Havre de Grace is starting to look like a potential successor to the last two Horse of the Year honorees -- Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.
Like those two champion fillies, Havre de Grace now has made her mark by defeating males on the square. And she did it Saturday in the same race Rachel Alexandra won two years ago -- the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga.
Since finishing third in last year's Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, Havre de Grace had run roughshod over competitors of her own gender, losing only once in four previous starts this year -- that to her frequent rival, Blind Luck, by a nose in the Delaware Handicap.
But she had never tackled males -- especially a field like the Woodward, stuffed full of graded stakes winners.
Havre de Grace held a strategic position down the backstretch as Rule made the early lead with Mission Impazible between them. When jockey Ramon Dominguez let out a notch on his hold, Havre de Grace responded quickly, moving into contention around the turn and into the stretch.
She caught Rule with less than a furlong to run and gradually drew clear, eventually winning by 1 1/4 lengths over fast-finishing Flat Out. Rule held third, followed by Mission Impazible, Giant Oak, Ice Box, Mambo Meister and Convocation.
Havre de Grace, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Saint Liam filly, finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.18.
Asked about potential Horse of the Year honors, winning trainer Larry Jones said, "I definitely think we're in the picture. I think we were in the picture before, maybe a low-profile picture. But I think this puts us up there with everyone else. We have to continue on. It's not over today, by any means.
"We said to ourselves, we were going to put her in a position to earn a championship if she was good enough. By coming here today we gave her the opportunity to move closer to a championship. I think she did it. I think we're in front of the division."
Winning the year's top honor, however, could require more and Havre de Grace's connections know that. Jones said her next race will be against other distaffers because "we don't want to knock her out before the Breeders' Cup."
And would that be the Breeders' Cup Classic, Larry, or the Ladies' Classic?
"Who knows?" he replied. "Believe me, we're considering both."
In another potential Classic preps, at Arlington Park outside Chicago, Mr. Mardi Gras rallied smartly from the back of the pack to edge pacesetting favorite Workin for Hops in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Washington Park Handicap. Maristar also made a late run to finish third and his rider, E.T. Baird, then lodged an objection against the first two finishers. After review, the stewards moved Maristar up to second but left Mr. Mardi Gras in the winner's circle.
The 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Belong to Me gelding ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.60. It was his first graded stakes score and fifth win from 17 overall starts.
"They told me to stay off the pace and they didn't want me to be too close," winning rider Eddie Perez said. "I took my shot pretty good and my horse ran very hard. He handled the Polytrack fine but he would have won by more on the grass." The winner is trained by Chris Block, who also saddled Giant Oak in the Woodward.
Other races with potential impact on the Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 4-5 at Churchill Downs, or other year-end events around the globe:
Ask the Moon led from the start in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga, held her position well into the stretch and shook clear late to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Pachattack chased the winner and finished second, a head in front of Tiz Miz Sue. Ask the Moon, a 6-year-old, Maryland-bred Malibu Moon mare, covered the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:04.21 under Javier Castellano, backing up her long shot victory July 31 in the Ruffian. Before that, she was claimed June 15 for $75,000. The Personal Ensign was delayed a week because of Hurricane Irene. "She has been here for about a week due to the hurricane," said Heather Irion, assistant to winning trainer Marty Wolfson. "She obviously loves this track. She's been amazing. We never dreamed she would do this when we claimed her. Marty loved her. He told me when he sent her over, 'This filly is really special to me.' But I think she has blown us away with two Grade 1 wins right off the bat."
Quiet Giant took complete charge in the stretch run of Saturday's $250,000 Hill 'N' Dale Molly Pitcher Stakes at Monmouth Park, winning off by 5 furlongs with Payton d'Oro second and Absinthe Minded third. Quiet Giant, a 4-year-old, Virginia-bred Giant's Causeway filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.32. "She broke very sharply today and got us into the race early," winning jockey Julien Leparoux said. "She was so sharp today. After getting us involved in the race early, she just did everything on her own. Every time you ask her, she gives you the answer." The Todd Pletcher trainee now has won seven of her 12 career starts.
