If this weekend's two top winners were to join the field for next month's Breeders' Cup Classic, what a race that would be.
In Paris, Sea The Stars continued his historic romp through the European classics with a hard-won victory in Sunday's Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. And in New York, Summer Bird joined a short and distinguished list as he won a hard-fought victory in Saturday's $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup over a sloppy track at Belmont Park.
Summer Bird joins only nine other 3-year-olds in winning the Belmont Stakes, Travers and Gold Cup in the same year -- a list that includes the likes of Man o'War (1920), Twenty Grand (1931), One Count (1951), Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959), Damascus (1967), Arts and Letters (1969), Temperence Hill (1980) and Easy Goer (1989).
Next goal for the Kentucky-bred son of Birdstone, said trainer Tim Ice, is the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 7. Should he win that, Summer Bird would stand alone.
With Kent Desormeaux up, Summer Bird settled in third position in the early running, allowing first Tizway and then Quality Road to take the point. Around the turn, Desormeaux sent Summer Bird outside to the lead and he dueled down the stretch with Quality Road before edging clear late to win by 1 length. Tizway held third and Macho Again put in a late bid to compete the superfecta.
Summer Bird completed the 1 1/4 miles on the sloppy track in 2:02.51.
Since finishing a credible sixth in the Kentucky Derby, Summer Bird has won the Belmont by 2 3/4 lengths, finished second to super filly Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell and won the Travers by 3 1/2 lengths.
"I think it puts him in an elite group," Ice said. "I think he should be champion 3-year-old colt. He's come a long way. He came into this race better than he has in any other race. Each week, I kept wishing the race was this week."
Quality Road's trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he feels his colt is "better on a fast track. Summer Bird relishes this kind of surface. That's the way it goes. Sometimes you get lucky. It rains when you need it to. Sometimes, it doesn't."
Ice said he will nominate Summer Road to both the Breeders' Cup Classic and the Turf but likely would prefer the Classic.
"He's already trained four months (over the Santa Anita artificial surface) and he has solid works over it," Ice said Sunday morning. "I think we could put him on anything and he'd run. We'll probably be in against a bunch of turf horses in the Classic anyway."
One of those just might be Sea The Stars, who completed an historic triple of his own, adding the Arc to victories in the 2,000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby among six Group 1 victories on the season.
Breaking from the outside in a big field, Sea The Stars was caught in traffic and forced to save ground at mid-pack until the field straightened for the final run. Then, Mick Kinane found running room for the Cape Cross colt between rivals and he accelerated sharply and drew clear to win by 2 lengths.
"He's exceptional," Kinane said. "He's just a phenomenal, rare horse. They were going a nice pace and I knew I would need a bit of luck in the straight, no matter what happened. But I knew I had the pace to go anywhere I wanted."
Youmzain finished second for the third straight year with a late run from well back. Cavalryman was third.
Although it would have to rate as a longshot that Sea The Stars would come to Santa Anita, the success of European horses in last year's Classic provides some encouragement.
"He is a great, great horse to have won all of those races," said winning trainer John Oxx. "I suppose you are going to ask me about the Breeders' Cup. But that is Nov. 7 and I am not sure how we would all feel about that. We will let the dust settle and now is not the time to make a decision."
Owner Christopher Tsui, who flew from San Francisco to Paris for the Arc, also was non-committal. "I am not ruling anything out for now," was the best he could offer.
Rip Van Winkle, winner of the Queen Elizabeth II, could add even more European interest for the Classic.
Elsewhere in potential Classic preps:
-- California invader Awesome Gem got going late in Saturday's $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup at Hawthorne Race Course, came five-wide around the turn and rallied under urging from jockey David Flores to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Nite Light held the lead briefly at the top of the lane and finished second, 2 lengths ahead of Going Ballistic. Awesome Gem, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Awesome Again gelding, ran the 1 1/4 miles on a muddy track in 2:04.36. The victory marked a bright spot in an inconsistent career that has seen Awesome Again finish third in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic, sixth in last year's Mile and 12th in the 2008 Hong Kong Mile. He had only one previous win this year. "We were in good position after the first turn," Flores said. "I was pretty much looking for the right spot and he was taking me there pretty easily. At the top of the stretch I tapped him left handed and he just went on really nice."
