Quality Road beat everything they threw at him in Saturday's $750,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga and, if the quality of the opposition was a little suspect, he made up for that with the quality of his own performance.
And that immediately had the fans buzzing about a showdown with defending Breeders' Cup Classic champ Zenyatta on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.
After briefly tracking a pacesetting long shot in the Woodward, Quality Road took over the lead when asked by jockey John Velazquez and easily drew off to win by 4 3/4 lengths with only mild encouragement. He finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.00 and clearly could have bettered that time.
Mythical Power ran evenly to finish second, a half length ahead of Tranquil Manner. Last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, finished last of seven. He still has not won since he wore roses.
Quality Road, scratched at the gate from last year's Breeders' Cup Classic when he refused to load, has been almost invincible since that mishap. After three straight wins early in the year, the 4-year-old Elusive Quality colt took three months off for trainer Todd Pletcher, then finished second to Blame in the Whitney Handicap earlier in the Saratoga meet.
"He was much, much better than last time," Velazquez said. "In the Whitney, I was struggling to get him going. Today, he was much more willing, and much more on the bridle."
Asked if he now has the best horse in the country, Pletcher replied, "I think we can make a strong argument for it. He's accomplished a lot this year with the Donn, the Met Mile and this race.
"We have tremendous respect for Zenyatta but we don't expect to show up in the Breeders' Cup Classic and have it be an easy field. That's what championship events are about."
He said he plans to bring Quality Road to the Classic without an intervening race.
In another race in the Classic division:
Gran Estreno came from last of five to win Saturday's $150,000 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park, holding off Giant Oak in the final yards by a half length. Mad Flatter held the early lead and floated Giant Oak wide on the stretch turn before finishing third, another neck back. Gran Estreno, a 7-year-old, Argentine-bred son of Lucky Roberto, ran the 1 3/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:56.88 with Michael Baze up for trainer Michael Stidham. The win was good for a spot in the Classic starting gate through the "Win and You're In" program but Gran Estreno is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup and not likely to be supplemented. "He didn't break super sharp but I got after him a little bit," Baze said. "It worked out good because if he had broken super sharp, I might have been four or five wide into the turn. I was fortunate to save ground all the way around there and get through on the rail."
Other weekend races with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 5-6 at Churchill Downs:
Switch stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar, shot to the lead when asked by jockey Joel Rosario and drew off quickly to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Hard Way Ten was second with Ellafitz third. Switch, a Kentucky-bred Quiet American filly, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:36.25. Winning trainer John Sadler said he passed up the Del Mar Oaks because he "didn't want to run a mile and an eighth on the grass. We wanted to get her back on synthetic, so that's why we chose this race. She's a nice filly. She beat Blind Luck in the Hollywood Oaks and that's why we wanted to get her back on synthetic."
Cape Blanco surged to the top of the list in European middle-distance runners with a 5 1/2-length domination of Saturday's Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. With Seamus Heffernan in the irons, the Aidan O'Brien trainee got to the lead early and got away from the field. Ballydoyle stablemate, Rip Van Winkle, was just up in the final jumps to take second over Twice Over. In his last outing, Cape Blanco was second in the King George, well back of the now-retired Harbinger. "He's a big, strong, powerful horse with loads of speed and class," O'Brien told the Press Association. "He's progressing and maturing with every week that goes by. He is more a 10-furlong horse than a mile-and-a-half horse … . He moves brilliantly and has lots of options now, including the English Champion Stakes and the Breeders' Cup in America." O'Brien said Rip Van Winkle is "a real miler with lots of speed who just about gets 10 furlongs … . He won't mind going back to a mile."
Twirling Candy tossed a scare into his connections in Sunday's $300,000 Del Mar Derby, ducking out sharply on the run down the backstretch while running on the lead. Jockey Joel Rosario struggled to get the colt under control and, once he did, Twirling Candy had no further problem, getting clear at the end to win by 3 1/4 lengths, remaining undefeated in four career starts. Jairzihno was the best of the rest, with Royal F J third. Twirling Candy, a Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt, finished 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.96. "He must have seen something inside him," Rosario said. "All of a sudden he went outside. I did the best I could to get him back. I don't think it caused that much trouble. I didn't have any trouble with the saddle or the reins. He did it himself." Trainer John Sadler said the stewards made the right call in not penalizing his colt for the detour. "This is one of the best horses in the country," Sadler said. "He's so gifted. He's better when there are horses around him. When he's by himself out there he does a lot of looking around. He'll run in the Goodwood Stakes (at Oak Tree) and I think the pace on a synthetic surface will be better for him."