So You Think held off a stubborn Snow Fairy to win Saturday's Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in Ireland by a quarter length. It was another 6 1/2 lengths back to Famous Name in third. So You Think, the former Australian champion, ran the 1 1/4 miles on good turf in 2:04.20 with Seamie Heffernan up for trainer Aidan O'Brien. He is a 5-year-old, New Zealand-bred son of High Chapparal. So You Think, winner over Workforce last time out in the Coral Eclipse, now could be pointed directly to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. However, O'Brien told the Racing Post, "We think he can take more racing and he's ready for a busy campaign. Nothing's definite, but he could drop to a mile for the QEII [where he might face Frankel] or go for the Champion Stakes." Both are on British Champions Day, Oct. 15 at Ascot. "There's also the Arc to consider. Nothing's decided." Snow Fairy, a globe-trotting filly, has not won since copping the Hong Kong Cup last December with an impressive late run. Trainer Ed Dunlop had been looking for a race for her for weeks and her stubborn effort Saturday promised more through the fall months.
Banned was a little overmatched by some foreign competition three weeks ago in the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington, finishing third. Sunday, against West Coast 3-year-olds, he was just good enough in the $250,000, Grade II Del Mar Derby. After catching pacesetting Midnight Interlude turning for home, the Kentucky-bred Kitten's Joy colt had all he could do to get a nose in front of that rival under the wire. Extensive was a half length farther back in third. Banned ran the 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:47.93 with Garrett Gomez up. "It's probably not his best race, but everything said, it's good to win," said Banned's trainer, Tom Proctor. "We've been beat in a lot of photos." Asked about the Breeders' Cup, he added, "We'll keep him out here and probably just the Oak Tree Derby [on Oct. 15]. The Breeders' Cup, maybe next year if he's still around. The Breeders' Cup is the end-all for everybody but me. I'm not a big Breeders' Cup fan."
Brilliant Speed raced off the pace early in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Sarnac Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, came three-wide to the leaders into the stretch, went by and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Early leader Queen'splatekitten held second, a half length better than King Congie. Brilliant Speed, a Florida-bred Dynaformer colt, got the 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:48.73 with John Velazquez handling the reins. Winning trainer Tom Albertrani sounded almost overwhelmed by the options open for his multitalented runner. "He showed more kick today, which is what I had wanted to see on the dirt," the conditioner said. "All things considered, he might just have to stay on the grass. Polytrack might also be an option." Velazquez chimed in, "He's a better horse on the grass. No doubt."
Skip a Smile rallied from last of six to win Friday's $100,000 Edward J. DeBartolo Memorial Handicap at Remington Park by a neck over Dakota Gypsy. Schramsberg led early and finished third and the favorite, Expansion, finished last and was vanned off. Skip a Smile, a 4-year-old, Texas-bred Skip Away gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:48.96 under Luis Quinonez. It was his third straight win but first on grass.
Filly & Mare Turf
Emulous rallied from near the back of the field and got home first in Saturday's Group 1 Coolmore Fusaichi Pegasus Matron Stakes at Leopardstown in Ireland, beating Together by 3 lengths and Misty For Me by another length. The 4-year-old Dansili filly, with Patrick Smullen in the irons, got the mile on good turf in 1:38.46 while picking up her first Group 1 win. "She's a very talented filly and we'll probably look at the Sun Chariot at Newmarket for her next," winning trainer Dermott Weld told Racing Post. "We trained her for today and it paid dividends."
German filly Danedream kicked away from the field in the sprint to the wire in Sunday's Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden at Baden-Baden. After tracking pacesetter Night Magic through driving rain, jockey Andrasch Starke sent Danedream across to the stands side of the track and quickly to the front. The others couldn't keep pace and Danedream, a German-bred Lomitas filly, was gone, winning off by 6 lengths. Joshua Tree, a Newmarket invader, finished third and jockey William Buick suggested he might find the going more suitable in the Canadian International, where he would be seeking a repeat win. Danedream earlier this year won the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin and the Group 2 Oaks d'Italia. She also was third in the Italian Derby. Trainer Peter Schiergen said he has to consider a broader scope of options now. "One option," he told Racing Post, "would be to supplement her for the Arc or the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. And she is also entered in two very valuable races in Japan."
Jackson Bend advanced toward the leaders leaving the bend in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Forego at Saratoga, got through between horses and cleared field through the stretch, winning by 3 1/4 lengths. Jersey Town was the best of the rest, a head in front of Aikenite. The disappointment of the hour was Sidney's Candy, the favorite, who dueled for the lead along the inside, then faded and finished eighth of nine. Jackson Bend, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Hear No Evil colt, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.08 with Corey Nakatani in the irons. In was his second straight win at the Spa after a season-opening mark of 0-1-1 in four starts in Florida. The winner's share pushed his career earnings past $1 million. Nick Zito said he worked Jackson Bend stoutly between starts. "He hadn't run in six weeks," the emotional winning trainer said. "Whether I'm a tough coach on him, I don't know, but he responded. He didn't get away good but he made up for it and it worked out perfectly for him."