-- Bob Baffert wouldn't ship a horse he bred, trains and co-owns from California to Indiana unless he thought something good could come of it. And so it did in Saturday's $500,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park as Misremembered stalked the pace, got to the lead in the stretch when pushed by jockey Victor Espinoza and won by a diminishing 1/2 length over Giant Oak. Karama was third at a price. Misremembered, a Kentucky-bred Candy Ride ridgeling, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:40.8. Earlier this year he won the Grade II Swaps at Hollywood Park. "He's a nice horse and it's easy to stick with a horse like this," said California-based Espinoza. "I appreciate the opportunity to come out here to ride him."
-- Gone Astray, a Phipps Stable homebred, sat behind the speed in Saturday's $150,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown, then got out when asked by jockey Eddie Castro and went out to a 2 1/4-lengths victory. War Fighter set the pace and held second with Ice Road third. Gone Astray, a Dixie Union colt, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.56. Buzzy Tenney, assistant to winning trainer Shug McGaughey, said Gone Astray "doesn't mind rating inside like he did today. He has turned into a professional racehorse. He's kind of figured this game out."
-- Across the pond, Mastercraftsman won Friday's Group 3 Diamond Stakes at Dundalk in Ireland by 5 lengths and trainer Aidan O'Brien said he probably is headed to the Breeders' Cup Classic, though the Turf Mile is a backup option. "He'll definitely go to Santa Anita, probably for the Classic," O'Brien told the Racing Post. Mastercraftsman, a son of Danehill Dancer out of the Black Tie Affair mare Starlight Dreams, was last year's champion European juvenile. The Diamond Stakes was his first try on a synthetic surface. He was third behind Sea the Stars and Fame and Glory in the Irish Champion Stakes.
In other preps for the $25.5 million Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita:
$3 million Emirates Airline Turf
Interpatation, at 43-1, gave up the lead to odds-on favorite Gio Ponti at mid-stretch in Saturday's $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park, then battled back to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Gio Ponti, coming off four straight Grade I wins but trying 1 1/2 miles for the first time, held on for second. Telling finished third but was disqualified to fourth, advancing Grand Couturier to show money. Interpatation, winless in two seasons, finished in 2:41.22 on turf rated "soft" in a drenching rain with Robby Albarado up.
"I was waiting for him one day to pick his head up and do it right," said winning trainer Robert Barbara. "He did it right, on the perfect day." Albarado said he "had the intention of being forwardly placed, and I ended up on the lead, galloping, in a canter. At every point, I had plenty of horse. When Gio Ponti ran up to me, I thought, 'Gee, maybe I can get second.' But he didn't get away from me, and my horse hit his stride." Gio Ponti's trainer, Christophe Clement, said, "Second best. But I thought he ran a very good race. He really tried. The idea is to go from here to the Breeders' Cup, use the race and move on." Gio Ponti could go either in the 1 1/2-mile Turf or the 1 1/4-mile Classic. Barbara expressed no interest in the Breeders' Cup for Interpatation. "What I'd like to do next," he said Sunday morning, "is get an invitation to the Japan Cup. I think that would be a great thing." The Japan Cup is Nov. 29 at Tokyo Race Course.
-- Defending champion Conduit, who finished fourth in Sunday's Arc, will return to California for another try at the Turf "provided he comes out of this alright," said trainer Sir Michael Stoute.
$2 million Ladies Classic
Music Note got to even terms with pace-setting Unbridled Belle at the quarter pole in Saturday's $600,000 Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park and drew off under a hand ride to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Unbridled Belle held second, 9 1/4 lengths better than Copper State. Music Note, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred A.P. Indy filly, finished the 9 furlongs on a fast main track in a steady rain in 1:48.49 with Rajiv Maragh riding for trainer Saeed bin Suroor. She came into the race off a smashing win in the Ballerina at Saratoga and now has seven wins from 11 starts. Suroor said Music Note could start in either the Filly & Mare Sprint or the Ladies Classic but that the latter is more likely because Godolphin has other runners for the shorter race. "She showed her good turn of foot" in Saturday's race, he added. "I was waiting for Rajiv to take her outside. When he did, I was happy. She looked better than ever."
Careless Jewel, as expected, had no trouble in Saturday's $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Philadelphia Park. After leading most of the way, the Kentucky-bred Tapit filly got home first by 3 1/2 lengths over Bon Jovi Girl. Key Lime Baby was third. Careless Jewel, under Robert Landry, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.4. The Woodbine-based filly got her fifth consecutive win for trainer Josie Carroll, including the Delaware Oaks and an 11-lengths score in the Alabama at Saratoga. Carroll said she is pointing Careless Jewel to the Breeders' Cup but will take her back to Woodbine to evaluate before making a final decision.
