With the Belmont Stakes still two weeks away, weekend racing focus shifted to contenders for upcoming classics in England and France.
Candidates for this fall's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita also began the long sorting-out process as far away as Buenos Aires. And some top names were in action in Asia.
In the United States, the top race of the holiday weekend -- the $750,000, Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park -- was still to come on Monday.
Although we don't usually begin sorting things into Breeders' Cup divisions until after the Triple Crown, that's a good way to categorize things this weekend so why not start a little early? European races are still in their own world, at least for now.
Here's how it looks through that end of the telescope:
Silver Max delivered a sparkling, front-running victory in Saturday's $125,000 Arlington Classic for 3-year-olds at Arlington Park, setting a brisk pace over the firm turf course and holding well to win by 2 lengths over Sachem Spirit. Najjaar finished third and North of Never was fourth. Silver Max, a Badge of Silver colt, finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.87, less than 1 second short of the 20-year-old course record. Silver Max finished second in his first five starts in New York and Florida, then ran a well-beaten fifth in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream this winter. Following that race, trainer Dale Romans switched him to the grass and he now has reeled off four straight wins. The two previous were graded events at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. "He's a pretty cool little horse," said winning jockey Shaun Bridgmohan. "We got to the front pretty easy and it was all business from there. I was just a good passenger." Silver Max will be pointed to the Grade I Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Arlington Million program.
Simmard rallied to the lead with 3 furlongs yet to run in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs and had no trouble holding on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the late-running Joinem. Tahoe Lake finished third. Simmard, a 7-year-old son of Dixieland Band, ran the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:27.16 under Gabriel Saez. Trained by Roger Attfield, Simmard earlier this year posted a win at Gulfstream Park and a pair of thirds at Gulfstream and Keeneland -- all in graded events. "We broke a little slowly, but I had him placed forwardly," said winning rider Gabriel Saez. "After we went a mile, we started to pick it up a little bit. Every time I asked him he responded and at the end we were ahead by a length. I got a perfect trip. It couldn't have gone any better than that." Assistant trainer Suzy Lorimer said Simmard was headed back to Toronto Sunday.
Travel also appears to be on the agenda for Peruvian-based, American-bred runner Al Qasr. And, that being the case, Santa Anita could be on the horizon. Al Qasr, a 4-year-old son of Aptitude, invaded San Isidro in Buenos Aires on Friday and won a stretch duel with the favorite, Bogeyman, to post a 2-lengths win over that rival. Almudena finished third. The 1 1/2 miles over heavy going went in 2:34.51 as Al Qasr tried turf for the first time and earned his fifth win in seven career starts. The race is a "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Turf. "I am extremely happy for Peruvian racing and additionally because this win represents Stud Soribel's first win outside of Peru," owner Fahed Mitre told Racing Post. Al Qasr, out of the Dynaformer mare Majestic Dy, is nominated to the Breeders' Cup and thus is eligible for waiver of entry fees and a $20,000 travel allowance.
Filly & Mare Turf
After one of the more bizarre starts in recent memory, Aruna took charge in the stretch run in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Sheepshead Bay Stakes and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Hit It Rich finished second. Mystical Star got home third but was placed last for breaking through the No. 1 gate just before the start. When that happened, it appeared the assistant starter held onto the occupant of the No. 2 stall, Magical Cat, who got out far behind the others and was declared a non-starter after a long inquiry. After all that, Principal Rose was elevated to third and Aqsaam to fourth. Aruna, uninvolved in any of the shenanigans, ran the 1 3/8 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:15.45 with Ramon Dominguez up. Aruna was almost unbeatable after shipping in from France in 2010 and through last year but finished a close fifth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf and then a dull sixth in her seasonal debut at Keeneland. She appeared Saturday to have shaken off the rust. "She's a much more settled filly this year," said winning trainer H. Graham Motion. "We don't have to worry about (her relaxing). She's every bit as good as she was last year. She's just had two unlucky runs." He said a short break is in order and he will decide between the July 28 Diana at Saratoga or the Aug. 18 Beverly D. at Arlington for her next target.
