With the Triple Crown vanishing in the rear-view mirror, racing fans start thinking seriously about the Breeders' Cup and year-end championships. The horses provided some serious food for thought in weekend racing -- none more exciting than Zenyatta's record-setting, nail-biting, 17th straight victory in Sunday's Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park.
Zenyatta's heroics even overshadowed Rachel Alexandra's rebound to her 2009 "Horse of the Year" form in winning Saturday's $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs with ease.
And, while many foresee a showdown between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the male contingent showed it isn't ready to concede that event just yet.
In early preps for the Classic, Blame shot by pace-setting favorite Battle Plan in the stretch run of the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs to join Quality Road in the top ranks of the division. And Rail Trip took the Californian at Hollywood Park, setting up his try for a repeat victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup next month and a West Coast bid for the Classic.
And in England, amid consternation about the British soccer team's tie with the United States in the first round of the World Cup, final preparations were under way for the Royal Ascot meeting. Like the soccer tournament, Royal Ascot is expected to attract some American attention.
The weekend races:
For a while there, it looked like Zenyatta was going to join the likes of Cigar and Citation in failing to win a 17th straight race. After typically lagging behind the field in the $250,000 Vanity, jockey Mike Smith put the 6-year-old Street Cry mare into gear around the turn. But St Trinians, a feisty British import, hit the front first and looked about to run away under Martin Garcia. St Trinians floated Zenyatta toward the middle of the track as the duo turned into the stretch. Lowering her head and pricking her ears, Zenyatta took up the challenge and finally eased by on the outside in the final sixteenth, winning by 1/2 length. She carried 129 pounds to St Trinians' 120.
"It's just incredible," Smith said. "It was a great, great race. It was a gallant effort on St Trinians' part. She really ran huge. When we headed for home I hit a real big gear and she hit another one right back at me and I said 'Whoa, she's serious, she's going to make me run.' I was working at it until the last 100 yards and then I knew I'd out-grind her."
Smith said he wasn't surprised by Garcia's tactics. "I knew he was probably going to take me out. It was great race riding on his part. But it was just me and him. So as wide as he is, that's as wide as I'm going to be. Nothing matters at that point."
Owner Jerry Moss, who first retired Zenyatta after last year's Breeders' Cup Classic victory, then "un-retired" her because he loves watching her run, said: "I'm going to be watching that (replay) 30 or 40 times. I had a feeling she was going to make it somehow like she always does."
Zenyatta's victory eclipsed the 16-race winning streaks of Cigar, Citation, Hallowed Dreams and Mister Friskey. Peppers Pride, who raced exclusively in New Mexico, won 19 races without a loss before retiring in 2008.
Rail Trip, the odds-on favorite, stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Californian Stakes, moved to the lead entering the stretch and won comfortably, finishing 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Sangaree. Slew's Tiznow was third. Rail Trip, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Jump Start gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:48.49 for jockey Rafael Bejarano. Rail Trip came into the race off a win in his 2010 debut in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on May 8 and now is poised to defend his title in the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 10. During his 2009 campaign, said winning trainer Ron Ellis, Rail Trip "got better and better with things."
"This year, he's bigger, stronger and heavier. He's matured a lot," Ellis said. "He's a real versatile horse and that's going to come in handy at some point."
Ellis said when Rail Trip won last year's Gold Cup, "he was at the end of a lot of races. This year, by purpose, we wanted to bring him in and point for the Breeders' Cup and have him ready for the second half of the year."
Free Flying Soul dueled her way to the lead in Saturday's $60,000 Desert Stormer Handicap for fillies and mares, inched clear in the upper stretch and finally drew away to win by 1 1/2 lengths despite drifting in late. Alpha Kitten rallied from last to finish second with Fund Raiser third. Free Flying Soul, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Quiet American mare, finished 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.1. "She's some sprinter. She really is," said winning jockey Mike Smith.
Rachel Alexandra, who defeated Zenyatta in the 2009 Horse of the Year voting, then finished second in each of her first two starts this year, turned things around convincingly in Saturday's $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap. With Calvin Borel at the controls, the 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly pressed the early pace set by Jessica Is Back, went to the lead turning for home and easily drew off, winning by 10 1/2 lengths, ridden out. Distinctive Dixie was second and Jessica Is Back held third. Rachel Alexandra finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.78.
Borel said trainer Steve Asmussen "told me just to run my race and see where we were at. She showed up today. She felt the same. I just don't think she was ready" in her first two starts of the year. Asmussen added, "She's a machine and she ran a great race today, and hopefully this is a step in the right direction for the rest of the year."