Lethal Combination rallied from last with a wide move entering the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Sarnac Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga and out-finished Turf Melody by a half length. The favorite, Fantastico Roberto, finished third. Lethal Combination, a Kentucky-bred Broken Vow gelding, ran the 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:53.18 with Alan Garcia up. Winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the plan was "to be a little closer to the pace. But the horse didn't cooperate, so Alan rode a great race. He sat back and made a nice run, so it worked out." He said Lethal Combination, winner of two of six starts since coming from England, probably will go to the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont.
Night Magic, a 4-year-old Sholokhov filly, bested Group 1 winners Quijano and Cavalryman to win Sunday's Grosser Mercedes-Benz Preis von Baden at Baden Baden. Night Magic, with Filip Minarik up, got home 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Quijano. Cavalryman was third as the favorite. Wiener Walzer, winner of last year's Deutches Derby, got home sixth. Winning trainer Wolfgang Figge said he will consider shipping Night Magic to Japan for end-of-the-year group races there. Her resume also includes a victory in the Group 1 Preis der Diana Deutsches Stuten-Derby last year.
Filly & Mare Turf
Lillie Langtree, eighth in the Juvenile Fillies Turf last year as the betting favorite, won Saturday's Group 1 Matron Stakes at Leopardstown, rallying into the stretch run with work to do and finally getting by Spacious to win by a neck. Trainer Aidan O'Brien indicated the winner may go to the Prix de l'Opera at Longchamp, then to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf or to the Turf Mile.
Get Serious survived a problematic start in Sunday's $200,000 Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth Park, tracked the pace, got to the front in the stretch and turned back multiple challengers to win by a neck. Nownownow was second and Boots Ahead rallied to take third. Get Serious, a 6-year-old, New York-bred City Zip gelding, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.37 with Pablo Fragoso aboard, bettering the course record he set last year. "He stumbled pretty badly, which I think cost him getting to the lead," said winning trainer John Forbes. "He overcame a lot. He was giving some weight, stumbled, didn't really have the perfect scenario, but still overcame it." Get Serious now has four wins this year, including three stakes, and edged his career earnings north of the $1 million mark.
Fuisse officially ran 1,600 meters to win Sunday's Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp in Paris. Unofficially, he got a lot more work than that. The 4-year-old Green Tune colt twice broke loose behind the gate and, the second time, took a mile tour of the Paris environs before he was corralled and finally installed in the gate. When he was ready, Fuisse had enough left to catch Rio de la Plata just before the finish to pick up the victory. Paco Boy, winner of the Lockinge Stakes in England and third in the Jacques Le Marios in his last start, was trapped on the rail in the late going and finished third. Lope de Vega, winner of the French Derby, lacked a late rally. "He was very fresh and playful," winning trainer Criquette Head-Maarek told the Racing Post. "He can be like that in the morning but never in the afternoon." She said Fuisse may visit Newmarket for the Champion Stakes.
Markab, a 7-year-old gelding from Henry Candy's barn, showed the way in Saturday's Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock, holding off Lady of the Desert at the end to win by 1 1/4 lengths in course-record time of 1:09.82. Genki got home third and Starspangledbanner, winner of the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot and the July Cup at Newmarket earlier in the season, faded to finish fifth after racing with the pace through the early furlongs. Candy said the winner next may try the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp, noting he has "a lot of miles on the clock" and instead might take the remainder of the year off. Starspangledbanner's trainer, Aidan O'Brien, said by telephone from Leopardstown his charge apparently was weary from a long campaign and is due for a freshening.
Rose Catherine stalked the pace in Saturday's $70,000 Lena Spencer Stakes at Saratoga, ranged to the lead early in the stretch run and held easily, winning by 1 length in a hand ride by Javier Castellano. Broken Dreams was second and Karakorum Elektra finished third. Rose Catherine, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Speightstown, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:01.53.