Last year's Sprint winner and Eclipse Award champion Big Drama apparently scared off most of the competition from Sunday's $75,000 Whippleton Stakes at Calder. And with good reason. Making his first start since he won the $100,000, Grade III Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream by 4 lengths on Jan. 15 in track record time of 1:08:12, Big Drama took the lead when asked by jockey Daniel Centeno and won off by 2 1/4 lengths under a hand ride. He finished the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.62. Black Diamond, Peace at Dawn and Accredit completed the short order of finish. Trainer David Fawkes, speaking from Saratoga, said Big Drama won without a left front shoe. "After he made the lead, he just coasted home. It was all very smooth," Fawkes added. "He'll stay down there and train and then be flown up here [to Belmont Park] the week of the Vosburgh [Oct. 2]."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Atlantic Hurricane, claimed for $40,000 in June, survived a speed duel with Embur's Song and went on to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Seaway Stakes at Woodbine by 3/4 length over that rival. Rashnaa finished third. Atlantic Hurricane, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Halo's Image filly, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.88. "We just thought that she looked like she could be handy on the turf especially," winning trainer Stuart Simon said. "Quite a few of those Florida turf horses seem to be doing well here, and we thought maybe if she would mature on she could work out to be a good horse."
Dream Ahead won a three-way photo and a stewards' decision in Saturday's Group 1 Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock in England. With William Buick aboard, the 3-year-old colt surged to the lead a furlong out, but then first veered to the left, then the right. His wayward course seemed to carry rival Hoof It along with him. Dream Ahead eventually won by a nose over Bated Breath, with Hoof It third, another head in arrears. Hoof It's rider, Graham Gibbons, said "I definitely suffered interference and it cost me the race." But a lengthy examination of the final furlong apparently did not provide the evidence to overturn the result. The Sprint Cup was the second Group 1 win of the year for Dream Ahead, following the Darley July Cup at Newmarket. Trainer David Simcock said the options now are for Champions Day at Ascot or the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp.
Deputy Fling rallied from the rear of the pack to win Sunday's $65,000 Gilded Time Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park by 3/4 of a length over Christiesborntorun. Tiger Cat Lilly was third. Deputy Fling, a Virginia-bred Deputy Storm gelding, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.53 for jockey Eric Camacho.
Yummy With Butter split foes and popped to the front turning for home in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Cliff Hanger Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park, winning by 3 1/4 lengths over Cherokee. Sleepless Knight finished third. Yummy With Butter, a 7-year-old, Ontario-bred Silvador gelding, ran the mile on firm going in 1:32.75 under Paco Lopez. "He's really at the top of his game right now," winning trainer Yvon Belsoeur said. "There was plenty of speed in the race and we got an inside trip. Sometimes things don't work out with that kind of a trip but today things opened up perfectly."
Celestic Night led from the start in Friday's $100,000 El Cajon Stakes for 3-year-olds at Del Mar, then held on at the end to win by a nose over Great Warrior. Nijinsky's Song was third while the favorite, Uncle Sam, settled for fourth. Celestic Night, a Kentucky-bred Vindication colt out of the Sky Classic mare Celestic, was clocked in 1:36.07 for 1 mile of all-weather track with Martin Garcia in the irons while making his first start since being claimed for $80,000 March 10 at Santa Anita. "Believe it or not," said winning trainer Mike Mitchell, "everything was planned for this race, from March until now. And for everything to fall in place like that -- it just doesn't happen."
She Digs Me dominated the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park, kicking clear to win by 6 1/4 lengths. Jagati and Black Rhino dead-heated for second and third. The favorite, Voodoo Daddy, lead early but faded to finish eighth. She Digs Me, a Kentucky-bred Henny Hughes colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.34. "I saw there was a lot of speed in the race so the plan was to break well, take a hold, and sit right behind," winning jockey Elvis Trujillo said. "Turning for home, he was still going easy so I knew I was in good shape."
