At Calder Race Course in South Florida, especially, some contenders for 2011's earliest Triple Crown preps may have surfaced during the eight-race "Florida Million" card.
The post-Breeders' weekend also featured graded stakes on the turf at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park and some significant action as far afield at Hong Kong, Japan and France.
Unusual Suspect ran down pacesetting Temple City in the final yards to win Saturday's $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup by a head. Buenos Dias rallied from last of eight to finish third, another 3/4 length in arrears. The favorite, Where's the Remote, was never in the mix and got home last. Unusual Suspect, a 6-year-old, California-bred son of Unusual Heat, got the 12 furlongs on firm turf in 2:25.83 with Corey Nakatani at the controls. Winning owner Barry Abrams said Unusual Suspect may have a bit of an unusual future. "He won the 6-furlong Turf Express, the Cal Cup Mile, the Cougar II going a mile and a half on synthetic," Abrams said. "He's beaten Richard's Kid twice and now he's won a Grade 1 race. He's got a fabulous family and he deserves to be a stallion. But in this country, distance horses aren't popular stallions. So my thinking, if I send him to Australia, I can race him there a year and then retire him to stud. Plus, he's out of a good New Zealand mare (Penpont) and a good New Zealand family."
Washington Bridge stalked the pace in Friday's $50,000 Life Is Sweet Stakes for fillies and mares, came out in the stretch for running room and got away to a 2 1/4-lengths victory over It Tiz. Point of Reference was third. The favorite, Ellafitz, contested the lead, then faded to finish last of five. Washington Bridge, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Yankee Gentleman filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.80 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Sister Dawn dueled with Holding Her Ground through much of Sunday's $55,000 Playa Del Rey Stakes for fillies and mares, then got the lead and held off Mother Ruth by a neck at the end. Silver Swallow finished third. Sister Dawn, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Indian Charlie filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.94 for jockey Joel Rosario.
Calder Race Course
Saturday's "Florida Million" card featured eight races, all for steeds bred in the Sunshine State. Four were for promising 2-year-olds.
Racing Aptitude certainly is living up to his name. The Aptitude colt, out of the Saint Ballado mare Ecclesiastes, stalked the pace in the $100,000 Arthur I. Appleton Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the grass, then got to the lead a furlong out and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The Best Glacier was second-best. And I Like It Too finished third. Racing Aptitude, with Luis Saez aboard, was clocked in 1:43.72. "Each time he's run and tried something new, he's improved," winning trainer Howard Tesher said. "His pedigree would indicate he would like the longer distance and turf. I'll keep him on turf and point him for the Tropical Park Derby" on New Year's Day.
Devilish Lady dueled for the lead early in the $125,000 Joe O'Farrell Juvenile Fillies Stakes, then bid adieu to her rivals, winning off by 7 3/4 lengths. Beso Grande rallied to finish second, 3/4 length ahead of The Marikutana. The Sweetsouthernsaint filly, with Daniel Centeno in the irons, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.39. She finished second in her last outing, the Cassidy Stakes, and trainer Antonio Sano removed the blinkers for Saturday's effort. "She really took off in the stretch, which did not surprise me. I knew she would run well today," said Sano, a veteran Venezuelan trainer who picked up his first U.S. stakes win.
Manicero dominated the $125,000 Jack Price Juvenile. With Saez handling the reins, the Mass Media colt, out of the Kris S. mare Ritzy Blitz, blitzed seven rivals, drawing off smartly down the stretch to score by 8 1/4 lengths over Ribo Bobo. Motin was third. Manicero covered the 7 furlongs in 1:25.77. He had finished third in his last start after some issues getting into the gate and was place fourth. Winning trainer Leo Azpurua Jr. added blinkers for Saturday's race. "We think he is a very special horse," Azpurua said. "We'll nominate him in several spots, including the Spectacular Bid early in the Gulfstream meet." That would put the colt on the Kentucky Derby trail.
Salsa Bullet was quickly on the engine in the $100,000 John Franks Juvenile Fillies Turf, galloped along through slow fractions and had enough in reserve to hold off the favorite, Holidaysatthefarm, by 3/4 length under the wire. Blue Eyed Sweetie was third. Salsa Bullet, a daughter of Omega Code out of the Lure mare Luricon, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:47.07 under Eibar Coa. "It wasn't necessarily our plan of attack to go to the lead," winning trainer Seth Benzel said. "But she broke so sharply and nobody challenged her. She got away with an easy lead and Coa dictated the pace, slowing it down, and she had enough in the end to get the job done. The Tropical Park Oaks (on New Year's Day) sounds good."