Wilkinson got alongside pacesetting Liberian Freighter midway through the stretch in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II American Handicap at Hollywood Park, edged clear and won by 1 1/4 lengths over the late-running Mr. Commons. Liberian Freighter settled for third. Wilkinson, a 4-year-old Lemon Drop Kid colt, went to the post at 44-1 odds and finished the 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.37 for jockey Martin Pedroza. Jeff Mullins, who took over training Wilkinson earlier in the week, said, "He's just a happy horse." Mullins said he will point to the $300,000, Grade I Shoemaker Mile on June 30. Wilkinson jumped into prominence with a win in last year's Lecompt Stakes at Fair Grounds but immediately retreated into relative obscurity. He had not won since an optional claimer at Saratoga last August.
Mega Dream outfinished odds-on favorite Mizdirection to win Sunday's $70,000 Great Lady M. Stakes for fillies and mares over the Hollywood Park turf. The margin was 1 1/4 lengths with Bloemer another 1/2 length back in third. Mega Dream, a 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro mare, ran the 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.84 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. Winning trainer Jeff Bonde said the race was an experiment. "I entered her three or four times in an allowance race on Cushion Track and the race didn't go. I saw this race in the book, so last week I breezed her on turf and she went really well," Bonde said. "I said we've got to take a chance here because this might work out."
Upperline sat off the pace in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Arlington Matron at Arlington Park, came outside the leader, Hooh Why, at mid-stretch and easily went by, winning off by 4 lengths. Hooh Why held second and Ariana D finished third. Upperline, a 5-year-old Maria's Mon mare, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.73 under James Graham. "She's a big filly," Graham said, "and she covers a lot of ground. When you get her out, she gives you more and more and more." Upperline won the Arlington Oaks two years ago and finished fourth in last year's Matron. She has run equally well on the grass and trainer Michael Stidham was asked Sunday about her prospects for the Grade I Beverly D. on Arlington Million Day. The next logical spot for her, he said, is the Grade III Modesty Handicap on Bastille Day. "Assuming she comes out of yesterday's race without any problems, we plan to take things one race at a time and consider that race. However, we'd love to see how she runs in the Modesty and hope she runs well enough for us to that we feel like we belong in the Beverly D."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Winning Image was under pressure on the lead throughout Saturday's $150,000 My Juliet Stakes at Parx Racing, then just began to edge clear in the final strides to win by 3/4 length over C C's Pal. Derwin's Star was a nose farther back in third and the favorite, Nicole H, finished another nose in arrears in fourth. Winning Image, a 5-year-old Southern Image mare, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.46 under Joe Caraballo.
Bated Breath surged to the lead just past the midway point in Saturday's Group 2 Betfred.com Temple Stakes at Haydock and held on to beat last year's winner, Sole Power, by a neck. Sole Power was forced to come around rivals to make his bid, perhaps accounting for the final margin or more. The victory pushed Bated Breath, trained by Roger Charleton and ridden Saturday by George Baker, toward the top of most-fancied for the King's Stand at Royal Ascot next month.
So You Think rebounded from his disappointing fourth-place showing in the Dubai World Cup showing to easily win Sunday's Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh. After letting Robin Hood make the early going, the 6-year-old warrior easily took the lead inside the 3-furlong marker and drew off to win by 6 lengths. Famous Name was second and Robin Hood held on for third. With Joseph O'Brien riding for his trainer father Aidan O'Brien, So You Think covered the 1 5/16 miles in 2:15.60. It was his first win since the Irish Champion stakes last September -- a stretch that also included a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Aidan O'Brien said So You Think likely will point to the Prince of Wales at Royal Ascot and the Coral Eclipse at Sandown "before he enters quarantine and goes back to Australia."
Power powered past pacesetting Daddy Long Legs in the final furlongs of Saturday's Group 1 Abu Dhabi Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh and went on to win by 1 length over Foxtrot Romeo. The winner's stablemates, Reply and Daddy Long Legs, finished third and fourth for O'Brien. The 1 mile took 1:39.04 over going rated good. The favorite, Trumpet Major, got home last. Power, who misfired on soft ground in his seasonal debut at Newmarket, now is likely to be pointed to the St. James's Palace at Royal Ascot, O'Brien said. The Oasis Dream colt was ridden by Joseph O'Brien, who turned 19 during the week. Power now has five wins and a second from eight career starts.