Sunday, however, he sounded a note of caution, saying he is anxious about how the race-day heat and humidity might have affected Rachel Alexandra. "It was a very humid, oppressive type of afternoon," Asmussen said. "We'll see if she shows any residual effect from the weather when she goes back to the track."
Blame put on a show of his own in Saturday's $600,000 Stephen Foster Handicap. The 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Arch colt was reserved off the pace until Battle Plan led the field into the stretch. Then, when jockey Garret Gomez gave the go-ahead, Blame rocketed down the middle of the track, closed a 4-length gap in a seeming heartbeat and went on to win by 3/4 length. Battle Plan held second and General Quarters, always close to the lead, held on for third. Blame got the 9 furlongs in 1:49.37. He now has won seven-of-10 starts and the winner's share pushed his earnings past the $1 million mark. Winning trainer Al Stall Jr. said he will consider the Whitley, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup -- "something like that -- with the ultimate goal being the Classic."
"That's why we gave him the six months off just to have a fresh horse the second half of the season, which we're here now," Stall said. "I love when a plan comes together, which is very rare in horse racing."
Sunday, he mulled over possibilities before and after Blame's real target -- the Aug. 7 Whitney at Saratoga.
"Right now, we are just thinking about the Whitney," Stall said. "It's tough to run two races like that at Saratoga (if he were to go on to the Woodward on Sept. 4). You can throw the Hawthorne Gold Cup into the mix. That's a mile and a quarter on the same day as the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Oct. 2 at Belmont Park) and we could ship up from Keeneland and back and that sets you up for November."
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he will work out a schedule for Battle Plan that keeps him away from Quality Road -- at least until November. General Quarters, meanwhile, is headed to the Arlington Million, owner/trainer Tom McCarthy said Sunday.
And if late-developing 3-year-olds have a role to play in the Classic in five months' time, keep Colizeo and Worldly in mind. Those two fought a ding-dong battle down the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 Northern Dancer Stakes for 3-year-olds with Colizeo simply refusing to let his rival get by. At the wire, the margin was a neck, with Vow to Wager 2 lengths farther back in third. Colizeo, a Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.6, picking up his third win in eight starts.
"We've taken our time with him and he's run against some talented horses," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "If you look at the allowance race at Gulfstream, he ran against the likes of Fly Down and First Dude. He ran a good race and keeps taking a step forward after every race. He has potential."
On the Matt Winn turf course, Gleam of Hope came from last to upset the $100,000 Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds, winning by 1/2 length over another long shot, Psychic Income. The favorite, Asphalt, was third after taking a brief lead at the top of the lane. Gleam of Hope, a Kentucky-bred City Zip colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on "good" going in 1:45.61 for jockey E.T. Baird.
Winning trainer Tony Reinstedler said his colt probably shouldn't have paid $20 to win. "If you look at the past performances, he has run against the best and he's better on the grass than the dirt," the conditioner said. "I'm real proud of him. He's responded to what we wanted to do with a turf schedule for this year, and so far it's working out for us. The Mid-America Triple at Arlington Park will probably be next for him."
The $125,000 Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies shaped up as the most wide-open of the day's five stakes events. But few expected a $20,220.80 return on the $1 trifecta. That was the payoff as Caminadora, Snow Top Mountain and Queen Hazel came from last, second-last and third-last to finish 1-2-3. The favorite, It's Tea Time, finished a neck farther back in third. Caminadora came five-wide into the stretch to get home first by 3/4 length, running the 9 furlongs on the "good" turf in 1:52.04 under Corey Nakatani. She picked up just her second win in her ninth start.
Winning trainer Todd Pletcher, happily taking the win, said, "Her last race wasn't as good. But analyzing the race and looking at the figures, it was better than it appeared, so we decided to take a shot. Her choices were to run back in a one-other-than (allowance) last week or wait the extra week and run here and give her the extra time."
Tizdejavu shot to the lead in Friday night's $63,000 Opening Verse Stakes, held a comfortable lead into the stretch and then held off Public Speaker in a prolonged duel to win by 1/2 length. Flying Private finished third. Tizdejavu, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.35 under Jesus Castanon. Tizdejavu won for the seventh time in 15 career starts. Those wins include the graded American Turf and Jefferson Cup two years ago under the Twin Spires.
