A grab bag of competition kept fans on their toes during the weekend while much attention focused on continued preparations for the upcoming Epsom Derby and the Belmont Stakes.
In England, anticipation of the Derby was somewhat confused by uncertainty about which of the potential favorites actually will start at Epsom – and which might be withheld for a trip to France for the following weekend.
Among the likely Derby starters are Aiden O'Brien's Jan Vermeer and St. Nicholas Abbey, although the race appears to have many potential twists and turns.
In New York, while the Belmont Stakes lacks the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown, it does have the Derby runner-up, Ice Box, and the winner of the Dwyer Stakes, Fly Down – both from the barn of trainer Nick Zito.
Zito worked Fly Down a half mile Sunday at Saratoga and said the colt "looked good doing it." Zito has won the Belmont twice, with Birdstone in 2004 and D'Tara four years later.
The Zito pair may face eight rivals for the 1 1/2 mile test.
In weekend racing:
Tizaqueena led them a merry chase in Saturday's $150,000 Arlington Matron. In front all the way under E.T. Baird, the 5-year-old Tiznow mare slowed things down, then drew off at the end to win by 2 lengths. Floating Heart rallied from mid-pack to finish second, a neck better than Euphony. Tizaqueena, trained for Darley Stable by Michael Stidham, finished the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:53.57. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing but I was happy to see it," winning trainer Michael Stidham said of the slow pace. "It was a classy, tough field and when she turned for home after setting that kind of fractions, I had strong hopes for her. She really kicked it in and held them off nicely." Tizaqueena now has eight wins from 15 starts, including stakes scores on dirt, turf and synthetic tracks.
Country Flavor battled for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Hanshin Handicap, finally got a clear lead in the stretch and went on to win by 3/4 length over Tybalt. The favorite, Gran Estreno, rallied between horses late to take third. Country Flavor, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Empire Maker gelding, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather surface in 1:38.16 with Inez Karlsson in the irons. Karlsson said her instructions were to sit off an expected sharp pace "but when I broke out of the gate there was no speed and I was sitting where I was. I had him in hand and I had a lot of horse on the turn that I thought I could steal it and that's what I did," she said.
Hour Glass dropped to the rail turning for home in Saturday's $150,000 Vagrancy Handicap, secured the lead with a furlong left and won by 1/2 length over the early leader, longshot Rightly So. Tar Heel Mom was third and the favorite, Malibu Prayer, got home a fading fifth. Hour Glass, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Petionville filly, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.68 with David Cohen up. Cohen said he didn't hesitate to take the rail route with Hour Glass. "I had won on her coming down the rail, and I know she's pretty game," he said. "She's not going to back out of it. I definitely had the confidence that she would go ahead and go through there." She now has five wins from nine starts and winning trainer Todd Pletcher said his goal for Hour Glass now is the Ballerina at Saratoga.
Minnie Punt raced last of eight in Sunday's $100,000 Kingston Stakes for New York-breds, was blocked briefly on the turn and still managed to get around the leaders to win by 1/2 length. Uncle T Seven was second with Writingonthewall third. Minnie Punt, a 4-year-old Gold Fever gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:39.73 with Jose Lezcano in the irons.
Chestoria saved ground through most of Sunday's $100,000 Mount Vernon Stakes for state-bred distaffers, split horses at the top of the lane and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Paraiba was second with Akilina third. Chestoria, a 6-year-old Chester House mare, covered the 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:42.89 with David Cohen riding.
Riley Tucker rallied nicely down the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Aristides Stakes by 2 lengths over Atta Boy Roy. The favorite, Cash Refund, finished third with an even trip. Riley Tucker, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Harlan's Holiday, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.34 with Shaun Bridgmohan riding. Scott Blasi, assistant to winning trainer Steve Asmussen, said, "It looked like a lot of speed on paper in here, and the race set up perfect for him. The horse is definitely getting better. He beat a tough bunch of horses here."
