With three different winners in the three Triple Crown races, the Eclipse Award remains up for grabs. And, on the morning after the Belmont, it sounded very much like the big races at Saratoga might have something to do with unsorting the puzzle.
Ruler On Ice seemed an unlikely story in the Belmont, having skipped the first two Triple Crown events in favor of comparatively minor races in New Mexico and Maryland. But trainer Kelly Breen added blinkers Sunday, the colt obviously liked the sloppy track at Belmont Park and, perhaps most important, Breen said his previously sub-par bloodwork had improved significantly in the weeks leading up to the big race.
With all that working, Ruler On Ice, under Jose Valdivia Jr., stayed close to the pace set by Shackleford, got to the front a furlong out and held off Stay Thirsty to win by 3/4 of a length in 2:30.88. Brilliant Speed, Nehro, Shackleford and Animal Kingdom completed the top six.
Shackleford, the Preakness winner, simply ran out of gas with a furlong left in the 1 1/2-mile "Test of Champions." Animal Kingdom was effectively eliminated when he clipped heels a few jumps after the start and stumbled, nearly losing rider John Velazquez.
"I don't think anybody could put into words or make any calculations for what helped him or what hurt anybody else," Breen said of the 24-1 upset. "That's racing. And that's why they run the races. I've been saying that since I've been in the business. If it wasn't, every 4-to-5 shot would just win. You've got to be in it to win it, and I was more than happy to be in it."
At the barn Sunday, Breen reported Ruler On Ice, a Kentucky-bred gelding by Roman Ruler, "is acting great. I'm shocked to say this morning that he looks as if he didn't even run. I'd have to think that's a pretty good sign."
Breen reported owner George Hall said he would "love" to see Ruler On Ice contest the $1 million Travers at Saratoga Aug. 27. But he did not commit to that race and he is based at Monmouth Park, which offers the $1 million Haskell Invitational July 31.
If that's where the Belmont winner goes, he could face some of the same rivals he beat in Saturday's slop.
Barry Irwin, who manages Animal Kingdom, said he originally hoped to bring the Derby winner back to the turf this summer, possibly at Arlington Park. But after the Belmont debacle, he said, "I don't know now. We want to make this horse the champion … . He's probably the leader of the 3-year-old class now but he's no cinch to be champion. So I think we're going to have to put him where he can solidify that. We're going to have to take a look at the Travers."
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Stay Thirsty will point for the Jim Dandy, then the Travers. Tom Albertrani said he has a similar schedule in mind for Brilliant Speed. And assistant trainer Toby Sheets said Nehro's next race is undermined but that he will stay with trainer Steve Asmussen's New York operation. Shackleford came out of the Belmont in good order and trainer Dale Romans said he is looking at the Haskell as his next race.
The end of the Triple Crown series and this week's Royal Ascot meeting also mark the start of serious preparation for the big races at the end of the year -- the European classics and especially the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Here's how some of the weekend action might impact the Breeders' Cup races this November at Churchill Downs:
Birdrun did all the running in Friday's $150,000, Grade II Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park, leading from start to finish under jockey Rajiv Maragh. The favorite, last year's Belmont Stakes winner, Drosselmeyer, ran second all the way but couldn't make up any ground in the stretch, finishing 3 3/4 lengths back. Alma d'Oro was third and Eldaffer and Afleet Again completed the order of finish. Birdrun, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone, got the 1 1/2 miles of the Brooklyn in 2:28.24 over a fast track. Bill Mott, who trains both Birdrun and Drosselmeyer, said, "Big day. Big day. We thought he'd be on the lead. Last time, he was on the lead at a mile and a quarter. Drosselmeyer rolled up at the quarter pole, but didn't fire his best shot today. Both horses deserved to run today … . There's not a lot of races like this in America. It's great to watch a race at a mile and a half, a mile and a quarter."
Coil pulled jockey Martin Garcia to the lead in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Affirmed Handicap for 3-year-olds at Hollywood Park, shook loose in the lane and won by 1 length over Runflatout. Spud Spivens finished third. Coil, a Florida-bred Point Given colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.88. "I was hoping to get a good Point Given," winning trainer Bob Baffert said. "He's just getting better and better. I was pretty impressed today with him, what he did and the way he did it. He's still learning how to run." Baffert said he is targeting the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park July 31, with one race in between.