If the "big two" distaffers do wind up in the Classic in November, the Ladies' Classic would appear wide open. Some of Saturday's races also provided a preview in this area, with Life At Ten's victory over Unrivaled Belle in Saturday's $250,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont among the signposts. Life At Ten led all the way to her fifth straight victory and Unrivaled Belle, the odds-on favorite, wasn't able to close any ground in the stretch. At the end, the margin was 2 3/4 lengths, with Funny Moon just a head back in third. Life At Ten, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:40.72 with John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher. The duel between the top two was especially intriguing because of their recent history. Life At Ten came into the race off a 1-length victory over Jessica Is Back, who ran third behind Rachel Alexandra in Saturday's Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs. Unrivaled Belle, on the other hand, earned her favorite's role by beating Rachel Alexandra last time out, in the La Troienne, also at Churchill Downs.
"She's been a very generous filly for us and we're proud to have won a Grade 1 with her," said Jonathan Thomas, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "The main thing with her is not so much where she is, as just staying out of her way."
Get Serious battled his way to the lead around the first turn in Saturday's $255,000 Monmouth Stakes, opened a clear advantage down the backstretch and held on well to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Roman Tiger rallied for second, 2 lengths ahead of Dynamoor. The favorite, Presious Passion, took his customary early lead but faded early and finished seventh. Get Serious, a 6-year-old, New York-bred City Zip gelding, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.11 with Pablo Fragoso in the irons.
Cool Coal Man tracked the early pace in Saturday's $100,000 Skip Away Stakes, advanced to the lead on the turn and drew off to win by 2 lengths over Sir Whimsey. Gone Astray was third. Cool Coal Man, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Mineshaft, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.89 with Elvis Trujilo riding.
Starfish Bay started No. 1 in Sunday's $100,000 Candy Eclair Stakes, led every step and finished first, 3 1/2 lengths better than Candy Cane. Quebrada Shiner finished third. Starfish Bay, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Elusive Quality filly, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:00.76 under John Velazquez. Trainer Todd Pletcher continued another outstanding weekend with the win.
Way With Words also had a way with her hooves in Sunday's $100,000 Open Mind Handicap, rallying into contention around the turn and finishing strongest of all to win by 3 lengths over Dakota Doll. Moneigh Lisa was third. Way With Words, a 6-year-old, New Jersey-bred Sefapiano mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.44 with Eddie Castro riding.
The Aga Khan sent out the top two in Sunday's Prix de Diane, or French Oaks, as Sarafina led stablemate Rosanara across the finish by 1 1/2 lengths. With Christophe Lemaire, Sarafina got to the lead with a furlong to run and easily prevailed in only her third career start. The daughter of Refuse To Bend did not race as a 2-year-old, then jumped right into the game with victories on May 3 at Chantilly and then the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary just three weeks later at Longchamp. The Aga Khan, who won the Prix de Diane for the sixth time, said Rosanara likely will move along to the Prix Vermeille in September but he would prefer to keep Sarafina at no more than 1 1/4 miles for now.
Belle of the Hall stalked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Jostle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, worked her way to the lead at mid-stretch and held off the late run of Derwin's Star to win by 3/4 length. Worship the Moon finished third. Belle of the Hall, a Florida-bred Greame Hall filly, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.44 with Ramon Dominguez up for trainer Thomas Albertrani.
Miss Singhsix, last of eight after a half mile in Saturday's $150,000 Obeah Stakes, came four-wide around the stretch turn and was just up in time to win by a neck over Morena. Stage Trick finished third. Miss Singhsix, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred Singspiel mare, got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.87 for jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. The Obeah is the final local prep for the 1 1/4-mile, $750,000 Delaware Handicap on July 17. Miss Singhsix came into the Obeah off third-place finishes in the Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorn Park and the Rampart at Oaklawn. "She handled this track well today and I think this race will set her up perfect for the Delaware Handicap," Valdivia said.
Roan Inish rallied late in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Oaks, putting her head in front under the wire to win by a head over Moment of Majesty. Embur's Song was third after leading much of the way. Roan Inish, a daughter of Elusive Quality, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:50.53 under David Moran. It was only the second start of the year for the winner. She was second in the Fury Stakes in her seasonal debut.
"She ran really tough, Moran said. "Queen's Plate here we go! The farther we go, the better. She is as genuine as you can get. She has a big engine."
Big Red Mike led all the way to an upset victory in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Plate Trial Stakes, winning by 1/2 length over Mobilizer while the favorite, last year's Canadian juvenile Horse of the Year, Hollinger, faded badly and finished last. Big Red Mike, a Tenpins gelding, was allowed to set soft fractions as Hollinger chased right behind. At the stretch turn, Hollinger was done and Big Red Mike went on. The 9 furlongs on the all-weather track went in 1:50.41. Eurico Da Silva rode the winner.
"It looked like it was a race without a lot of speed in it," said winning trainer Nicholas Gonzalez. "Even though we tried to get him to relax in the morning, it didn't look like it was time to do that today, so we tried to let him ride his own race, and he did it."
