A full week of top-level racing from England to California set the stage for some dramatic showdowns before year's end.
With the Royal Ascot meeting highlighting British and continental stars and a slew of Grade I events on both turf and grass in the United States, fans could start to see some potential matchups for the upcoming English Classics, the Prix de l'Arc d'Triomphe, the Breeders' Cup and even year-ending races in Asia.
Royal Ascot provided even more than its usual complement of exciting races -- none more so than the Group 1 St. James's Palace Stakes on Tuesday's opening day card.
Frankel remains unbeaten in seven starts after winning that heat. But, uncharacteristically, it was a bit of a struggle. After surging to his expected substantial lead, Jockey Tom Queally had to get after the Galileo colt to get him home 3/4 length in front of Zoffany, with Ryan Moore up. Excellebration, winner of the German 2,000 Guineas, was third.
Winning trainer Sir Henry Cecil, freshly knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honors List, seemed unconcerned about Frankel's more laid-back approach, saying, "He settled really well. Very well."
Sir Henry said when Frankel hit the front, "He thought he'd done enough." But, he added, that can be a good sign. "We can ride him properly now," he quoted the jockey as saying. As a result, he said, he now is looking forward to matching his 3-year-old star against the reigning combatants in the Euro mile division -- Canford Cliffs and Goldikova. But he also held out the possibility that he would test Frankel's staying ability in the Juddmonte International. "It's the Juddmonte International or the Sussex Stakes," he said.
Goldikova and Canford Cliffs, meanwhile, duked it out in a game of cat-and-mouse in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes for 4-year-olds and up on the same day's card. Canford Cliffs, with Richard Hughes up, sat at the back of the field through much of the 1 mile, waiting for Goldikova and jockey Olivier Peslier to make their move. When they finally did, Hughes put Canford Cliffs into motion and he was up at the end to edge Goldikova for the victory. Cityscape joined the fray in the stretch run but couldn't keep up with the top two and settled for third.
Richard Hannon Jr., son and assistant to trainer Richard Hannon, said Canford Cliffs will be considered for the Sussex Stakes, where he might meet Frankel, the Hong Kong Mile, where he could meet unbeaten Australian star mare Black Caviar and Singapore star Rocket Man, and/or the Breeders' Cup Mile, where Goldikova is expected to be trying for a record fourth straight win.
Goldikova's trainer, Freddie Head, said, "There are no excuses. We had the perfect run and were just beaten by a better horse on the day. The Breeders' Cup Mile is still the end-of-season target."
Skimming some other highlights from the Royal Family's week at the races:
Also Tuesday, Prohibit won the 5-furlong, Group 1 King's Stand Stakes for the home team, defeating Australian invader Star Witness by 1/2 length. Hong Kong's Sweet Sanette finshed third with Overdose, in from Hungary, taking fourth. Winning trainer Robert Cowell said 5 furlongs is just right for Prohibit and "a yard over 5 furlongs is too far." He said the Nunthorpe Stakes in August at York is a likely target.
In the 6-furlong, Group 2 Coventry Stakes for 2-year-olds, Power won a long stretch duel after some physical contact with rival Roman Soldier. Power won by a neck and survived a look by the stewards. St. Barths was third. Power now is unbeaten in three starts for Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore.
Fame and Glory, with Jamie Spencer up, made his move to the lead with a quarter mile left to run in Thursday's Group 1 Gold Cup and demonstrated decisively that he could stay the 2 1/2 miles, winning off by 3 lengths over Opinion Poll. Brigantin finished third. Fame and Glory came into the race with six wins in his previous seven starts and finished second to the fabled Sea the Stars in the Epsom Derby two years ago. But there always is a question about extreme distances and now, said winning trainer Aidan O'Brien, that question is asked and answered. Rather than pursuing marathons, O'Brien said, Fame and Glory will get a bit of time, then be tightened up for a try at the Prix de l'Arc d'Triomphe this fall – a comparative sprint at just 1 1/2 miles over the Longchamp grass.