It's Tricky, on a tricky day in the Belmont Park mud, stalked the pace in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, went by three-wide and drew clear, beating odds-on favorite Turbulent Descent by 3 3/4 lengths. Turbulent Descent, the Santa Anita Oaks winner, was 10 lengths clear of Her Smile, who finished third. It's Tricky, a Kentucky-bred Mineshaft filly out of the Tale of the Cat mare Catboat, finished the 1 mile in 1:35.48. Winning rider Eddie Castro said It's Tricky had no problems with the going. "I put her where I did in the other two races I rode, and then I waited. When we got in the stretch, she kicked in nicely," he said. "She is powerful and has a nice kick." Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he is looking at the longer distaff events at Saratoga, including the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama.
Havre de Grace stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Obeah Stakes at Delaware Park, then took command when asked by jockey Gabriel Saez and got clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Tiz Miz Sue ran well late to take second and Sweet N Sour Nina was third. Navre de Grace, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Saint Liam filly, got the 9 furlongs over a fast track in 1:49.87. Havre de Grace came into the race off a victory in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 15 and now is targeting the $750,000 Delaware Handicap on July 16. "Her effort today was what we were looking for and wanting to get before the Delaware Handicap," winning trainer J. Larry Jones said. "We wanted to have a trip over the track. That way, no one could have an advantage on us."
Trappe Shot shook loose from a pace battle midway down the stretch in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II True North Handicap at Belmont Park and splashed his way through the mud to an 8 1/2-length win. This Ones for Phil was second, a neck in front of Calibrachoa. Trappe Shot, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Tapit colt, ran the 6 furlongs in a quick-for-the-going 1:08.86, picking up his sixth win from nine starts and his second straight at Belmont. "That's a wow!" enthused winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "Two wows in a row. He loves Belmont." He said he also is looking to Saratoga for Trappe Shot, "if that's what we decide to do. We were pointing to this for so long."
Justin Phillip dueled his way to the lead in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Woody Stephens Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park and then simply took over, opening a big margin early in the stretch and finally posting the upset by 3 1/4 lengths over J J's Lucky Train. The favorite, Arch Traveler, was a nose farther back in third. Travelin Man and Derivative completed the order of finish. Justin Phillip, a Kentucky-bred First Samurai colt, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.56 with Ramon Dominguez riding. "He has run very well on an off track before and everything fell into place today," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "We thought he was going to lay third and Ramon said he felt great underneath him and that he was just dragging him along."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Bold Affair dueled Strike the Moon into submission in the stretch run of Saturday's $200,000 Jostle Handicap for 3-year-old fillies at Parx Racing, edging clear late to win by a length. A Story of Revenge finished third. Bold Affair, a Maryland-bred Two Punch filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.07 with Stewart Elliott up.
On a day when speed seemed to be the key on all surfaces at Belmont Park, Mission Approved got the lead in Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap, chugged along over yielding turf and held on well at the end to win by 1 1/4 lengths over fellow long shot Bim Bam. The favorite, Gio Ponte, rallied from far back against the elements but could do no better than third, a head farther back. Mission Approved, making his first start since finishing second to Gio Ponte in the Man O'War last July, ran the 1 1/4 miles in 2:06.32. In June 2010, he was claimed by trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul for $35,000. He took Mission Approved, Chatterpaul said, because, "I liked the horse -- a lot of back class. As long as he's in front, he's not going to give it up. It's awesome. It's the greatest feeling in the world." Gio Ponti was making his first start since finishing fifth in the Dubai World Cup. Before that, he was second to Goldikova in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile. "He will improve from this race on firmer ground," trainer Christophe Clement said.
Acclamation surged to the front the first time under the wire in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park, clipped along comfortably and had plenty in reserve to shake free of a persistent Celtic New Year in the stretch, drawing off to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Bourbon Bay finished third. Acclamation, who also won the Whittingham last year, finished Saturday's 1 1/4 miles over firm turf in 2:00.18 with Joe Talamo handling the reins. "We didn't want him to slow it down too much because then you get the pack too close," said winning trainer Don Warren. "You have to set a reasonable amount of pace to keep them strung out a little … . We'll consider the Hollywood Gold Cup or the United Nations Handicap (July 2 at Monmouth Park) again. That course back there would suit him. I don't know why he didn't run well there last year. Both times I've shipped him out of town he hasn't run well. I can't understand why. He's not a nervous horse and he acts like he takes to the shipping and the flight and everything just fine. I'm not convinced he won't ship and run well."