Twenty-four winners of the Plate Trial have gone on to win the Queen's Plate. This year's renewal of that classic will be run July 4.
Somme was tardy early in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Alywow Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, closed the gap along the inside around the turn and rallied nicely down the stretch to win by 1/2 length over pace-setting Platinum Exchange. No Explaining, the favorite, was third. Somme, an Ontario-bred daughter of Theatrical, got the 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:15.42 with Patrick Husbands up.
Sand Cove stalked the pace in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Steady Growth Stakes, surged to the lead around the turn and drew off smartly to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Genius Kinshasa was along for second, followed by Lady's First Cat. Sand Cove, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred son of Bold Executive, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.69 with Richard Dos Ramos up.
Calder Race Course
Calder's Saturday Program featured four sprint stakes comprising a preview of the South Florida's oval's forthcoming "Summit of Speed" -- itself an early preview for the sprint races on the Breeders' Cup Championship program. Favorites won all four events.
Big Drama rolled to an easy victory in the $65,000 Ponche Handicap, distancing three rivals in the stretch to win by 3 3/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Sincero, Rusty Charlie and How's Your Halo completed the order of finish. Big Drama, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Montbrook colt, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.75 with Luis Saez in the irons. Celia Fawkes, wife and assistant to winning trainer David Fawkes, said the races was "a good first step back" from a layoff. She said owner Harold Queen "has some high expectations for him later on in the season and this was a good start."
In the $65,000 Unbridled Stakes for 3-year-olds, odds-on choice Coffee Boy caught pace-setting Dream of Atlantis in deep stretch to win by 3/4 length. Peace At Dawn was third. Coffee Boy, a Florida-bred Yonaguska colt, was clocked in 1:11.05 under Jermaine Bridgmohan. Trainer Marty Wolfson said he bought Coffee Boy with the idea of running him long. "I still think that will be his best game," he said. "But with the division here looking a little weak and the schedule, we decided to go for the sprint races here before trying him longer again."
First Passage, also with Bridgmohan in the irons, kicked into gear around the turn in the $65,000 U Can Do It Handicap for fillies and mares, reached the lead with a sixteenth to run and held off Saratoga Tango to score by 1/2 length. The early leader, Don'ttalktome, held third. First Passage, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Giant's Causeway filly, stopped the timer at 1:11.21. "Despite things getting a little close in the stretch, we had a perfect trip, which is nice," Bridgmohan said. "When this filly is on her game, she's tough to beat."
And in the $65,000 Leave Me Alone Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Pica Slew shot quickly to the lead, set a brisk pace and coasted home first, 1 3/4 lengths better than Hot Hot Mama. Yournotthebossofme finished third. Pica Slew, a Florida-bred Pico Central filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.96 with Manoel Cruz in the irons. Winning trainer Joe Calascibetta said Cruz "looked like he was water-skiing on her going under the wire in 1:10 and change. She's the real deal."
In Sunday's $55,000 Blazing Sword Stakes, Grand Cash rallied from last to win by a nose, outfinishing Dinner in Odem. Fearless Eagle finished third. Grand Cash, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Belong to Me gelding, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.53 for Cruz.
L D's Shes Special broke last of nine in Friday night's $75,000 Hawkeyes Stakes for Iowa-bred fillies and mares, circled her rivals on the turn and ran down pace-setting Tak a Joke in the lane to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Burning Faith finished third and the favorite, Go Milan Go, got home fifth with an even run. L D's Shes Special, a 7-year-old Evansville Slew mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.46 with Perry Compton in the irons.
Salt Flat Speed dueled for the lead through the first few furlongs of Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Journal Handicap, took command around the turn and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Inuit Fisher was second with Footprint third. Salt Flat Speed, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Salt Lake gelding, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12 under Rico Walcott.
Golden Gate Fields
Road Ready, making his first start, waited behind the pace in Saturday's $65,000 Lost in the Fog Stakes for 2-year-olds, moved to the outside in the stretch and went by horses to win by 3/4 length. King Cola came from last of nine to finish second and River's Chapel was third. Road Ready, a Kentucky-bred More Than Ready colt, ran 5 furlongs on the all-weather track in 59.48 seconds. Russell Baze rode for trainer Jeff Bonde.
Baltimore Bob took the lead at mid-stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Da Hoss Stakes, put away pace-setting Frisky Thunder and then just held on to beat an onrushing Vanquisher by a head. Frisky Thunder held third. Baltimore Bob, a 5-year-old, Maryland-bred son of Malibu Moon, covered 1 mile on the inner turf in 1:35.4i with Vladimir Diaz riding.