Joanie's Catch came five-wide into the stretch and got by everyone to win the $150,000 Elmer Heubeck Distaff Handicap by a neck over pacesetting Amazing. Musical Romance finished third. Joanie's Catch, with Santiago up, got the 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:48.73. "We'll keep her going as long as she shows us she wants to keep going," winning trainer Barry Rose said. "She's a filly that, two days after a race, is ready to do something and get going again. We can look ahead to Gulfstream where we know she likes the track, but she could run again here before that if she indicates she's ready."
Pickapocket prompted the pace in the $125,000 Bonnie Heath Turf Cup, got to the lead in the stretch and just did hold off even-money favorite Bim Bam to win by a nose. Tannersville was third and Saint Dynaformer fourth. Pickapocket, a 6-year-old Mecke gelding, ran the 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:51.39 with Jermaine Bridgmohan up. "He's always been a nice horse," Marty Wolfson, the winning trainer, said. "The plan is to take him to California for the Sunshine Millions (Turf at Santa Anita on Jan. 29)."
Nobody laid a glove on Tackleberry in the $125,000 Jack Dudley Turf Sprint. The 3-year-old Montbrook gelding broke poorly but surged right to the lead under Javier Santiago, dictated a reasonable pace and drew off, winning by 5 1/4 lengths. Hear Ye Hear Ye was best of the rest with Ju Jitsu Jax third. Tackleberry got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.80. Tackleberry trainer Luis Olivares said, "When he broke bad, it scared me. But the rail was open and he took it. Sometimes when there's a lot of speed in a race, people want to take back, but I told him to go for it."
Birdrun pressed the pace in the $150,000 Carl G. Rose Classic, battled hard for the lead into the stretch and then drew away late, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Duke of Mischief. The latter was tightly engaged with the winner at the top of the lane, then faded to just hold second at the wire over Dream Maestro. Birdrun, a 4-year-old Birdstone colt, got the 9 furlongs on the main track in 1:54.48 with Rajiv Maragh in the irons for trainer Bill Mott. Winning owner Art Preston said Birdrun "took a huge jump winning his last race at Belmont with a big number and we decided to take the step up to this race. He beat a very nice horse today so he's come a long way and we look forward to the winter with him."
Mekong Melody sat off the early pace in Saturday's $150,000 Long Island Handicap, found racing room along the rail early in the stretch run and went through and on to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Daveron. The early leader, Tarrip, held third by a nose over the odds-on favorite, Changing Skies. Mekong Melody, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred Cape Cross mare, was coming off a disappointing 10th-place finish in the E.P. Taylor at Woodbine in her last start for trainer Roger Attfield. She got the 1 1/2 miles on firm going in 2:30.76. "I had a great trip," winning jockey Alex Solis said. "I saved all the ground and in the stretch, I got lucky. I got a little opening there and when I asked her, she went through and finished very strong."
Unbridled Humor caught pacesetting longshot Ultimate Class in the final jumps of Sunday's $60,000 Memories of Silver Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, winning by a nose. Profiteroles was just another neck back in third. Unbridled Humor, a Florida-bred daughter of Distorted Humor, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:38.21 with John Velazquez riding.
In New York Stallion Stakes races on Sunday:
Big Brownie tracked the pace early in the $75,000 Staten Island Division, found room inside turning for home and shot through to win by an easy 5 3/4 lengths. We Need V L T's -- no kidding! -- finished second and Raffie's Rose was third. Big Brownie, a 4-year-old Wheelaway filly, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.91 with John Velazquez aboard. "She ran awesome," Velazquez said. "She was brave enough to squeeze through and when I asked her, she responded right away. You have to have the horse to do that and it worked out well."
Driven by Success pressed the pace in the $75,000 Thunder Rumble Division, popped out to the lead turning for home and drew off to score by 3 1/4 lengths. Early leader General Maximus held on for second, a head in front of Good Card. Driven by Success, a 5-year-old Precise End gelding, ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.74, with Velazquez picking up his fifth win of the day, including all three stakes races. "It was basically a two-horse race, so the only one I had to worry about was General Maximus," the happy jockey said, "and I needed to put a little bit of pressure on him. (Driven by Success) broke well enough that I was right next to him. It's a great day for me. I don't get one of these that often anymore, so I'm very happy today!"
Yankee Fortune worked his way to the lead turning for home in Saturday's $100,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes for 3-year-olds, then held off a late rally by long shot Guys Reward to win by a length. It was another neck back to Turallure in third. Yankee Fortune, a Kentucky-bred Yankee Gentleman gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.68 with Victor Santiago up. "We hope next year he's going to be a top horse," winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "We'll go to Florida with him. He ships tomorrow, and then we'd love to point him to the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland and just go from there." Asked about distance considerations, McLaughlin said Yankee Fortune "could go a little further" than a mile.
