Union Rags emerged from a wealth of 2-year-old weekend racing as a primary contender for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
The Breeders' Cup Mile field may have added a competitor or two -- if they're willing to buck Goldikova's expected bid for an unprecedented fourth straight win in that event. Among them, Gio Ponti returned to the winner's circle for the first time in a year.
Some potential Breeders' Cup sprinters were in action across the country. And in Australia, Black Caviar was dominant in scoring her 14th straight win and now has an eye on next spring's Royal Ascot meeting.
Meanwhile, Ken and Sarah Ramsey had a big weekend, scoring three graded stakes wins -- two of them thanks to their prolific sire, Kitten's Joy.
Races with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 4-5 at Churchill Downs:
Union Rags will go to the Breeders' Cup as a force to be reckoned with after demolishing seven foes in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park. With Javier Castellano at the controls, Union Rags waited behind horses to mid-stretch and, with a sudden burst of acceleration, got around the leaders and jetted off to win by 5 1/4 lengths. Alpha was the best of the rest and Right to Vote finished third at a big price. Union Rags, a Kentucky-bred Dixie Union colt out of the Gone West mare Tempo, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.55. He remains undefeated in three starts, including the Saratoga Special, which he won by 7 1/4 lengths in the slop in his last start Aug. 15. "He's always acted like a nice horse from when we first got him," winning trainer Michael Matz said. "He's trained well this period he's been off. The timing is great now. The seven weeks didn't hurt him between races. The [traffic] is going to happen with 2-year-olds, and they find a way out of it, don't they? I think he's a real good horse."
Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland was a wide-open affair with a full field and the result was predictably unpredictable. Dullahan, entering the race winless in four career starts, rallied from far back and got by Majestic City in the final sixteenth to win by 3/4 of a length. Optimizer was third and the lukewarm favorite, Shared Property, got home sixth. Dullahan, an Even the Score colt out of the Smart Strike mare Mining My Own, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.12 under Kent Desormeaux. It was his first try on an artificial surface following two near-misses on the turf. "The race went exactly opposite of what we had planned," winning jockey Kent Desormeaux said. "I almost fell around the first turn. He had to get his legs back underneath him and he did do that quickly. But I had to make a 5/8ths of a mile run down to the wire. He accomplished it. Super horse." Winning trainer Dale Romans said he has some reservations about the Breeders' Cup on real dirt at Churchill Downs. "But there's a good shot of it," he added.
Prospective dueled for the lead in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian), Grade III Grey Stakes at Woodbine, then finally kicked clear at the end to win by 2 lengths over Lockout. Bluedacious finished third in the 1 1/16-mile event over the all-weather track, clocked in 1:44.55. Luis Contreras rode the winner, a Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon colt out of the Awesome Again mare Spirited Away.
Lemon Juice was a shot of lemonade for his supporters in Saturday's $50,000 Laurel Futurity at Laurel Park, stalking the pace, then surging to the lead for a half-length victory over fast-closing Magical Season. Just Sayin finished third. Lemon Juice, with Travis Dunkelberger in the irons, ran the 6 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:11.38. He is a Kentucky-bred colt by 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Johannesburg out of the Lemon Drop Kid mare Lemon Lady. Lemon Drop Kid was fifth in the 1998 Juvenile. Lemon Juice now has three straight wins and has not been off the board in seven career starts on both the grass and the main track. Winning trainer Dane Kobiskie said, "Lemon Juice is game and Travis rode him perfect, let him settle into stride and then relaxed around the turn and not feel rushed and let him make that one run. It's a great, historic race to win."
Alsvid surged to a big lead at the top of the lane in Friday's $75,000 Kip Deville Stakes at Remington Park, then held well to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Sum of the Parts. Jake Mo finished third. Alsvid, a Kentucky-bred Officer colt out of the Afternoon Deelites mare Reagle Mary, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.04 with Chris Landeros up. He now has two win from as many starts after taking his initial effort by 7 lengths.
Mr. Bowling drew off easily in the stretch to win Saturday's $75,000 Dover Stakes at Delaware Park by 7 1/4 lengths. Doe and Runnin Bull dead-heated for second and third. Mr. Bowling, a Kentucky-bred Istan colt out of the Irish Tower mare Goldilock's Bear, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.77 with Jose Caraballo up.