Zow was quickly out front in Friday's $75,000 Gold and Roses Stakes at Saratoga and never looked back, winning by 3/4 of a length over Silent Thunder under hand urging. The Prize Fighter finished third. Zow, a Kentucky-bred Bluegrass Cat colt out of the Distorted Humor mare Then She Laughs, is another from the Mike Repole Stable, trained by Todd Pletcher. He got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.13 with John Velazquez up.
State of Play duked it out with Optimizer down the lane in Thursday's $150,000, Grade II With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga, getting home first by a hard-fought half length. Dullahan finished third and the favorite, Captain Webb, was sixth. State of Play, a Kentucky-bred War Front colt out of the Procida mare Valeta, got the 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:43.97 under Ramon Dominguez. He won at first asking on July 27 going short over the Spa grass and now is looking to the big time. Brad Weisbord, chief operating officer of Team Valor International, which owns the winner, said, "The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf would probably be the next step for State of Play." He earned an automatic berth in that race with Thursday's win.
Weemissfrankie rallied on the far outside from well back in the pack in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Del Mar Debutante and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over long shot Self Preservation. Emerald Gold finished third. Weemissfrankie, a New York-bred Sunriver filly out of the Meadowlake mare Starinthemeadow, got the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.20 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. It was her second straight win, following a maiden victory in her first trip to the track on July 20. "I knew I was on the best horse and I rode that way," Bejarano said. Winning trainer Peter Eurton said Weemissfrankie "has got a lot of class and the mental part about her is so strong. Nothing bothers her -- at least not yet. We'll see how it goes. A lot of things to come and hopefully we can go where we want to go with her."
Grace Hall caught the favorite, Judy the Beauty, in the final 1/16th of Sunday's $250,000, Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga, edging clear near the wire to win by 1 3/4 lengths. And Why Not finished well back in third. Grace Hall, a Kentucky-bred Empire Maker filly out of the Irish-bred Ezzoud mare Season's Greetings, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.74 with Ramon Dominguez aboard. She broke her maiden at Delaware Park on July 30, making almost all the going. "When I'm watching the race," winning trainer Tony Dutrow said, "I'm saying 'OK, we have a chance.' For the second race of her life, she answered a lot of questions today. There's a great deal of credit that belongs to her."
Heleonor Rugby caught pacesetting Roar Baby Roar early in the stretch run in Wednesday's $100,000 Generous Portion Stakes for California-bred 2-year-old fillies at Del Mar, then edged clear late to win by a length. Roar Baby Roar held second by a nose over the favorite, Lookin for Jonesy. Helenor Rugby, a daughter of Tribal Rule out of the In Excess mare Eleanor Rose, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.21 under Christian Santiago Reyes. "I had a good trip, saved ground and she ran well," winning rider Christian Santiago Reyes said. "She'll run on, too. I'm sure of it. Two turns. And she'll run well on grass. This is a good filly." She now has won half her lifetime starts.
Alaura Michelle raced near the back of the pack until the turn in Wednesday's $75,000 P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga, came wide into the turn and drew off at the end to win by 2 1/4 lengths over the early leader, New Wave. Bourbonstreetgirl finished third and the odds-on favorite, Crazy Party, got home fifth. Alaura Michelle, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Arch out of the Lomitas filly Isobel Baillie, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.95 with Eddie Castro up. Trainer Bill Mott said the Grade III Miss Grillo on Oct. 2 at Belmont Park "would make sense" for Alaura Michelle.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Slip Along Band led from the early yards of Sunday's $65,000 Junior Championship at Monmouth Park, then got away from the field at the end to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Mystic Mama was second and first-time starter Tizfirst was third. Slip Along Band, a Kentucky-bred Bowman's Band filly out of the Diesis mare Slipping, ran the mile on firm going in 1:34.58 with Kendrick Carmouche aboard.
Minerologist had to alter course in the stretch run of Monday's $75,000 Saratoga Dew Stakes for New York-bred distaffers but still managed to prevail by a head in a four-horse blanket finish. The favorite, Banker's Buy, had the late lead but was just nipped for the win. Go Unbridled was a nose back of that and a neck in front of Spa City Princess. Minerologist, a 4-year-old Mineshaft filly, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.11 with David Cohen up. Trainer John Kimmel said Minerologist has had a string of mishaps, adding, "Maybe she'll have a little more to say as the year goes on."
Elusive Pearl opened a sizeable lead early in the stretch run in Friday's $75,000 Riskaverse Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and held well to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Ruthenia. Divalarious finished third in the 1-mile test over firm turf. Elusive Pearl, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, was clocked in 1:36.55 with John Velazquez up.