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
Pure Clan rallied between rivals at mid-stretch in Saturday's $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park and roared home under Julien Leparoux to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Criticism. Queen of Hearts trumped the rest, finishing third. Pure Clan, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Pure Prize filly, got the 1 1/4 miles on turf rated "soft" in 2:12.43. "We wanted her behind the pace so she would make a big run at the end," Leparoux said. "The turf course was really soft and she had to work hard at it in the stretch. Still, she got the job done." Pure Clan finished ninth in last year's Filly & Mare Turf and trainer Robert Holthus was not enthusiastic about another try. "This is our Breeders' Cup right here," he said before the Flower Bowl. Back home in Kentucky on Sunday, he was having second thoughts. "The thing is, if we could win the Breeders' Cup, she'd probably win the Eclipse Award. That would increase her value," Holthus said optimistically.
$2 million TVG Turf Mile
Varenar came from off the pace to win Saturday's Total Prix de la Foret at Longchamp, beating Sweet Hearth by a nose. The favorite and defending Breeders' Cup champ, Goldikova, finished third, beaten less than a length. "She might have used herself too much early, but you can't say for sure," said winning trainer Freddie Head. "For the moment, she is going to the Breeders' Cup. But nothing is definite." Varenar, a 3-year-old Rock of Gibraltar colt, picked up his fourth win from 10 starts and highlighted a dominant Longchamp weekend for his owner, the Aga Khan.
Le Grand Cru won Sunday's $250,000 Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park, running the 1 mile on a muddy main track after the race came off the sodden turf. Ready's Echo came from last of three starters to take second, 1 1/2 lengths behind Le Grand Cru. Yield Bogey led, then stopped, finishing 21 1/4 lengths farther back. Le Grand Cru, a 4-year-old Dynaformer colt, finished in 1:37.36 with Jose Lezcano riding. "They take the grade away when it comes off the turf, but the money's good," said winning trainer H. Allen Jerkens.
Brave Tin Soldier, coming from last in a field of six, was just up at the wire to win Saturday's $125,000 Cliff Hanger Stakes at the Meadowlands. Pleasant Strike, also running well late, was a nose back in second and Kiss the Kid finished third. Brave Tin Soldier, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Storm Cat from the Mr. Prospector mare Bless, got the 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:42.52 under Carlos Marquez Jr. "I wanted to be far off the pace," Marquez said. "My instructions were to take a hold of him and get him to settle as quickly as possible." It was the fourth win in 25 starts for Brave Tin Soldier, owned and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.
$2 million Sentient Jet Sprint
Only four horses answered the starter in Saturday's $400,000 Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park and Kodiak Kowboy could see all three of his rivals through the first half of the race. But when jockey Shaun Bridgmohan kicked him into gear, Kodiak Kowboy finished with a rush, winning by 1/2 length over the odds-on favorite, Fabulous Strike. Munnings and early leader Go Go Shoot completed the order of finish. Over a sloppy track in a downpour, Kodiak Kowboy, a 4-year-old Posse colt, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.08. His victory builds on a close second to Pyro in the Forego at Saratoga a month ago and gives him 10 wins from 22 career starts. Fabulous Strike hit the exacta for the seventh straight time. "It set up great for us," said Scott Blasi, assistant to winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "There was plenty of speed. He's been such a top horse his whole career." He did not say where Kodiak Kowboy might resurface but expressed doubts about his ability on the Santa Anita all-weather surface. Trainer Todd Beattie said Sunday he is "pretty sure" Fabulous Strike will not contest the Breeders' Cup.
$1 million Turf Sprint
-- Total Gallery got home a neck in front of the favored filly, Fleeting Spirit, in Sunday's Qatar Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp and, while trainer Stan Moore said the winner likely is done for the year, Fleeting Spirit's part-owner, Paul Roy, said he would "like to take the boys on in the Breeders' Cup." Fleeting Spirit was fourth in last year's Turf Sprint.