Wednesday's Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes came down to a battle between former Australian superstar So You Think and Dubai Sheema Classic winner Rewilding. With Frankie Dettori up, Rewilding came from last of seven in the stretch run, gaining slowly but steadily on the favored winner, and was just along in time to snatch the victory by a neck. The other five contenders finished well back of the embattled two. Sri Putra was third. Some putative stars, including Twice Over, Planteur, Jan Vermeer and Debussy, showed little. Debussy, winner of the 2010 Arlington Million, was eased at the end. Rewilding, toting the Godolphin blue silks, is trained by Mahmood al Zarooni. He finished in 2:04.24 over turf rated "good," picking up his fifth win from nine starts.
Immortal Verse, with Gerard Mosse up, raced near the back of the field in Friday's Group 1 Coronation Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, came wide through the stretch run and drew clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Nova Hawk. Barefoot Lady was third and the favorite, Together, got home fifth. More Than Real, the Bobby Flay-owned winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, faded to finish 11th. Immortal Verse, an Irish-bred, French-trained daughter of Pivotal, finished far back in the French 1000 Guineas last month, then rebounded to win a Group 2 event at Chantilly on June 5.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien said Await the Dawn, winner of the Group 2 Hardwick Stakes on Saturday, may be a candidate for the Breeders' Cup Classic this fall. The 4-year-old Giant's Causeway colt scored a 3-lengths victory in the Hardwick and now has five wins from six starts. The Royal Ascot score was a class test, with the results somewhat tempered by a soft course.
Meanwhile, back in the former colonies, a slew of weekend races carried potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Championships in November at Churchill Downs:
Pool Play was making his dirt debut in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs and, when he won, even owner William Farish could only say, "You're kidding." The 6-year-old, Ontario-bred son of Silver Deputy raced last of 11 early in the race. But jockey Miguel Mena waited patiently until the stretch turn, then got wide enough to find room and got Pool Play up in the last jumps to win by a neck over Mission Impazible. Apart was third and the favorite, Regal Ransom, stopped badly and finished last. Pool Play ran the 9 furlongs in 1:50.52 over a track that was upgraded from sloppy early to fast for the Foster, run as the last of a 12-race card. Winning trainer Mark Casse said he suggested to Farish they try the Foster because Pool Play worked well on the dirt in Florida and because, he added, "there is a little race they'll run here in the fall for $5 million … He actually is over at Royal Ascot and it's a shame he isn't here," Casse said. "I called him right after the race to tell him we won and he said, 'You're kidding.'"
Scotus, under a judicious ride by Alan Garcia, rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Matt Winn Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs by 1 length over Infrattini. Joe Vann led briefly late and held third. Scotus, a Kentucky-bred Successful Appeal colt out of the Seattle Slew mare Devine, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a "good" main track in 1:44.12. It was his first stakes win. "I had a great trip and I knew I just had to be patient because of the long stretch," Garcia said. "He ran a really great race and once he got running I knew I was going to get there." Winning trainer Kenny McPeek said he's not sure of the colt's next start.
Pants On Fire, bouncing back from a ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, recovered from a stumble at the start of Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park and rallied late to win by 2 lengths. Concealed Identity ran well late to take second and the early leader, Turbo Compressor, finished third. Pants On Fire, a Kentucky-bred Jump Start colt who won the Louisiana Derby en route to Louisville, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.89 with regular rider Rosie Napravnik in the irons. The Pegasus is the local prep for the $1 million Haskell Invitational on July 31 and winning trainer Kelly Breen said that event is "a definite possibility," for Pants On Fire. Breen also trains Ruler On Ice, who won the Belmont Stakes a week ago and also is under consideration for the Haskell.
After a string of six straight second-place finishes, Blind Luck now has two straight wins to her credit. The 4-year-old Pollard's Vision filly, winner of the 2010 Kentucky Oaks, rallied six-wide down the stretch in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, passed 'em all and went on to win by 1/2 length, outfinishing Switch. Miss Match raced evenly to finish third. Blind Luck, with Garrett Gomez up for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, got the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in a slow 1:50.89, picking up a slow pace dramatically in the final furlong. "The only thing I said to him before the race," Hollendorfer said of Gomez, "was just to try to watch the pace and see what happens. He watched it pretty well and got a good run on them coming for home." He said he had been pointing Blind Luck to the $750,000 Delaware Handicap on July 16. But now, he added, "depending on how everything goes, we might wait for Del Mar" and the $300,000 guaranteed Clement L. Hirsch Aug. 6.