Saturday's races scrambled the standings of British 2-year-olds a bit with Parish Hall upsetting the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket and Crusade scoring an unexpected win in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes. Parish Hall raced near the front in the Dewhurst, a Breeders' Cup qualifying race, got to the lead a furlong out and held on to beat the favorite, Power. Trainer Jim Bolger said Parish Hall is being eyed for the Epsom Derby. Aidan O'Brien may have been disappointed in Power's showing in the Dewhurst but was pleasantly surprised when Crusade jumped up to win the 6-furlong Middle Park at odds of 25-1. Crusade, with Seamie Heffernan up, got home first by 3/4 of a length over Lilbourne Lad. Trainer Richard Hannon already has Saturday's Challenge Stakes winner Strong Suit pointed to one of the Breeders' Cup races and said on his web site Sunday, "There is a chance that Lilbourne Lad might be there too."
Animal Spirits rallied from almost the back of the pack to win Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, outfinishing Coalport for a half-length victory. Lucky Chappy finished third. Animal Spirits, a Kentucky-bred Arch colt out of the Mr. Prospector mare Pennant Champion, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.24 for jockey Robby Albarado. He finished second in his only other career start. Trainer Al Stall Jr. said he's not sure about Animal Spirits' next start. "Obviously, the big question is whether you go over to Louisville and run in that race [the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf]. But we'll see," Stall elucidated.
Stephanie's Kitten parked well back of the leaders through the first half of Friday's $400,000, Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland, worked through the pack on the turn and swung four-wide into the stretch. With John Velazquez providing the encouragement, Stephanie's Kitten eased by Heart of Destiny and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over that rival. Puthebabiesdown raced evenly near the lead and finished third. The favorite, Tu Endie Wie, finished seventh. Stephanie's Kitten is a Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey homebred Kitten's Joy filly out of the Catienus mare Unfold the Rose. She finished the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.12 and now has two wins and two third from four starts for trainer Wayne Catalano. Sarah Ramsey noted the race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, "and we'll be in. She's named after my granddaughter, Stephanie Esther Ramsey. This could be the best of the litter, who knows?" The Ramseys have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of progeny from their Stallion, Kitten's Joy. "The stud fee just went up," Ken Ramsey quipped after Friday's win.
My Miss Aurelia shot to the lead in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park and extended the advantage to the wire, soundly whipping even-money favorite Stopshoppingmaria by 5 1/2 lengths. Miss Netta finished third. My Miss Aurelia, Kentucky-bred Smart Strike filly out of the Sea of Secrets mare My Miss Storm Cat, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.22 under Corey Nakatani. She remains undefeated in three starts, including the Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga on Aug. 14. "She's a special filly," Steve Asmussen, the victorious trainer, said. "I thought her Adirondack was an excellent race, the way it set up and she showed a lot of heart. We just wanted more of the same. Moving forward from here, you're just expecting more of the same."
Blue Heart stalked the pace on the outside, got to the lead on the turn and then held off a fast-closing Spirited Miss to win a wide-open $200,000 (Canadian) Mazarine Stakes at Woodbine on Saturday. At the wire, Blue Heart was a head in front with Solid Appeal also gaining to finish third. Blue Heart, an Ontario-bred Exchange Rate filly out of the Saint Ballado mare Flawless Diamond, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.86 with Joe Bravo up for trainer Brian Lynch. She now has won both her career starts.
Geo Ponti hadn't won in five starts since last year's Shadwell Turf Mile. But that didn't prevent the 6-year-old Tale of the Cat horse from repeating in Saturday's $600,000, Grade I renewal. With Ramon Dominguez riding, Geo Ponti swept by the leaders in the final yards and scored by a half length. Get Stormy led briefly and held second, a length in front of early pacesetter Sidney's Candy. Geo Ponti ran the mile on firm turf in 1:34.17. That losing streak, by the way, doesn't seem so bad when you realize Geo Ponti finished second in those races to Cape Blanco (twice, in the Arlington Million and the Man O' War) and Goldikova (in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile). He was a close fifth in the strangely run Dubai World Cup and third in the Manhattan. "He was a bit unlucky this year," winning trainer Christophe Clement said. "I've been running him on softer ground. There's nothing I can do. The program is made that way and I cannot control the weather." Asked about Breeders' Cup plans for Geo Ponti, Clement added, "Most probably the Mile, but it will be up to my owner, Mr. Shane Ryan. Let's enjoy this. This is wonderful. And let's enjoy Gio Ponti. He's a wonderful horse."