Wine Police got by the early leaders in the late going of Friday's $75,000 Distorted Humor Stakes for 3-year-olds, in time to win by a half length. Free Entry was second and the early leader, Higher Court, who stumbled badly at the start, paid the price and faded badly to finish third. Wine Police, a Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.45 under Julien Leparoux.
Sugar Again got to the lead late in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Paris Opera Stakes for fillies and mares, then held on by a head over Deluxe. Thundering Emilia was third. Sugar Again, a 4-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred Syncline mare, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:35.32 for jockey Rajiv Maragh.
Great Hot wore down the favorite, Sugarinthemorning, in deep stretch to win Sunday's $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 3/4 of a length. Cathy's Crunches finished third. Great Hot, a Brazilian-bred Orientate filly, ran the mile on the all-weather track in 1:35.88 with Chantal Sutherland providing the well-timed ride.
St Trinians rallied five-wide into the stretch in Sunday's $85,000 Adoration Stakes for fillies and mares and was up to win by a half length over fellow late-runner Downhill Diva. Victoryasecret dueled for the lead and faded to finish third. St Trinians, a 6-year-old, British-bred Piccolo mare, got the mile on the all-weather track in 1:35.99 for jockey Joel Rosario.
Shediak got through on the inside during the stretch run of Sunday's $85,000 Windy Sands Handicap and edged clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths over El Gato Malo. Achak finished third. Shediak, a 6-year-old, French-bred Selkirk gelding, ran the mile on the all-weather track in 1:35.64 with Patrick Valenzuela up.
Welloiledmachine got to the front over a yielding course in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Vice Regent Stakes for 3-year-olds and held off the cavalry at the end to win by a head. Celtic Conviction fell just short and Valid's Best finished third. Welloiledmachine, an Ontario-bred Mobil gelding, ran 1 mile in 1:39.27 with James McAleney up. Owner Christine Windsor, who was a groom for Mobile, said the victory was so emotional, "I was just hoping for him to get to the finish line. I was about to cry. I did cry."
Calder Race Course
Flatter This shot clear in the stretch run to win Saturday's $75,000 Darn That Alarm Stakes by 6 1/2 lengths over Stimulus Plan. The early leader, Hear Ye Hear Ye, held third. The heavy odds-on favorite, Motovato, got home last of five. Flatter This, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Flatter colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:46.82 with Luis Jurado in the irons.
Pleasantly Blessed rallied five-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Ricks Memorial Stakes and was up in time to win by 3/4 length over early leader Someplace Else. All About Allie finished third. Pleasantly Blessed, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred Pleasant Tap mare, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:37.14 with Luis Quinonez up.
Pay the Man kicked clear in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Rose DeBartolo Memorial Stakes and won off by 3 1/4 lengths, winning the race for the fourth time. Muir Woods was best of the rest with Honey Be Fleet third. Pay the Man, a 7-year-old Bernstein mare, ran the 9 furlongs over a fast track in 1:52.16 with Luis Gonzalez riding. She now has four wins from five starts this year and trainer Angel Feliciano told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer he thinks, "She can make it to $1 million. I just wait for the right races for her and she's always ready."
Trainer Mac Robertson won three races in the 18th running of the Minnesota Festival of Champions Sunday -- a seven-race event restricted to state-breds. Robertson's scores included Bella Note in the $50,000 Distaff Sprint Championship; Heliskier, who won the $55,000 Futurity by 10 lengths; and Tubby Time, who took the 1-mile, $35,000 Turf Championship.
Other winners were Nomorewineforeddy in the $50,000 Sprint Championship, Jaival in the 1 1/16-mile Classic, Keewatin Ice in the $55,000 Debutante for juvenile fillies, and Tez Savitri in the $50,000 Distaff.
News and notes:
-- Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer won his 6,000th race Saturday when he sent out Just Tappin It to victory in the sixth race at Golden Gate Fields, according to statistics compiled by Equibase.
-- Rapid Redux won his 16th straight race in Sunday's feature at the Maryland State Fair, joining Citation and Cigar among Thoroughbreds achieving 16 wins in a row. Accomplished primarily against starter allowance company, the streak moves its focus to Zenyatta and Pepper's Pride, who share the North American record at 19 straight victories -- Pepper's Pride in New Mexico; Zenyatta against some of the world's top horses.