Awesome Maria took over the lead in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park when pace-setter Absinthe Minded tired after a half mile. From then on, the 4-year-old Maria's Mon filly was as good as her name, easily drawing clear to win by 3 lengths over Payton d'Oro. Super Espresso rallied to finish third, 1 3/4 lengths better than Life at Ten. Awesome Maria, with John Velazquez up, went 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.40. "She's been just very, very good," said said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "She didn't break well but she was able to recover and find a spot there pretty quickly. After that, she was in pretty good shape." Unrivaled Belle, the 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner, was scratched in the paddock after flipping and breaking her withers. Trainer Bill Mott said the 5-year-old mare will be retired and bred.
J P's Gusto returned to action for the first time since the Arkansas Derby with a decisive victory in Saturday's $400,000 Red Legend Stakes at Charles Town in West Virginia. After briefly tracking the pace, the Successful Appeal ridgeling easily took over the race and coasted home first by 6 3/4 lengths over Loranger Native. Nacho Saint finished third. J P's Gusto finished the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.03 with J.D. Acosta riding. "We knew what kind of horse he is," Hushion said. "He's got speed and we knew he could handle it on this racetrack."
Rahystrada found running room along the inside in the stretch run of Saturday's $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs, surged through to the lead and got home first by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Smart Bid, despite drifting out late. Dark Cove finished third. Rahystrada, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred Rahy gelding, covered 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:54.68 with Sheldon Russell up. The race, previously restricted to 3-year-olds, was opened to older horses for the first time this year. "He really started firing at age 5," said winning trainer Byron Hughes. "And he's gotten better every year. He's an easy shipper and I thought he'd do well at this track." Rahystrada was winning for the 11th time in his career.
Banned completed a sweep of Churchill Downs' 3-year-old turf races with a smooth, 2-lengths victory over Benergy in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Jefferson Cup. Facing just three rivals, jockey Jose Lezcano let Redboard make the early going, then went by pretty much as he pleased and drew clear. Perregaux finished third and the Redboard faded to finish last. Banned, a Kentucky-bred Kitten's Joy colt out of the Capote mare Cardinalli, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.66. He earlier won the American Turf over the Churchill Downs lawn. "I don't know how good he is yet," said winning trainer Tom Proctor. "I think the logical choice is to take him to Arlington or Virginia now. Or we may even take him to Del Mar."
Filly & Mare Turf
Aruna closed smartly outside the leaders in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Edward P. Evans All Along Stakes at Colonial Downs and bested Dyna Waltz late to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Apple Charlotte was third. Aruna, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Mr. Greeley filly, ran 9 furlongs on the firm inner turf course in 1:49.21 with Ramon Dominguez up. It was her fourth win in the last five starts.
Bizzy Caroline rallied outside the leaders in the stretch run of Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, cleared and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Excited. The early leader, Bouquet Booth, finished third and the favorite, Kathmanblu, ran evenly to finish fourth. Bizzy Caroline, a Kentucky-bred Afleet Alex filly, finished the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.73 with Manoel Cruz in the irons.
Street Game left the gate running in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park and never stopped, extending his advantage throughout the 1-mile turf test until he won by 7 1/4 lengths. The favorite, Air Support, rallied from well back to salvage second, 1/2 length ahead of Humble and Hungry. Street Game, a New York-bred Street Cry colt out of the Thunder Puddles mare Thunder Achiever, finished in 1:36.38 with Ryan Curatolo up. "There didn't appear to be a whole lot of speed in there and he's got a pretty quick turn of foot and the fractions were kind, I thought," said winning trainer Phil Serpe. "So, I think if it wasn't the plan (to go to the lead), it was close to the plan." Serpe said he is considering stretching out Street Game to try the 1 1/4-miles Virginia Derby on July 16 at Colonial Downs.
Followmyfootsteps stepped right along the rail throughout Saturday's $50,000 Da Hoss Stakes, battled toward pacesetter Action Andy late in the stretch run and was just up at the wire to score by a nose. Mikoshi, the favorite, rallied late to finish third. Followmyfootsteps, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred Giant's Causeway gelding, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.47 with Rajiv Maragh up.