Here Comes Ben, a sentimental favorite here, closed on the leaders turning for home in Saturday's $250,000 Forego Stakes at Saratoga and used most of the stretch to get by Big Drama to win by 3/4 length. The even-money favorite, Vineyard Haven, raced just off the pace but lacked the needed kick late, settling for third. Here Comes Ben, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Street Cry colt, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:22.50 under Alex Solis. Here Comes Ben opened 2010 with a pair of easy allowance wins in Kentucky in the spring and a neck victory in the Kelly's Landing at Churchill Downs on June 25 -- all of those being 7-furlong races. "We had to see if he was this kind of horse, and he proved it today," winning trainer Charles Lopresti said. "He broke his maiden in a one-turn mile at Churchill, so he can get a little more distance. There won't be many 7-furlong races for him, so we're going to have to make a decision."
Wildcat Brief came from last of seven to win Sunday's $100,000 Icecapade Stakes at Monmouth Park, drawing clear at the end to finish 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Temecula. Valid Sum got home third. Wildcat Brief, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Forest Wildcat colt, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.10 with Elvis Trujillo up. It was the third win of the season for Wildcat Brief. "The race set up perfectly for us," winning jockey Elvis Trujillo said. "We just sat off the early leaders and let the duel happen. When it was time to go, I angled him out and let him run."
Madman Diaries led all the way in Saturday's $150,000 Sapling at Monmouth Park, turned back a challenge from Vengeful Wildcat and went on to win by 1/2 length over that rival Chipshot finished third. Madman Diaries, a Florida-bred Bring the Heat gelding, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.64 with Jeffrey Sanchez riding. It was his third win in five starts, with the previous four all being on the main track. "I was pretty confident in him," said winning trainer and co-owner Wesley Ward. "He's been breezing up at Saratoga and had me convinced he can run on dirt, that's why we took a shot here."
After avoiding a bumper-cars start that affected most of the field in Friday's $100,000 With Anticipation Stakes, Soldat assumed a stalking role, was roused to the lead at the top of the lane and coasted home first, 3 lengths better than Powhattan County. Typhoon Slew veered out sharply at the start from the inside post, causing a chain reaction of bumping, but then led the way through the early furlongs and held on for third. Soldat, a Kentucky-bred War Front colt, finished the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.37. "He really took to the grass," said winning jockey Alan Garcia. "Very impressive. When I asked him at the quarter pole, whoosh! He really took off." Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, eyeing a final prep for the Breeders' Cup, said the Grade 3 Pilgrim at Belmont Park on Oct. 3 is "probably the right spot, if we have enough time."
Tell a Kelly sat well off a wicked early pace in Saturday's $250,000 Darley Debutante at Del Mar, then had to work through a lot of traffic to take the lead in the stretch. Once there, the Florida-bred Tapit filly was home free, drawing off to win by 4 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Wickedly Perfect, clicked off the early fractions and had enough left to salvage place money, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Rigoletta. Tell a Kelly ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.05, picking up her second win from three starts. "She broke well and I could tell they were going very, very fast up there," said winning rider Alonzo Quinonez. "I just let her settle and then I started looking for my spots. I didn't want to get caught in behind some horse that was stopping. It all worked out great. I asked her and she exploded." Winning trainer John Sadler said Tell a Kelly "likes to ease back and settle. She was able to do that today. We'll stay home and run at Oak Tree in the Oak Leaf and then head for Kentucky for the Breeders' Cup."
R Heat Lightning ran by pacesetting Alienation midway through the stretch run in Sunday's $250,000 Spinaway at Saratoga and went on to win by a comfortable 4 lengths. Alienation, who blazed through fast opening fractions, held second, 2 1/2 lengths better than Valiant Passion. Todd Pletcher trains the first- and third-place finishers. Bob Baffert handles Alienation. R Heat Lightning, a Florida-bred Trippi filly, was far back in the early going but finished the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.23 with Garrett Gomez at the controls. The Spinaway was the third start for R Heat Lightning, a 5-length debut winner at Delaware Park on July 5 and runner-up in the Colleen at Monmouth Park on Aug. 7. "R Heat Lightning had been training very well in her last couple of breezes and got a good, favorable outside post," Pletcher said. "I was trying to get her to settle a little bit and make a run, and I thought it was a big performance."