-- California Flag, enjoying inside position, battled for the lead in Wednesday's $100,000 Morvich Handicap at Santa Anita, got to a clear advantage and held on well to win by 1 length over Get Funky. Bruce's Dream was third and Desert Code, who won the Turf Sprint last year, finished seventh off a long layoff. California Flag, a 5-year-old, California-bred Avenue of Flags gelding, ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:11.4 under Joe Talamo. California Flag finished 10th in last year's Breeders' Cup after contesting a hot pace. "Hopefully the Breeders' Cup will be a little slower than it was last year," said winning trainer Brian Koriner. "I think he's doing way better this year." Trainer David Hofmans said Desert Code also is headed to the big race.
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile
Lookin At Lucky improved to 4-for-4 with a comfortable win in Sunday's $300,000 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita, coming from off the pace and scoring by 1 3/4 lengths over Pulsion. Gallant Gent was third. Lookin At Lucky, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Garrett Gomez, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.11. "He's the best 2-year-old I've had in the last five years," Baffert said. "He's got something different than the other ones have ever had and it's exciting." The colt is part-owned by Mike Pegram. "We're Lookin at Lucky," Pegram said. "Now we got to stay lucky."
Ibboyee drew off in the stretch run of Saturday's $300,000 New York Breeders' Futurity for state-breds at Finger Lakes, winning by 6 3/4 lengths over Dahlgren Chapel. Hook Me Up finished third. Ibboyee, a bay colt by Medalist, got the 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:12.23. Cornelio Velasquez was up for trainer Todd Pletcher. The colt remains undefeated and Velasquez said he has a bright future. "He'll be even better with more distance", the rider said. "Three-quarters is too short for him."
Eskendereya drew off in the stretch to win Sunday's $150,000 off-the-turf Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park by 7 1/4 lengths. The favorite, Western Flyer, held second by 1 1/2 lengths over Chairman Now2. Eskendereya, a Kentucky-bred Giant's Causeway colt, ran the 1 mile on a "good" main track in 1:37.85 under Javier Castellano. "I'd say that he's typical of the Giant's Causeways and probably good on any surface," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. We'll talk to the owners about his next start. We have a lot of options."
In England, Awzaan scored his fourth straight win and remained undefeated in Friday's Group 1 Shadwell Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. Awzaan got home 3/4 length ahead of Radiohead despite some erratic running in the final furlong. Awzaan may be done for the year but trainer Brian Meehan said Radiohead, a son of 2001 Juvenile winner Johannesburg, may be headed to Santa Anita.
Bench the Judge posted a minor upset in Saturday's $100,000 Bob Benoit California Cup Juvenile, rallying from a pace-pressing trip to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Wolf Trail. Runaway Bandido finished third. Bench the Judge, a Benchmark colt, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.66 under Christian Santiago Reyes. Doug O'Neill trains.
Thats a Heckofacat rallied to the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Juvenile Stakes for Ohio-breds at Thistledown and held on by a nose over Busha'. Thats a Heckofacat, a Hold That Tiger gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:48.6.
Red Rally battled with Mr. Wildlee through the first few furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Stallion Stakes, then shook loose and went on to win by 9 1/2 lengths over that rival. The Reformer Rally gelding got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.87.
$2 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies
Blind Luck needed some racing luck to get past rivals in Sunday's $300,000 Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita and got it. Rallying from mid-pack, the Pollard's Vision filly got through nearing the sixteenth pole and overhauled favorite and pace-setter Always a Princess to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Bickersons battled throughout the lane and wound up third. Blind Luck, under Tyler Baze, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.19. "Turning for home, the seas parted and she ran great to the wire," Baze said of the winner. Trainer Bob Baffert said Always a Princess tired on the pace. "This will set her up perfect for the Breeders' Cup," he said.
La Nez stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 California Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita, dueled to the lead at mid-stretch and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over pace-setting Camille C. Whispering Hush was third. La Nez, a daughter of Storm Creek, covered the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.29 with Mike Smith up.
Sunday's $150,000 Miss Grillo came off the Belmont Park turf and only three of the original nine started. Of those, Dad's Crazy proved best, rallying past Tapitsfly and Fuzzy Britches to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Dad's Crazy, a Kentucky-bred Langfuhr filly, ran the 1 mile on a "good" main track in 1:40.04 with Julien Leparoux up. "It worked out well," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "We'll look for something for her towards the end of the meet."
Queen Imidala battled for the lead in Saturday's $75,000 John W. Galbreath Memorial for Ohio-breds at Thistledown, then took command and won off by 2 3/4 lengths over Adreamfordarlene. The odds-on favorite, Country Club Sue, ran third.