El Churruca stalked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Parx Dash at Parx Racing, surged to a lead in the stretch and held off Ben's Cat to win by a head. Radiohead was comfortably back in third. The favorite, defending Breeders' Cup champion Chamberlain Bridge, was never a threat and got home sixth. El Churruca, a 6-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred son of Monsieur Cat, ran 5 furlongs on "good" turf in 56.81 seconds with Angel Arroyo up. El Churruca now has 11 wins from 30 career starts. He only previous stakes victory came against state-breds.
Banner Bill bobbled at the start of Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Victoria Stakes at Woodbine, raced off the pace and then came six-wide to take the lead into the stretch. With David Clark up, the Illinois-bred Rockport Harbor gelding drew off and won by 5 3/4 lengths. Safraction was second and Firefall third. Banner Bill then survived an objection before the result was posted official. The 5 furlongs on the all-weather track went in 58.60 seconds.
In other weekend action:
Irish Gypsy rallied by Warren's Blossom in the stretch run to win Sunday's $70,000 Desert Stormer Handicap for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths. Fund Raiser finished third. Irish Gypsy, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Hennessey mare, finished 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.67 with Martin Garcia in the irons.
Sugarinthemorning eagerly pursued the early pace in Saturday's $70,000 Manhattan Beach Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got through between horses to take the lead and inched clear late to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Mizdirection. Fifth Commandment was third. Sugarinthemorning, a California-bred Candy Ride filly, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:09.18 under Patrick Valenzuela.
Turallure came four-wide to make his run in Friday night's $76,000 Opening Verse Stakes, altered course in the stretch to advance inside Tajaaweed and went on to beat that rival by 1 length. Kingofthebluegrass finished third, far back. Turallure, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Wando colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.41 with Julien Leparoux up.
Wink At the Girls rallied between horses in deep stretch and was just up to capture Saturday's $100,000 Wild and Wonderful Stakes by 1/2 length over fellow closer In the Juice. Russell Road finished third and the favorite, Comedero, faded from the lead to finish sixth. Wink At the Girls, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred Halo's Image gelding, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.21 with Oscar Flores up.
Grand Kisses led from the start in Saturday's $75,000 Lady Charles Town for 3-year-old fillies, then held on late despite lugging out to win by a neck. Sweet Susan and Moonlit Malibu dead-heated for second and third. The favorite, Dream, finished fourth. Grand Kisses, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Grand Reward, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:19.63 with Flores in the irons.
Immortal Eyes sprinted to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Charles Town Dash, cleared the field and won by 3 1/2 lengths, ridden out by Travis Dunkelberger. Tup Take' Please was second, with Ju Jitsu Jax third. Immortal Eyes, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred Greatness gelding, finished 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 50.76 seconds.
Jenny's So Great surged to the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Zadracarta Stakes for Canadian-foaled fillies and mares, then repulsed a late bid by Dancing Raven to win by 3/4 length. The favorite, Impossible Time, rallied from far back to salvage third. Jenny's So Great, a 4-year-old Greatness filly, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:21.09 under Jesse Campbell.
Sand Cove took over the lead from pacesetting J J for Dave early in the stretch run in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Steady Growth Stakes for Ontario-sired horses, then had to fend off a rebid by that rival to survive with a neck victory. It was a good way back to Lady's First Cat in third. Sand Cove, a 6-year-old son of Bold Executive, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.61 with Richard Dos Ramos riding.
She Be Classy shot to the lead four-wide entering the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 John W. Rooney Memorial Stakes at Delaware Park and quickly drew clear, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Thundering Emilia. Millenia was third. She Be Classy, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Toccet filly, got the 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:45.31. The race originally was carded for the grass. It was the first stakes triumph for She Be Classy.
Smokin Hero capped a long drive with a head victory over pacesetting Spa City Fever in Sunday's $60,000 Noble Nashua Stakes for New York-breds. With Alan Garcia up, the 5-year-old Smokin Mel gelding got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.19. The favorite, Johannesburg Smile, checked in third, 1/2 length farther in arrears.
