger Ridge, ran the 5 furlongs on "good" turf in 55.72 seconds with Manoel Cruz aboard for trainer Bill White. He now has one win, one second and one third from three tries on the grass. "With the inside post today there is always a chance you can get trapped and there's no room for error if you're coming from off the pace," White said. "But I could see Manoel had daylight in the stretch. … We'll look at options here and possibly out of town from here."
Lady Attack rallied from last of 10 to win Wednesday's $100,000 (Canadian) Repercussion Stakes for fillies and mares at Woodbine by a neck over Saskawea. Pleasant Review was another neck back in third. Lady Attack, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Mutakddim, got the 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:13.5 under Patrick Husbands. Josie Carroll trains the winner.
$2 million Juvenile
Sunday's $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship normally would be about colts and geldings but trainer Doug O'Neill changed that by entering his talented filly, Necessary Evil, against a quartet of males. The filly quickly showed the wisdom of that decision, taking the lead out of the gate and extending her advantage to win by 3 lengths over Zip Quick. Classical Slew finished third. Necessary Evil, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Harlan's Holiday, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.98 under Joel Rosario. O'Neill's option was to run Necessary Evil in the Landaluce Stakes against fillies on the same card. The Holywood Juvenile is graded and the Landaluce is not. Anyway, the trainer also went on to win the Landaluce with Repo. Good call. Assistant trainer Leandro Mora said he will "have to talk to Doug and the owners about what to do with this filly. She's been for sale since the get go. She didn't sell at Pomona, so she's still for sale."
Jackson Bend rallied from mid-pack in Saturday's $100,000 Frank Gomez Memorial at Calder Race Course and held on well to win by 1/2 length over D' Funnybone. Mr. Green finished third. Jackson Road, a Florida-bred colt by Hear No Evil out of the Tabasco Cat mare Sexy Stockings, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:12.19 with Jeffrey Sanchez in the irons for trainer Stanley Gold. Owner-breeder Fred Brei said Jackson Bend is eligible for the rich Florida Stallion Stakes series "and I guess that's where he'll be headed."
Big Texas Daddy battled Western Forum to the wire in Saturday's $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes at Lone Star Park, getting home 3/4 length in front. Range War completed "wild west" trifecta. Big Texas Daddy, a Valid Expectations colt, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.7 with Justin Shepherd aboard for trainer Steve Asmussen.
$2 million Juvenile Fillies
Repo dueled with odds-on favorite Well Deserved in the early stages of Sunday's $100,000 Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park, seemingly put that rival away early in the stretch run then had to hold on as Well Deserved put in another run that fell 3/4 length short. Ridemetothemoon finished third and Champagne d'Oro completed the order of finish. Repo, a California-bred In Excess filly, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.07 with Corey Nakatani up for trainer Doug O'Neill. "This one is good enough to go for the Del Mar Debutante," said assistant trainer Leandro Mora. "She's also Cal-bred, so we can do whatever we feel is right."
Dashing Debby dashed quickly to the fore in Saturday's $100,000 J J'sdream Stakes at Calder Race Course and kept extending her lead until the Kentucky-bred Medaglia d'Oro filly had posted a 10 1/4-length upset victory. The favorite, Miss Delite, was the best of the rest, with Joanie's Catch third. Dashing Debby, a first-time starter, completed 6 furlongs in 1:12.19 with Daniel Coa handling the reins for trainer Gerald Procino. The winner went to the post at odds of 13-1 on the basis of a long but only moderately promising set of works. Miss Delite was undefeated in two previous races. "I've worked this filly six or seven times and I have been impressed with her from the start," Coa said. "I definitely expected her to run as well as she did today." Procino said he may take the filly to Saratoga for her next effort.
Camille's Appeal closed rapidly through the stretch to win Saturday's $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes at Lone Star Park by 2 1/4 lengths over Daphne Angela. Bud's Little Edge was third. Camille's Appeal, a daughter of Valid Expectations, got the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.98 under Justin Shepherd.
Maritime Passion challenged for the lead on the turn in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Shady Well Stakes at Woodbine, got clear after straightening out into the lane and won off by 3 3/4 lengths over Noticin' You. Elated Moon was third. Maritime Passion, an Ontario-bred daughter of Stormy Atlantic, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:04.24 with Chantal Sutherland in the irons.