Hi Ho Yodeler tracked the pace in Wednesday's $100,000 Generous Portion Stakes for California-bred fillies at Del Mar, got to the lead at mid-stretch and won by 3 1/4 lengths despite drifting a bit in the late going. Lucky Sis rallied from near the back of the field to take second, beating pacesetter Miles Rules by a neck. Hi Ho Yodler, by Swiss Yodler, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:11.51 with Patrick Valenzuela up.
Fiscal Policy battled to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Coca Cola Bassinet Stakes at River Downs in Ohio, then drew clear in the stretch, winning off by 6 1/4 lengths over Ruth and Neva. Bach Hamilton was third. Fiscal Policy, a Florida-bred daughter of Wildcat Heir, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13 2/5 with Rex Stokes III up.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Fancy Point took the lead in Wednesday's $70,000 P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga, shook off a challenge at the top of the lane and waltzed home first, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Kathmanblu. Pleine Forme finished third. Fancy Point, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Point Given, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the firm inner turf course in 1:42.78. Javier Castellano had the mount.
In other weekend racing:
Haimish Hy rallied from last of eight to upset Friday's $100,000 El Cajon Stakes for 3-year-olds, beating Lion's Story by a neck. It was another neck back to Distorted Economy and the favorite, Goggles McCoy, faded from the point to finish fourth. Haimish Hy, a Kentucky-bred Ecton Park colt, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:36.55. Alonso Quinonez piloted the 31-1 shot.
Tropic Storm led all the way to a 2 1/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $75,000 Windy Sands Handicap. Red Door Drive was second with Unusual Suspect third. Tropic Storm, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred Stormy Atlantic gelding, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:35.64 with David Flores up.
Queen of the Creek opened a big lead in the featured $70,000 division of Thursday's Riskaverse Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and got home a 3 1/2-length winner over Ultimate Class. Kittylicious was third and the favorite, Lisa's Bobby Trap, faded to finish last of 10. Queen of the Creek, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Theatrical, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.94 under Julien Leparoux. In the first division, Awesome Maria stalked the pace, got to the lead with less than a furlong left and held off the late bid of Snow Top Mountain to win by 1/2 length. In Te Domine was 1/2 length farther back in third. Awesome Maria, a Kentucky-bred Maria's Mon filly, finished in 1:35.06 with John Velazquez up.
C.S. Silk prompted the pace in Saturday's $70,000 Addison Mallery Stakes for fillies and mares, took over at the quarter pole and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Fantasia. Be Fair was third and the favorite, My Princess Jess, finished fourth. C.S. Silk, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Medaglia d'Oro filly, ran 1 mile on the inner turf in 1:35.29 with John Velazquez in the irons.
Grecian Maiden stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Twin Lights Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, closed through the stretch and won by a nose over Profiteroles. Bet on the Blue was third. Grecian Maiden, a Kentucky-bred Ghostzapper filly, got the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.38 under Julien Pimentel. It was his third win from five starts, with the previous four races coming on the grass. "I was pretty confident in him," said winning trainer and co-owner Wesley Ward. "He's been breezing up at Saratoga and had me convinced he can run on dirt. That's why we took a shot here."
Hoo Why dueled her way to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Seaway Stakes for fillies and mares, pulled away from a quartet of rivals and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Indian Apple Is finished second and Mother Russia, third. Hoo Why, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Cloud Hopping, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.51 with Emile Ramsammy up.
Officeinthevalley kicked loose from the field entering the stretch in Sunday's $125,000 Vice Regent Stakes for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds, sprinted clear and won by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Mobil Unit. Iwillgotothemoon finished third. Officeinthevalley, a Peaks and Valleys gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.86 with Richard Dos Ramos aboard.
Glitter Rox stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Avowal Stakes for fillies and mares, took the lead into the stretch and won by 3/4 length over early leader Woolly Bear. Sugar Bay was third and the favorite, Dreamt, settled for fourth. Glitter Rox, a 6-year-old, Ontario-bred Glitterman mare, ran the 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:23.29 with Gerry Olguin in the irons.
Calder Race Course
Trip for A.J. worked out his own trip in Saturday's $50,000 Ms. Brookski Stakes for fillies and mares. After tracking the pace for a bit, the 3-year-old, Florida-bred Trippi filly went to the lead when asked by Javier Santiago, then quickly drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Musical Romance and Dancing Rage completed a musical trifecta. Trip for A.J. ran the 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:28.77.