Western Aristocrat, invading from England for trainer Jeremy Noseda, set a dawdling pace throughout Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Jamaica Handicap for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park, then had enough left to win by a length over the favorite, Brilliant Speed. Wilkinson was third at long odds. Western Aristocrat, a Kentucky-bred Mr. Greeley colt, ran the 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:50.34 under Corey Nakatani. Tom Ludt, representing Vinery Stable which owns the winner, said he will remain in the United States under the care of Steve Asmussen. "He'll definitely keep racing," Ludt said. "He's been sound. We'll consider the Breeders' Cup Mile, but we'll let the horse tell us."
Never Retreat, bouncing back from a trouncing in the waterlogged Beverly D. in her last start, captured Saturday's $350,000, Grade I First Lady Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland with a late surge. Never Retreat, a 6-year-old Smart Strike mare, raced in the second flight until the field was well straightened into the stretch. At that point, the Team Block runner rallied smartly and outran Together to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Daveron also raced well late and finished third, another nose back. With Julien Leparoux up, Never Retreat got the mile on firm turf in 1:34.08. Noting that trainer Chris Block was at Hawthorne, where he saddled Giant Oak for the Gold Cup, Leparoux said, "I was on my own, but I know the filly. I rode her a couple of times before. I knew her, and I know she can do it."
Jeranimo surged to the lead early in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Oak Tree Mile and then held off the favorite, Mr. Commons, at the end to win by 3/4 of a length. John Johny Jak finished third. Jeranimo, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Congaree, finished in 1:32.61 under Martin Garcia. Trainer Mike Pender spoke cautiously about the likelihood of a Breeders' Cup run. "We'll let the horse tell us what to do," he said. "We got a little bit ahead of ourselves sometimes with this horse in the past. We ran him in the Santa Anita Handicap when he was a little bit under 100 percent and we don't want to make that same mistake twice, so we're just going to watch this horse. This horse is kind of tricky. Sometimes he'll lay an egg."
A trio of rapidly improving runner finished 1-2-3 in an upset rendition of the Hawthorne Gold Cup on Saturday on the outskirts of Chicago. At the end of the $500,000, Grade II affair, it was the Ken and Sarah Ramsey-owned Headache in front by a half length with Where's Sterling second and the lightly raced Cease third. The favorites, Rule and Giant Oak, folded in the late going, finishing seventh and fifth, respectively. Headache, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Tapit gelding, ran the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:04.68 with Paco Lopez in the irons for trainer Mike Maker. Headache was a well-beaten fifth in the Grade I Whitney in his last start but before that won the Grade III Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows. Before that, his last added-money win came in the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury Park in July of 2010.
"I had a little trouble around the five-eighths, Lopez said of Saturday's trip. "I had to wait a little. I also saw a couple of horses waiting on the inside. But, once we got clear around 4 1/2 furlongs out, I went after it. I saw the No. 8 [Where's Sterling] and the 10 [Giant Oak] coming along with Cease but I was able to hold them off."
Aruna came seven-wide around her rivals into the stretch run in Sunday's $500,000, Grade I Juddmonte Spinster at Keeneland, got the lead with a furlong to run and held off Pachattack at the end to win by a half length. La Gran Bailadora added value to the trifecta. Aruna, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Mr. Greeley filly, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:47.88 with Ramon Dominguez up. She came into the race off a second-place finish to Zagora in the Diana at Saratoga on July 30. Raced in France early in her career, she also is undefeated in two starts over the Churchill Downs turf. Winning trainer Graham Motion, asked whether Aruna might take the free pass to the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic she earned in the Spinster, or opt for one of the turf, replied, "I've got to think about it. I love the mile and an eighth [of the Ladies Classic] for her. I think we've got to take her over there and maybe work her."