Peak's North stalked the pace in Sunday's $250,000, Grade III Monmouth Stakes at Monmouth Park, caught the favorite, Get Stormy, with a 16th of a mile to run and held sway. Sleepless Knight came late to finish second, 3/4 of a length behind the winner and Get Stormy finished third. Teak's North, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Northern Afleet gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:48.56 with Eddie Castro riding. "He loves it here," winning trainer Justin Sallusto said. "He's never lost over this track [in three starts]. Eddie did everything exactly as I said, 'sit off the early speed and when you turn for home come and get them.' Today was perfect."
Filly & Mare Turf
My Baby Baby posted a mild upset in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Early Times Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs. After tracking the pace four-wide, the 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Bernstein mare got to the front early in the stretch run and held off Ravi's Song by a neck at the wire. Tapitsfly was a nose farther back in third and the favorite, Snow Top Mountain, was fourth. My Baby Baby, with Manoel Cruz aboard, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.40. "I was able to keep this mare relaxed," Cruz said. "I knew she wanted to go, but she let me hold her and she stayed comfortable. I had a hold on her all the way into the stretch and then I finally let her run and she took off." The race could be My Baby Baby's last because she is soon to have her own baby. She is in foal to Curlin on a February cover.
Sarah's Secret took a slim advantage over favorite Star Billing early in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Honeymoon Handicap for 3-year-old fillies at Hollywood Park, gradually edged a little further in front in the stretch and held off a second effort by the favorite to win by a half length. Cambina came from last to take third, splitting rivals in the stretch. Sarah's Secret, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Lesroidesanimaux, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:50.04. "It was her first time going a distance," said winning rider Rafael Bejarano, "so I just let her break and when I saw (Star Billing) tried to slow the pace, I took the lead into the first turn. She showed me a big kick in the stretch. I wasn't even whipping her."
C. S. Silk led all the way to upset Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Foxwoods Just a Game Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park, winning by 3 lengths over Fantasia. Amen Hallelujah was third. C. S. Silk, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Medaglia d'Oro mare, ran the mile on "good" turf in 1:40.35 under Javier Castellano. C. S. Silk won for the first time since scoring in an optional claimer over yielding turf at Churchill Downs last November and for the seventh time in 24 lifetime starts. Castellano said he "walked with the 25-second first quarter. The rest was history. When I asked her, it was like I pushed a button and she took off." Winning trainer Dale Romans added, "We've had her since she was a yearling and she has been a little bit fickle where she'd throw in a bad race and then throw a good one. We just can't give up on her. She pays you off when she's right."
Courageous Cat parked behind pacesetting long shot Yield Bogey through the early stages of Friday's $100,000, Grade III Poker Stakes, went to the lead when asked by jockey Jose Lezcano and drew off late to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Yield Bogey held second, a length better than Right One. Courageous Cat, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Storm Cat out of the Rahy mare Tranquility Lake, ran the mile on "good" turf in 1:36.69. "He sat in a good spot and I waited for as long as I could," said Lezcano, adding "I wasn't worried" about catching Yield Bogey. "I let him go and waited to make my move." The win came in Courageous Cat's first start since finishing third behind Gio Ponti in last October's Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland.
Majestic City led comfortably most of the way in Sunday's $70,000 Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes at Hollywood Park, winning by 3 1/2 lengths, ridden out by David Flores. Truco Latino and Joyzey Billy completed the trifecta. Majestic City, a Kentucky-bred City Zip colt out of the Meadowlake mare It'schemistrybaby, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:04.16. Trainer Peter Miller said he plans to run Majestic City back in the Hollywood Juvenile on July 17. "I think he's very good," Miller said. "The way he trains, he just does everything so easily."
City Route led all the way to a 2 1/4-length victory over Sold Short in Saturday's $50,000 Lost in the Fog Stakes at Golden Gate Fields. The favorite, Mighty Monsoon, ran evenly to finish third. City Route, a California-bred Globalize filly running against males, got the 5 furlongs on the all-weather track in 57.75 seconds with Kevin Krigger in the irons.
Lil Cherokee led virtually all the way in Saturday's restricted $88,860 TTA Sales Futurity for colts and geldings at Lone Star Park, winning by a half length over Field Goal. Luvnarollercoastr finished third. Lil Cherokee, a Cherokee Run colt, finished the 5 furlongs on a fast track in 58.83 under jockey Cliff Berry. He now has two wins from two starts.