Pass It Down was quickly in front in Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Stallion Stakes at Louisiana Downs and nobody passed her up. The Ford Every Stream filly coasted home a big upset winner by 2 3/4 lengths over Scarlett Tribute, running 7 furlongs in 1:24.39. The heavy odds-on favorite, Happyfromthegitgo, finished fourth, producing boxcar show payoffs.
In other weekend racing:
Hawthorne Race Course
Public Speaker stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap, got by pace-setting Antrim County early in the stretch run and went on to win by 1 1/4 length. Antrim County held second, 5 1/2 lengths better than Sebastian County. Public Speaker, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor colt, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on the sloppy main track in 1:42.16. Junior Alvarado rode for trainer Dale Bennett. Four horses scratched when the race came off the grass. "It was an unknown with the sloppy track," Bennett said, adding he and owner Peter Karahalios "talked about it and just decided to give him the chance because you just don't know. You can't teach it. You can't train it. He's just a runner."
Abby's Angel recovered quickly from a bobbled start in Saturday's $10,000 Indian Maid Handicap, quickly took command and drew off to win by 6 1/2 lengths over Hungry Tigress. Final Refrain finished third. Jon Court rode the winner over 1 1/16 miles of sloppy main track in 1:45.22 after the event was moved off the turf. "She had the speed and it was uncontested," Court said. "I was able to dictate a comfortable pace and I was able to finish with plenty of horse underneath me."
Pool Play came from last of eight to win Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Durham Cup by 1 length over the favorite, Ice Bear. Palladio was third. Pool Play, a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred colt by Silver Deputy, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.24 under Patrick Husbands. Trainer Mark Casse said Pool Play got a late start because of an injury as a juvenile. "If that hadn't happened, this horse may have won the Queen's Plate," he speculated.
Soul of Nataka was just up in the final jumps to nip pace-setting First Circle and win Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Carotene Stakes for Ontario-bred, 3-year-old fillies by a nose. The odds-on favorite, Forest Uproar, finished third. Soul of Nataka, a daughter of Perfect Soul, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:52.42 with Richard Dos Ramos up.
Saskawea bid outside the leaders on the turn in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Avowal Stakes for fillies and mares, went right on by and won off by 1 3/4 lengths over Glitter Rox. Serenading was third. Saskawea, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred Stormy Atlantic mare, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.55 under Patrick Husbands.
Oistins jumped out to the lead in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Victorian Queen Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, set a reasonable pace and won by 1 length over Nocookiesforpapa. Shesadozer was third. Oistins, an Ontario-bred Peaks and Valley filly, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.62 with James McAleney up, picking up her third straight win.
Congressional Page drew clear in the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Mile Stakes by 3 lengths over Let It Rock. Anarko finished third. Congressional Page, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Orientate gelding, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.40 with Jose Lezcano up for trainer Michael Trombetta.
Vying Ty Grr led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Sadie Diamond Futurity and got home first, 4 lengths ahead of Victorious Vye. Storm Vixen completed the "all V" Triactor. Vying Ty Grr, a British Columbia-bred Regal Intention filly, got the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.9 for jockey Richard Hamel.
Bold Chieftain inherited the lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's $200,000 California Cup Classic when pace-setting favorite Grazen broke down and was pulled up. Bold Chieftain went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Lethal Heat, with Star Nicholas third. Bold Chieftain, a 6-year-old Chief Seattle horse, ran the 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:50.32. Russell Baze rode for trainer William Morey Jr.
The Usual Q.T. overtook pace-setting Skimmetry at mid-stretch to win the $125,000 John C. Mabee Cal Cup Mile by 1 length, finishing in 1:33.39 under Garrett Gomez. Lady Railrider got the lead at the sixteenth pole and won the $100,000 CTT/TOC Cal Cup Matron by 1 3/4 lengths over Smooth Performer, getting the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.2 under Frank Alvarado.
Dancing in Silks pressed the pace, then battled gamely to win the $100,000 Donald Valpredo Cal Cup Sprint by a nose over M One Rifle in 1:08.55. And Bootleg Annie ran well late to win the $100,000 John Deere Cal Cup Distaff by 3/4 length over the favorite, Flashover, while covering the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course in 1:13.31 under Rafael Bejarano.
Sailor's Sister sailed home down the stretch to win Sunday's $60,000 Chaves County Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over More Acord. Let the Musicbegin finished third. Sailor's Sister, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Petionville filly, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38 2/5 for Joe Martinez.