Ailalea pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Dogwood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got to the front turning for home and held off the late-running Tap Tap Tapping to win by 1 length. Fuzzy Britches was third, another 3 lengths behind. With Calvin Borel up, Ailalea covered the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.89. She is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Pulpit, trained by Todd Pletcher. Borel said Ailalea didn't break as well as he would have liked but quickly put him in contention. "I then just took my time," Borel said. "I thought she was much the best. I was very confident. When I asked her, she just went on about her business."
Tuscan Evening, the odds-on favorite, stalked the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares, collared pace-setting Cat By the Tale at the top of the stretch and then held off Forever Together at the end to win by 1/2 length. Cat By the Tale faded to finish third. Tuscan Evening, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Oasis Dream, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.30, picking up her fifth win without a loss this year. Rafael Bejarano had the mount. "We couldn't ask her to do more than she did today," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "We thought we would be on the lead, but I talked to Rafael about it and we agreed that if someone did something different we would adjust, and he adjusted perfectly."
Repo got home first in Saturday's $60,000 Manhattan Beach Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, only to be disqualified to second by the stewards for stretch interference with Southern Fireball. Got an Itch finished third. Southern Fireball, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Southern Image, was making a move after stalking the pace when forced to steady at the sixteenth pole by Repo's erratic run. The 6 furlongs went in 1:10.72 on firm turf.
Heart Ashley led all the way to upset Saturday's $250,000 My Juliet Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over One Smokin' Lady. The favorite, Cat Moves, rallied for third. Heart Ashley, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Lion Heart filly, finished 6 furlongs on the fast track in 1:08.68 under Stewart Elliott. Heart Ashley was making her second start of the year, following an allowance win at Keeneland.
Exhi pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Marine Stakes for 3-year-olds, then dominated in the stretch run, drawing clear and winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Hotep. Essence Hit Man finished third. Exhi, a Kentucky-bred Maria's Mon colt, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.69 with Robby Albarado up for trainer Todd Pletcher. Exhi came into the race off a pair of wins in the Rushaway at Turfway Park and the Lexington at Keeneland. "We knew the other horse (Essence Hit Man) would flash speed and so we wanted to leave quietly," said Albarado. "He's a nice horse and he proved it again today." Although the race is a prep for the July 4 Queen's Plate, as a Kentucky-bred, Exhi is not eligible for that race. Hotep remains a Plate contender.
Grand Adventure was reserved through the early furlongs of Sunday's $150,000 Connaught Cup, came five-wide to the leaders on the turn and got home first by 1 length in a hand ride. Field Commission rallied from far back to finish second, a neck better than Jungle Wave. Grand Adventure, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Grand Slam colt, finished 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:19.83, just 2/5 of a second off the track record. Patrick Husbands rode.
Thunder Brew thundered around all six rivals on the turn in Saturday's $100,000 Lamplighter Stakes for 3-year-olds and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Fantastico Roberto was always prominent but settled for second, 3/4 length ahead of Houngun. The favorite, Lethal Combination, was fourth. Thunder Brew, a Florida-bred Milwaukee Brew colt out of the Thunder Gulch mare Cindy Woo Woo, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.54. Carlos Marquez Jr. rode for trainer Anthony Pecoraro.
Unwritten was quickly out front in Saturday's $100,000 John J. Riley Handicap for New Jersey-breds and held the lead to the wire, scoring by 3 lengths over Joey P. Hop Skip and Away was a longshot third. Unwritten, a 6-year-old Unlimited Sky gelding, got the 6 furlongs in 1:10.14 with Edgar Prado in the irons.
Strike It Rich set a pressured pace in Sunday's $97,500 Little Silver Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, finally got a little space at the top of the lane and held on to win by 1 length over In the Rough. Elusive Temper finished third. Garrett Gomez rode the winner over 1 mile of firm turf in 1:33.32. She is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Unbridled's Song.