Killer Graces rallied three-wide from mid-pack and went on to win Saturday's $70,000 Cinderella Stakes at Hollywood Park by 1 1/4 lengths over first-time starter Chloe W. Willa B Awesome finished third. Killer Graces, a Kentucky-bred Congaree filly, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.48 with Joe Talamo up.
Shocktime, the odds-on favorite, was no shock in Saturday's $92,580 TTA Sales Futurity for fillies at Lone Star Park despite winning off by 12 3/4 lengths. Magic Moondust was the best of the rest, followed by stablemate Positive Spin and Rose Witch. Shocktime, a Langfuhr filly, finished in 58.61 with Cliff Berry up. She is undefeated in two starts.
Golden Lilac's 1-length victory over Goldikova's half-sister in Sunday's Prix de Diane at Longchamp not only solidified her position atop 3-year-old French fillies but put her name into consideration for this fall's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Golden Lilac, who earlier won the French 1,000 Guineas, made her way to the front in Sunday's race with more than a furlong left to run and held off Galikova at the end. Glorious Sight was a neck farther back in third. Andre Fabre trains Golden Lilac, a Galileo filly, who remains unbeaten after five career starts.
Four events on Saturday's card, each worth $75,000, previewed the July 9 "Summit of Speed" at the South Florida track and any of those could have an impact on the Breeders' Cup sprint events.
Beso Grande put her lips in front of Bessie M at the wire in the Leave Me Alone Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, winning by a head. It was another 5 1/4 lengths back to the favorite, White Merlot, in third. Beso Grande, a Florida-bred Mass Media filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.65 under Luis Jurado. "It looks like she's best going one turn," winning trainer Steve DiMauro said. "We'll stick with what she's best at and take the next step to the Azalea Stakes [$150,000 on July 9]."
Indiano draw off smartly in the stretch run to win the Unbridled Stakes for 3-year-olds by 4 1/4 lengths. Megalith was best of the rest, getting home a head in front of Close It Out. Indiano, a Kentucky-bred Indian Charlie colt, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:10.69 with Luis Saez in the irons. Trainer Marty Wolfson, who won the Unbridled for the fourth straight year, said. "I think he's best at 7-8ths or less. He'll come back in the ($200,000) Carry Back ($200,000 on July 9)."
Musical Romance stalked the pace, then edged clear in the final sixteenth of the U Can Do It Handicap, winning by 3/4 of a length over Indulgence. Diosa Indian finished third. Musical Romance, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Concorde's Tune filly, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.23 with Juan Leyva riding. "She's handled every distance, every surface," said winning trainer Bill Kaplan. "She's everything. Juan knows her so well. I was confident wherever they were sitting earlier in the race. We'll go on to the Princess Rooney [$350,000 on Summit Day]."
Giant Ryan pressed the pace in the Ponche Handicap, shot to the lead in the lane and quickly drew off to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Royal Tricon rallied from last of seven to finish second at a big price and Hear Ye Hear Ye finished third. Giant Ryan, the odds-on favorite, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.64 for jockey Willie Martinez. He is a 5-year-old, New York-bred son of Freud. It was his fourth straight win, following three in New York. Winning trainer Bisnath Parboo said Giant Ryan has outgrown state-bred competition. "He'll stay here now, see how he is in a few days, and then point him for the next one," the trainer said, meaning the $350,000 Smile Sprint July 9.
In Sunday's $50,000 Emergency Nurse Stakes for fillies and mares, Sweet Repent surged to the lead in the final furlong, then held on to win by a neck over an onrushing Tesoro de Amor. Trip for A.J. finished third. Sweet Repent, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred Repent mare, got the 1 mile and 70 yards on a wet-fast track in 1:44.05 under Fernando Jara.
Moonshine Mullin led all the way, then survived a long stretch battle, to post an upset win in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Victoria Park Stakes for 3-year-olds, holding on at the end by a nose over fellow longshot Alpha Bettor. Newsdad finished third and the favorite, Twinspired, who finished second to Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass, struggled home seventh. Moonshine Mullin, a Kentucky-bred Albert the Great colt, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.04. "He took the first couple of jumps nice and relaxed and knew it was game time," winning rider Emma-Jayne Wilson said. "I was getting some comfortable splits and he relaxed for me down the backside."
Citius got to the front with a furlong left in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Bold Ruckus Stakes for 3-year-old Ontario-sired steeds and held on to win by 3/4 of a length over Forestador and another head over Sinister Quill. Citius, an Old Forester gelding, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:09.11 with Omar Moreno up. "Today, we were just sitting on the pace, sitting chilly and when I asked him to run, he ran along and finished well," Moreno said.