Awesome Feather, sidelined since she completed her undefeated 2010 season by winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, returned to action Wednesday with a victory in the $60,000 Le Slew Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. After tracking the pace, Awesome Feather responded when asked by jockey Jeffrey Sanchez and went by pacesetting Flying Train to win by 2 lengths. Sentimental Lass took second with Flying Train third. Awesome Feather, a Florida-bred Awesome of Course filly, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.76. Chad Brown, who trains the winner for Stronach stables, said, "With this situation, really, we've got to see how she comes out of the race and make sure she's perfectly sound. At that time, I'll discuss things with the Stronachs and see what direction they want to go with her."
Cape Blanco has been retired due to an injury sustained in winning the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational last weekend at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old, Irish-bred Cape Blanco colt also won the Man o' War and the Arlington Million this year.
Filly & Mare Turf
Saturday at Newmarket, Strong Suit, a 3-year-old Rahy filly, won the Group 2 Challenge Stakes, a 7-furlong event seen as a potential prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile. The Richard Hannon charge picked up her third Group stakes in his last four starts.
Havelock started well back in a full field in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Woodford Stakes for at Keeneland, got room on the outside in the stretch run and got by them all to win by a length over Perfect Officer. Country Day was third and the favorite, Great Mills, faded to finish 10th. Havelock, a 4-year-old, Maryland-bred Great Notion gelding, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 101.96. "He left a little tardy," winning rider Robby Albarado said. "We anticipated being right behind the pace -- not that far back. Having said that, they went quick enough, which was conducive to his running style." Trainer Darrin Miller, asked about Havelock's next start, said, "I don't know. We'll see."
Amazombie rallied four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita and won the dash to the wire by 3/4 of a length over Irrefutable. Mensa Heat was third and The Factor, rebounding from a six-months absence, faded to finish fourth after setting a good pace into the stretch. Amazombie, a 5-year-old, California-bred Northern Afleet gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.24. Winning trainer Bill Spawr said jockey Mike Smith "went wide, he circled 'em wide, he said he had so much horse he didn't want to get stopped. That's why he went wide." The horse now has finished in the money in his last 12 starts. Asked about Amazombie's prospects for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, he added, "We'll see how he comes out. We hope to, if he comes out fine. If he doesn't, he'll run in the Cal Cup. We have a month." Bob Baffert said he also will still consider The Factor for the Breeders' Cup, barring complications.
Hoofit did just that in Friday's $175,000 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland, battling down the lane with Aikenite before scoring a gritty victory by a nose. Hamazing Destiny did his best running late to finish a nonthreatening third. Hoofit, a 4-year-old, New Zealand-bred Mossman gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.27 with Edgar Prado up for trainer Graham Motion. "What a great ride Edgar gave him," Motion said. "It pays to have Edgar."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Holiday for Kitten stalked the pace in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland, surged to the lead in the stretch and went on to post the 19-1 upset win. Musical Romance was second and the odds-on favorite, Switch, finished third. Holiday for Kitten, another homebred Kitten's Joy filly from the Ramseys' happy feline opertation, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.72 with Kendrick Carmouche in the irons. Her last win was an off-the-turf sprint during the Keeneland spring meeting. After that, trainer Wesley Ward shipped her to England for the Kings' Stand at Ascot and she had posted two losing efforts since her return. "She outran some great fillies here," Ward said. "We'll talk it over with the boss tonight, but he likes to show up at the Breeders' Cup as well as he does here."
Black Caviar just keeps rolling on. The reigning Australian Horse of the Year remained unbeaten and won her 14th straight race in Saturday's Group 2 Schillaci Stakes at Caulfield, easily bettering seven rivals. Victory No. 14 ties the 5-year-old Bel Espirit mare with the legendary Phar Lap, who ran a similar string in 1930 and 1931. Her connections seem content to keep Black Caviar at home for now, eschewing opportunities later in the year in Japan or in Hong Kong. However, should her winning streak extend, trainer Peter Moody indicated she could be pointed to the 2012 Royal Ascot meeting. Next up is expected to be the Schweppes Stakes at Moonee Valley later this month.