Samitar upset Sunday's Group 1 Etihad Airways Irish 1,000 Guineas, rallying by the leaders in the straight to score by 1 1/2 lengths in front of Ishvana. Princess Sinead was third, completing an all-longshot trifecta finish. The favorite, Homecoming Queen, finished fourth after leading during the early furlongs. Samitar, a Rock of Gibraltar filly trained by Mick Channon, got the 1 mile in 1:38.50 under Martin Harley. Channon said the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot will be the next target and that American owner Martin Schwartz plans to ship the filly to the United States in the fall.
Golden Lilac, making her first start since last August at Deauville, got by heavily favored Cirrus Des Aigles in the final furlong to win Sunday's Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp by 3/4 length. With Maxime Guyon up for trainer Andre Fabre, the 4-year-old Galileo filly ran the 9 furlongs on good going in 1:51.85. Planteur finished third. Golden Lilac won her first five career starts before finishing third behind Galikova in the Group 3 Prix Guillaume D'Ornano at Deauville. Cirrus Des Aigles, meanwhile, came into Sunday's race off victories in the Dubai Sheema Classic and the Prix Ganay. Fabre said he will consider supplementing Golden Lilac to the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot or waiting at home for the Prix Jacques le Marois.
Sagawara won Sunday's Group 1 Montjeu Coolmore Prix Saint-Alary for 3-year-old fillies at Longchamp by a short neck over Rjwa in a tight finish. Forces of Darkness was third, another short neck in arrears, and it was only another 1/2 length back to La Peinture, the favorite, finishing fourth. Sagawara, a daughter of Shamardal, ran the 10 furlongs on good going in 2:04.37 with Christophe-Patrice Lemaire up for Alain De Royer-Dupre. She now likely will be headed for the Prix Diane.
The SAR's reigning Horse of the Year, Ambitious Dragon, proved Sunday he can stay a distance of ground. But Liberator, with jockey Weichong Marwing making crafty use of the pace scenario, still got the best of the HK-Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. Both Liberator and Ambitious Dragon stepped up smartly in the final furlong after a tedious pace through much of the 1 1/2-mile race. But Liberator, experienced at the distance, found more than Ambitious Dragon, who was stretching out to 1 1/2 miles for the first time. The favorite, Dominant, finished third. Liberator, a 5-year-old Australian-bred gelding, finished in 2:30.84 over good going. Trainer David Ferraris said Liberator now will have a rest before beginning preparations for the Group 1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase over the same distance at Sha Tin in December.
In Sunday's HK-Group 3 Sha Tin Vase, Captain Sweet bested Arrived Ahead in a stretch duel to give the race for the third straight time to trainer John Moore. Captain Sweet, a 4-year-old, finished in 1:09.54 with Brett Prebble up.
Deep Brillante surged to the lead a furlong from home in Sunday's $1.9 million, Grade 1 Japanese Derby (Tokyo Yushun) at Tokyo Racecourse, then survived a late charge by Fenomeno to win by a short head. Tosen Homareboshi was third, just 3/4 length farther back, and 2,000 Guineas winner Gold Ship got home fourth. Deep Brillante is by Deep Impact, the 2005 Japanese Triple Crown winner who also sired last weekend's impressive Japanese Oaks winner, Gentildonna. Deep Brillante ran the 2,400 meters in 2:23.8.
Back in North America:
Hunters Bay bid for the lead a furlong from home in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Eclipse Stakes and got home first by 3 lengths over early leader Mister Mardi Gras. Hothersal finished third. Hunters Bay, a 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.63. "I got lucky, with three in front of me, just the perfect garden trip," said winning rider Emma-Jayne Wilson. "When I asked him to go, he responded and responded well. You couldn't have asked for better. You couldn't have written it better."
Something Extra led most of the way in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade II Connaught Cup and went on to post the 13-1 upset win by 2 1/2 lengths over Big Band Sound. Arctic Fern finished third and the favorite, Mutual Trust, got home seventh after a bad start. Something Extra, a 4-year-old Indian Charlie gelding, ran the 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:20.69. "I kept talking to him, saying, 'Relax, relax,'" said winning jockey Eurico Da Silva. "Then I said, 'Boy, I love you,' and then he relaxed, put his ears up and had a little breather, and then ran very fast home."