Anne's Beauty rallied to the lead in the stretch run of Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Glorious Song Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, then held off a second effort by pacesetter Nina Fever to win by a head. Fun Filled was third. Anne's Beauty, a Kentucky-bred Artie Schiller filly, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.64 with David Clark up. She was starting for the first time since a maiden win on Aug. 27. A planned start in the Mazarine Stakes was aborted when she acted up at the gate and was scratched. "She's very versatile," trainer Paul Attard said. "Wait and see her go two turns."
Stunning Stag rallied wide past most of the field in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Autumn Stakes, quickly opened up a comfortable margin and got home first by 3 3/4 lengths, ridden out. Smart Bid and Perfect Bullet also came from off the pace but settled for second and third, respectively. Stunning Stag, a 6-year-old, Ontario-bred Running Stag gelding, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:42.75 with Gerry Olguin in the irons. "I just tried to be as patient as I can with him because I know he's got a nice quarter-mile kick," Olguin said. "I didn't care where I was going to be laying. I just wanted to use him the last quarter. He had tremendous acceleration. It worked out well."
Isabella Bay rallied from well back to take Wednesday's $125,000 (Canadian) South Ocean Stakes for Ontario-sired 2-year-old fillies by 3/4 length over Dreamy Moonlite. The favorite, Sagatiba, was third, another length back. Isabella Bay, a daughter of Strut the Stage, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.69 with Chantal Sutherland aboard.
Breathoffreshheir aired it out in the stretch in the $70,000 filly division of the Jersey Juvenile, drawing off to win by 2 lengths over Ima Jersy Girl. Readybdancing finished third. Breathoffreshheir, a Wildcat Heir filly, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.19 with Carlos Marquez Jr. in the irons. It was her second win in three starts.
In the $70,000 open division, Loving Dove rallied from last of eight, got through between rivals and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Porcini Prince. He is a Hotty finished third. Loving Dove, a Mo Mon gelding, finished in 1:11.00 with Elvis Trujillo up. He scored his second win five starts. "He's been keeping some pretty nice company lines," Loving Dove trainer Gregg Sacco said. "He's a very talented sprinter with a nice closing kick. I think as time goes on, he'll be good both short and long."
Ducky Drake came from last of seven to win Sunday's $55,000 Lea County Sprint, scoring by a neck over Kineticat Yankee. Tactful was third. Ducky Drake, an 8-year-old, California-bred Benchmark gelding, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:02.69 with Miguel Hernandez in the irons.
Irian, one of three saddled by John Moore, got a free run down the middle of the course to win Sunday's Group 2 Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Cup, the main local prep for the Dec. 12 Hong Kong Cup. With Brett Prebble up, Irian got past Packing Winner to score by 1 3/4 lengths. King Dancer was third and this year's Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby winner Super Satin fourth. Another from Moore's stable, Collection, was caught on the rail in traffic during the stretch run and had to settle for fifth. "We knew he was a bit above himself in condition and he had a few problems in the straight," Moore said of Collection. "But we're happy with the way he performed and he'll be ready for Dec. 12." And, he said, off Sunday's performance, the recently gelded Irian also is a live contender for the big race. Prebble added: "He's a horse going the right way and hopefully he'll put his hand up for the internationals." Peter Ho, who trains Packing Winner, said he is "pleased with him because he is 8 years old now. But he's shown again that he remains up there with the younger horses. He was fit today but he'll still be going to the 2,000 meters (the Hong Kong Cup) with a chance." Sean Woods, who handles King Dancer, said his charge is still under consideration for the Cup but more like will contest the Vase.
English-based Snow Fairy stalked the pace in Sunday's Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup at Kyoto Racecourse, dropped to the rail for the stretch run and surged clear to win by 4 lengths with little help from jockey Ryan Moore. Meisho Beluga was second with Japanese Triple Crown winner Apapane third, 3/4 length farther back. Snow Fairy earlier this year won both the Irish and English Oaks. She came into the race off a fourth-place finish in the St. Leger Stakes on Sept. 11. Winning trainer Ed Dunlop said Snow Fairy has been invited to run in the Japan Cup next month but no decision has been made.
Recital drew off to a 5-lengths victory in Saturday's Criterium Saint-Cloud, rallying from near the back of the pack of juveniles. With John Murtagh up for Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore Stud, Recital made his move with 2 furlongs to go, easily seized the lead and finished the 10 furlongs over heavy going in 2:24.80. Bubble Chic was second and Prairie Star finished third. Recital, a French-bred son of Montjeu, came into the race off a maiden victory last month at Navan. O'Brien said the race showed Recital is "a Derby sort," although he does possess significant speed. Murtagh announced earlier in the week he has resigned as retained jockey for Ballydole.