Also on Saturday's Caulfield card, Helmet led the way in the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas and held on at the end to win by a short neck over Manawanui. Helmet, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rasheed al-Maktoum, was the heavy favorite. Also, Mufhasa upset favorite King's Rose in the Group 1 Toorak Handicap, scoring by a neck.
Bear It's Time stalked the pace in Wednesday's $125,000 (Canadian) Classy 'n Smart Stakes for fillies and mares swept by outside the leaders midway down the stretch and drew clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Moonlit Beauty finished second with Megavella third. Bear It's Time, a 3-year-old, Ontario-bred Philanthropist filly, finished the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.28 under Emma-Jayne Wilson. "It was just a matter of when I pulled the trigger," the rider said.
Happy Henrietta left a bunch of happy backers after Saturday's $60,000 Indian Maid Stakes for fillies and mares. Leading all the way in the 1 1/16-mile turf test, the 5-year-old, Illinois-bred Supremo mare survived by a half length over Mourette. Instant Style finished third and the favorite, Seniga, got home next-to-last of 12 after checking sharply on the backstretch. Happy Henrietta, under Jozbin Santana, finished in 1:42.72 over firm going.
Princeville Condo had to forge his own path through traffic in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial Stakes and found daylight just in time to win by a half length over Gleam of Hope. Tazz finished third. Princeville Condo, a 6-year-old, Illinois-bred Morluc gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.28. The stewards took a look at some bumping in the stretch involving the winner and Tazz but let the result stand.
Rule by Night rallied by pacesetting Sunrise Smarty with a furlong and a half to run in Sunday's $60,000 Duck Dance Stakes and went on to win by 3/4 of a length over that rival. Flat Bold ran third. Rule by Night, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon colt, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.86 on a fast track with Javier Castellano riding.
The first- and second-place finishers in Sunday's $60,000 Stormy West Stakes were demoted to third and fourth by the stewards for stretch interference. That left Exchange Funds as the official winner and Wallis second. The favorite, Forest Crown, finished seventh.
I'm Sure was along late to win Saturday's $75,000 Alphabet Soup Handicap for Pennsylvania-breds by a half length over Wannabe. Cat Park finished third. I'm Sure, a 6-year-old Broken Vow gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:46.02 with Samuel Bermudez in the irons.
Doug's Buddy pressed the pace in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Canadian Juvenile, then came to the lead three-wide and went on to win by 3/4 of a length over Silver Baubles. Clear the Runway finished third. Doug's Buddy, a Kentucky-bred Badge of Silver colt, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:40 1/5 with Rico Walcott aboard.
Tempered Sapphire stalked the pace early in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Freedom of the City Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, easily took the lead with a quarter mile to run and won off by 10 1/2 lengths. Countryfire finished second with Kiss Me Goodbye third. Tempered Sapphire, a British Columbia-bred Tempered Appeal filly, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:42 3/5 under Walcott.
Rosa's Catena led from the start in Sunday's $50,000 University of New Mexico Handicap for state-breds and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Spinning Touch. Brother Louie finished third. Rosa's Catena, a 6-year-old Istintaj gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:39.81 with Macario Rodriguez in the irons.
Home Sweet Aspen led from gate to wire in Sunday's $65,000 Louis R. Rowan Stakes for fillies and mares, working clear at the end to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Mildly Offensive. Madera Castada finished third. Home Sweet Aspen, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Candy Ride filly, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.00 under Joel Rosario.
All Star Heart slipped through along the rail into the stretch run of Saturday's $65,000 Swingtime Stakes, beating pacesetter Victoryasecret by a length. Washington Bridge finished third. All Star Heart, a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred Arch filly, got the mile on firm turf in 1:34.39 under Brice Blanc.
Point of Reference rallied from last of six to win Friday's $50,000 Harvest Stakes for fillies and mares by a neck. Alaska Miss and California Nectar dead-heated for second and third. Point of Reference, a 5-year-old, Washington-bred Benchmark mare, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.91 with Inoel Beato riding.
Coup de Cour led all the way in Sunday's $75,000 Soviet Problem Stakes at Fresno, winning by 4 1/4 lengths over Killer Graces. Distant Images finished third. Coup de Cour, a Kentucky-bred Exchange Rate filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.45 with Frank Alvarado aboard for trainer Jeff Bonde.