Ice Cream Silence silenced the competition in Saturday's $68,000 Optimistic Gal Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Only two signed on to challenge the odds-on favorite and there was no trouble for the placing judges at the end. Ice Cream Silence, with Brian Hernandez Jr. up, won by 5 lengths after easily going by pacesetter Livi Makenzie. She held second, 19 1/4 lengths better than Scat Baby. Ice Cream Silence, a daughter of Street Sense, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.46.
Compliance Officer traveled three-wide to the lead in Sunday's $125,000 Kingston Stakes for New York-breds and dug deep to beat Lubash by 3/4 length. Street Gang was along late to take third. Compliance Officer, a 6-year-old Officer gelding out of the Dynaformer mare Purple Hills, ran the 1 mile on good turf in 1:37.11 with Javier Castellano at the reins.
Gitchee Goomie rallied from last of seven to win Sunday's $125,000 Mount Vernon Stakes for state-bred distaffers by 1/2 length over Hessonite. Rogue's Jewel finished third. Gitchee Goomie, a 5-year-old City Zip mare, covered the 1 mile on good turf in 1:38.64 for jockey Alan Garcia.
Pants On Fire returned to the winner's circle after Saturday's $75,500 Skip Away Stakes. The 4-year-old Jump Start colt stalked the pace, got the lead in the lane and won by 1 length over Norman Asbjornson. Cactus Charlie got home third. Pants On Fire, with Paco Lopez up, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.56.
Malibu Way won a tight, three-way stretch battle in Saturday's $64,000 Lamplighter Stakes for 3-year-olds, prevailing by a neck over Heavy Breathing. Crafty Unicorn was in the mix until the final sixteenth, then faded to finish third. Malibu Way, a First Samurai colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:42.00 with Joe Bravo riding.
Nefertini charged from the rear of the field to win Sunday's $75,000 Monmouth Beach Stakes for fillies and mares by 1/2 length over Successful Song with Cascabella third. Nefertini, a 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker, finished 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:43.06 with Carlos Marquez Jr. up.
Dancing Solo was well back turning for home in Sunday's $62,400 Little Silver Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, closed with a rush and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Glamour N Glory. Senator Beck was third. Dacing Solo, a Giant's Causeway filly, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.66 with Bravo in the irons.
Window Boy set a pressured pace in Wednesday's $50,000 Grover (Buddy) Delp Memorial for 3-year-olds, shook clear and held off the odds-on favorite, Reckless Jerry, to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Lemon Juice and Cop a Tude completed the order of finish. Window Boy, an Include colt, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.92 under John Bisono.
Shadowbdancing danced in from Chicago to make off with a front-running win in Saturday's $60,000 Jim Rasmussen Memorial. With Israel Ocampo up, the 7-year-old Montbrook gelding finished 2 1/2 lengths better than P D Q Kiddo and completed the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.08. The favorite, It Happened Again, finished third.
Sterling Madame was solid gold in Saturday's $60,000 Wild Rose Stakes for fillies and mares, jetting off in the stretch to win by 12 1/2 lengths. Another World was second, 6 lengths better than Ginger Added. Sterling Madame, a 4-year-old Unbridled Energy filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.15 with David Mello up.
River Bear rallied from last of six to win Friday's $60,000 Prairie Express by 3/4 length over Signsealndeliver. Wiredfortwotwenty held the lead briefly and finished third. River Bear, a 7-year-old, Illinois-bred Unreal Zeal gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:09.18 with Danush Sukie riding.
Salty Strike put a nose in front of pacesetting Starlite Starbrite at the wire to win Friday's $60,000 Prairie Rose for fillies and mares. Yournotthebossofme finished third. Salty Strike, a 4-year-old Smart Strike filly, ran the 6 furlongs in the slop in 1:09.85 with Shane Laviolette in the irons.
Zenon's Star stalked the pace in Sunday's $75,000 Dine Stakes for 3-year-old New Mexico-bred colts and geldings, then put his head in front of the pacesetter, Dueling Dom, to win by 1/2 length. Odds-on favorite That's Who finished third. Zenon's Star, a Fusaichi Zenon gelding, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.72 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. riding.