Love That Dance dueled to the lead in Saturday's $65,000 Open Mind Handicap for New Jersey-bred distaffers, cleared and went on to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Karmageddon. Lil Kiara finished third. Love That Dance, a 5-year-old Not For Love mare, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.74 with Pablo Fragaso riding.
Royal Currier led all the way in Sunday's $65,000 Anderson Fowler Stakes for 3-year-olds, drawing off a bit at the end to score by 1 1/4 lengths over Christiesborntorun. Freud's Honour finished third. Royal Currier, a Florida-bred Red Bullet gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.18 with Joe Bravo handling the reins.
Gunfighter stalked the pace in Sunday's $65,000 Bernie Dowd Handicap for New Jersey-foaled horses, easily took the lead and got away in the stretch to win by 3 lengths. Adduce came from far back to finish second and Hermosillo, the early leader, finished third. Gunfighter, a 4-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred Iron Deputy gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:41.76 with Jose Valdivia Jr. aboard.
Calder Race Course
Afleet Lass surged to a good lead on the turn in Saturday's $50,000 Cool Air Stakes for fillies and mares, then held off the favorite, Bella Moneta to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Becausei'mworthit finished third. Afleet Lass, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Northern Afleet filly, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.48 seconds with Orlando Bocachica riding.
Pay the Man went quickly to the front in Saturday's $50,000 J. William Petro Memorial Handicap for Ohio-bred distaffers, hit the afterburners in the stretch and shook clear to win by 6 lengths over Honey Be Fleet. Adreamfordarlene finished third. Pay the Man, a 7-year-old Bernstein mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.18 under Luis Gonzalez.
Noosa Beach broke a step slow in Sunday's $50,000 Budweiser Handicap, tracked the early pace and then took charge in the lane like an odds-on favorite should, winning by 3 1/2 lengths. Winning Machine outfinished Saratoga Boot by a nose for second. Noosa Beach, a 5-year-old, Washington-bred Harbor the Gold gelding, ran 1 mile on a wet-fast track in 1:38.09 with Gallyn Mitchell up.
Boomtown Brat led all the way to an upset win in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) West Canada Handicap for 3-year-olds. With Reuben Lara up, the British Columbia-bred Salt Lake gelding extended his margin throughout, eventually winning by 3 3/4 lengths over The Great Caper. Dollarwaitnonadime finished third. The 6 furlongs on a sloppy track took 1:12.
News and notes: Breeders' Cup has a new race and a new leader; there's a little hope on the medication front; and a shout-out to Terry Wallace:
-- Breeders' Cup will add a new race, the Juvenile Sprint, to the World Championship lineup starting this November. The 6-furlong, main-track event will carry a purse of $500,000, made available by reducing the Breeders' Cup Sprint purse from $2 million to $1.5 million. The two-day World Championship meeting now has 15 races. Clem Murphy, chairman of the Breeders' Cup Racing and Nominations Committee, said "an overwhelming majority" of horsemen consulted requested a juvenile sprint from among potential new races.
-- Craig Fravel, president and general manager of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, has been named president and CEO of Breeders' Cup Ltd. Fravel, 54, will assume his new role July 18 and succeeds Greg Avioli, who resigned earlier this year. "We are proud to have selected one of the most talented, innovative and respected individuals in our business to take the reins," said Breeders' Cup Chairman Tom Ludt. Ludt said a decision will be made soon about the site for the 2012 World Championships with Churchill Downs, Belmont Park and Santa Anita all bidding.
-- The "International Summit on Race Day Medication, EIPH and the Racehorse," held during the week at Belmont Park, concluded without recommendations but with the promise of continued discussion. The "Summit," including representatives of 16 racing jurisdictions from around the world, indentified as "areas of interest" options for the administration of Salix, security issues, penalties, education and research." It was sponsored by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
-- Oaklawn Park's fabled race caller, Terry Wallace, is hanging up the binoculars and microphone. Wallace, named by the Arkansas Legislature this year "the official voice of Arkansas," said this week, "The time has come to end my run" after 37 years. Wallace called 20,191 consecutive races at the Hot Springs oval before skipping the fifth race on Jan. 28, 2011. He said he will "continue to be a member of the Oaklawn family in other roles."