Just Jenda sat off the pace in Sunday's $96,000 Monmouth Beach Stakes for fillies and mares, rallied along the rail through the stretch and prevailed by 1 1/2 lengths over McVictory. Ask the Moon was third. Just Jenda, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Menifee, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.07 for jockey Terry Thompson.
Calder Race Course
Dash Dot Dash pressed the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Take d'Tour Stakes, got to the front on the turn and dashed off to win by 6 3/4 lengths. Glotona and Cat Can Do completed the trifecta. Dash Dot Dash, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Put It Back filly, completed the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:44.25 for jockey Jermaine Bridgmohan.
Encaustic led all the way to a 1 1/2-length victory in Saturday's $50,000 Joseph French Memorial Stakes. Alma d'Oro chased all the way and settled for second. Secret Getaway was third. Encaustic, a 6-year-old, Maryland-bred son of Broad Brush, covered the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:41.90 with Justin Shepherd in the irons.
Red Lead caught pace-setting Shadowbedancing in the final furlong in Saturday's $60,000Jim Rasmussen Memorial Stakes, winning off by 2 1/2 lengths. Shadowbedancing held second, 6 3/4 lengths ahead of Going Ballistic. Red Lead, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Red Bullet gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.33 with Ramsey Zimmerman up.
Choragus ranged up to the lead early in Saturday's $60,000 Wild Rose Stakes for fillies and mares, drew clear and held on gamely to win by 1 length over Patti's Regal Song. Hightap was third. Choragus, 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Harlan's Holiday mare, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.95 with Eusibio Razo Jr. riding.
Sunday's Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup was run in a deluge, with Mr Medici best able to handle the tough conditions and posting the victory. With Gerald Mosse in from France for the ride, the 5-year-old son of Medicean, appeared to enjoy the driving rain and standing water on the course during the run to the wire while the others struggled. Super Pistachio, the runner-up in the Hong Kong Derby, was second while the local favorite, Viva Pataca, finished third. Derby winner Super Satin was virtually eased after laboring over the very soft going. The Sha Tin course was so waterlogged that the final two races on the card were canceled.
Eishin Flash and Rose Kingdom rallied from behind a slow pace to finish first and second, respectively, in Sunday's Tokyo Yushun, or Japanese Derby. Eishin Flash, earlier third in the Satsuki Sho (the Japanese 2000 Guineas), started from the inside post position, raced in mid-pack and unleashed a blistering final 600 meters in 32.7 seconds. That charge put him a neck ahead of Rose Kingdom under the wire. Victorie Pisa was third, 1 3/4 lengths farther back. The previously unbeaten favorite, Pelusa, broke poorly, raced near the back of the field and finished sixth. Eishin Flash, by King's Best, got the 2,400 meters over firm turf in 2:26.9 with Hiroyuki Uchida up. He now has four wins from seven starts. "There was no reason to move him forward early," Uchida said. "I knew there were very good horses in front, so I wasn't worried about getting caught behind a wall. I knew he had what it took to turn in a good finish."
News and notes:
Azeri, Best Pal, Point Given and jockey Randy Romero have been elected to the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame. Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year and a three-time champion older female, was picked in her first year on the ballot. She won 17 of 24 starts, including 11 Grade 1 wins. Point Given was the 2001 Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male, winning the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the Haskell and the Travers. He won 9 of 13 starts. Best Pal raced for seven years, winning 18 of 47 starts, including the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and the Strub Stakes. Romero, the regular rider of Go for Wand and Personal Ensign, won 4,294 races despite a string of devastating injuries. He retired in 1999 with 4,294 victories and earnings of more than $75 million. This year's voting was in a revised format in which the 182 members of the selection panel were asked to vote for up to four of 10 finalists regardless of category, human or equine. Finalists not selected this year were Open Mind, Safely Kept, Sky Beauty, Alex Solis, Gary Jones and Robert Wheeler.