Dashikova was up with a late rush to capture Saturday's $75,000 Aztec Oaks for New Mexico-breds by 1 length over Vinton Row. Super Stormy finished third. Dashikova, a daughter of Attila's Storm, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:20.23 with Jose Rivera Jr. up.
Calder Race Course
Empire Builder chugged from last of six to take a big lead in the early stretch run in Saturday's $55,000 Mambo Meister Stakes for 3-year-olds, then held on to win by 1/2 length over the odds-on favorite, Csaba. However, Csaba then was set down to third, promoting Musical Flair to the place money. Empire Builder, a Kitten's Joy colt, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.04 with Jonathan Gonzalez up. The race was moved off the turf.
Night Time Fun grabbed the lead in Saturday's $50,000 It's Binn Too Long Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies and refused to let the odds-on favorite, Navy Chapel, get by in the late going. At the wire, it was a 13-1 upset with Fear the Facelift taking third. Night Time Fun, a Windsor Castle filly, got the 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 52.54 seconds with Antonio Lopez in the irons.
Seapops put a nose in front of Pass the Crown on the wire to win Saturday's $84,000 William Henry Harrison Stakes for Indiana-breds. The favorite, Unreachable Star, came from the back of the field but found the lead unreachable, settling for third. Seapops, an 8-year-old Le Casque Gris gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.35 with Rafael Mojica Jr. riding.
Facey's Spirit went right to the front in Saturday's $84,000 Shelby County Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and was not caught, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Ain't She a Saint. Chablack and Lovely Leeann dead-heated for third and fourth. Facey's Spirit, a 4-year-old Pass Rush filly, was clocked in 1:11.88 with Eddie Perez up.
Aquapazza rallied by Love Dare in the late going to win Saturday's $50,000 Opelousas Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length. Vera Belle finished third. Aquapazza, a 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic filly, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.35 with Jamie Theriot in the irons.
Raise the Reward won a stretch battle with Catlaunch to prevail by 1 length in Saturday's $50,000 Michael F. Rowland Memorial for Ohio-breds. Raise the Reward, a 6-year-old Parents' Reward gelding, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.44 with Jacob Radosevich up.
Diavoletto was pressed the whole way on the lead in Sunday's $50,000 Green Carpet Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-olds but perservered to win by 3/4 length over Agressive Elegance. Eyes Super Freaky finished third. Diavoletto, a Stephen Got Even gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.39 under Rafael Hernandez.
Came West came four-wide to the lead in Sunday's $50,000 First Lady Handicap and kicked clear to win by 1 length over He'smylittleman. Pyrite On My Mind finished third. Came West, a 6-year-old Came Home mare, came home in 1:12.26 for jockey Isaias Hernandez.
Exclusive Diva lead from the early going in Sunday's $50,000 Seattle Handicap for fillies and mares and drew off smartly through the stretch to win by 8 1/2 lengths over Royal Moses. Lady Hokulea finished third. Exclusive Diva, a 3-year-old Bernardini filly, traveled 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.58 under Juan Gutierrez.
Belmont Stakes notes
The field shifts from day to day but there are about a dozen live candidates for the June 9 Belmont Stakes.
Trainer Doug O'Neill arrived at Belmont Park Sunday to see his Triple Crown contender, I'll Have Another, gallop easily. He was seeing the colt for the first time since he won the Preakness Stakes eight days earlier and said he could "see with my own eyes" that the reports he had been getting from his assistants were right -- I'll Have Another is happy and doing well. "As long as he continues to stay healthy and injury-free, he'll be tough," O'Neill said. "The pressure is when your horse isn't doing good," he added.
In South Florida, Ravelo's Boy, the fifth-place finisher in the Tampa Bay Derby, worked 7 furlongs in 1:28.2 on Sunday at Calder Race Course and trainer Manny Azpurua confirmed he is ticketed for the Belmont. Alex Solis traveled to Florida for the work and Azpurua said the rider "was really pleased with how the horse went. And he will ride the horse for us in New York. We are happy to get him."
Trainer Bob Baffert, who has elected not to send Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister on to the Belmont, instead plans to start Paynter, easy winner of an allowance event on the Preakness undercard. Paynter worked 5 furlongs Sunday in 59.26 seconds on the Belmont Park training track.
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