Zero Rate Policy dueled to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Rumson Stakes for 3-year-olds, then got clear to win by 4 3/4 lengths over Razmataz. Brother In Arms pressed the pace, then faded to finish third. Zero Rate Policy, a Florida-bred Trippi gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.94 under Carlos Marquez Jr.
Pomeroy's Pistol unleashed a devastating stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Just Smashing Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, running right by the leaders and winning off by 4 1/2 lengths. Maple Forest finished second with Honey Chile third. Pomeroy's Pistol, a Florida-bred Pomeroy filly, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.02 with Christopher DeCarlo up.
General Perfect rallied from last of eight to win Sunday's $67,200 John McSorley Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over pacesetting Southern Danger. Awakino Cat finished third and the favorite, Triple E, got home seventh. General Perfect, an 8-year-old, New Jersey-bred Perfect gelding, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:02.39 with Joe Bravo in the irons.
Go Milan Go went right to the front in Friday night's $75,000 Hawkeyes Handicap for Iowa-bred distaffers and wasn't caught, winning by 1/2 length over Abydos. Rico's Posse finished third. Go Milan Go, a 5-year-old Broken Vow mare, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a wet-fast track in 1:47.52 with Terry Thompson up.
Cainam took the shortest route past the leaders to get to the front in the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Cyclones Handicap for state-bred colts and geldings and went on to win by 5 1/4 lengths over West Albany. Kate's Main Man led early and finished third. Cainam, a 4-year-old Is It True gelding, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.41 under Glenn Corbett.
Rose Catherine set a brisk, pressured pace in Wednesday's $60,000 Nonsuch Bay Stakes for fillies and mares, opened a lead at the top of the lane and held on to win by a half length over Sea Road. Becky's Exchange got home third. Rose Catherine, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Speightstown filly, ran 6 furlongs on the firm inner turf course in 1:08.74 with John Velazquez up.
Summers Peace dueled for the lead in Sunday's $50,000 Washington State Legislators Stakes for fillies and mares, then drew off nicely once clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Rewritten. Dream Sweeper finished third. Summers Peace, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Orientate mare, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.29 with David Lopez up.
Lawson's Lady opened a big advantage early in the stretch drive in Friday's $50,000 Arcadiana Stakes for 3-year-old, Louisiana-bred fillies, then held on for dear life at the end, winning by a half length over Lovenotlost. A 42-1 long shot, Show Elle Thestage, got home third. Lawson's Lady, a Cactus Ridge filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.83 with Gerard Melancon in the irons.
Get in Da House rallied from far back to win Saturday's $50,000 Ragin Cajun Stakes for Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds by 1 1/2 lengths over Tough Brush. The favorite, Toro Bravo, finished third. Get in Da House, a Grand Appointment gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.47 for jockey Donald Simington.
Facey's Spirit led the way in Friday's $50,000 Ellen's Lucky Star Stakes for state-bred, 3-year-old fillies and held sway by 1 1/2 lengths over What About Ruby. The odds-on favorite entry of Perfectly Candid and My Bellamy finished third and fourth. Facey's Spirit, a daughter of Pass Rush, got the 6 furlongs on a "good" track in 1:09.25 with Orlando Mojica up.
Buster Rose drew clear late to win Saturday's $84,000 Snack Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds by 2 3/4 lengths over Bellamy Jones. Long Bomb finished third. Buster Rose, a Pioneering gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.73 with Thomas Pompell up.
Salt Flat Speed lived up to his name in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Journal Handicap, leading all the way to a 1 1/4-lenths victory over Footprint. Heavenly Chorus finished third. Salt Flat Speed, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Salt Lake gelding, finished 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:11 2/5 with Rico Walcott riding.
Classic Alley Kat led from the start in Sunday's $50,000 Wild Rose Handicap for fillies and mares and coasted home first by 1 1/2 lengths over Alywyn. Miss Victoriana was third. Classic Alley Kat, a 5-year-old, British Columbia-bred mare by Katahaula County, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11 2/5 under Fernando Perez.
Catlaunch opened a huge lead in Saturday's $50,000 Sydney Gendelman Memorial Handicap for Ohio-breds, then held on late to win by 3/4 length over Allsarott. Cajun Prize was third. Catlaunch, a 10-year-old Noble Cat gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the "good" main track in 1:47.46 with Luis Gonzalez up. The race originally was carded for the turf.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]