If nothing else, the weekend's major races showed the path to the Breeders' Cup Championships is going to be challenging.
Case in point: Saturday's star-studded Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs went to Ron the Greek, who had been billed as a supporting actor.
The $400,000, Grade I race promised to be a preview of the older horses pointing toward the Breeders' Cup Classic. But after some roughhousing early and again late, it was Ron the Greek who found room along the rail and got through to win by a head over Wise Dan. Nate's Mineshaft led much of the way and held on for third.
The rest of the order of finish was replete with recognizable names: Rogue Romance, Alternation, Nehro, Mission Impazible and Fort Larned. Wise Dan came into the Stephen Foster riding a three-race winning streak; Alternation, a four-race win skein. Nate's Mineshaft had won five of his last six starts.
Ron the Greek, who finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.51 with Jose Lezcano up, had finished second to Alternation in his last start, the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap. Prior to that, however, he won the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. The 5-year-old son of Full Mandate now has seven wins from 19 lifetime starts.
"Everything went right for me tonight," Lezcano said. "The whole way I saw the hole on the rail and I thought I could get through. I asked him and he gave me a great run."
Winning trainer Bill Mott said the win was magnified by the fact the Stephen Foster was a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Classic -- at Santa Anita, site of his previous biggest win.
"He seems like he's an improving horse and you'd have to say he's one of the top handicap horses in the country," Mott said. "It was a very good field tonight and I feel proud of our horse that he was able to beat such a good field."
The Stephen Foster was not the only weekend action in the Classic division. Also:
-- Neck 'n Neck stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000, Matt Winn Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, easily assumed the lead and drew off to win by 7 1/4 lengths. Stealcase outlasted Macho Macho for second and Right to Vote and Master Rick completed the order of finish. Neck 'n Neck, a Flower Alley colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the main track in 1:43.72 under Leandro Goncalves. "Honestly, I expected him to run very well," winning trainer Ian Wilkes said. "But did I expect him to win that easily? No." He said he has not picked out a next race for Neck 'n Neck.
-- Le Bernardin got a lead in the stretch run in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park, then held off a determined bid by Easter Gift to win by a neck. The favorite, Good Morning Diva, finished third. Le Bernardin, a Bernardini colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.51 with Mike Luzzi up. The Darley Stable homebred improved his lifetime mark to three wins from five starts. "The horse seemed to be lugging in for much of the race, but Mike did a great job," winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "I've never noticed that he's been a tough horse to ride in the past, but Mike knows him well and did a great job today. The Haskell is obviously a race we'll look at after we see how he comes out of this."
We're under five months now to the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita. Here's a look at weekend action in some of the other divisions:
Those races in Dubai last March are starting to look like key races -- in reverse -- for the U.S. horses who fared so poorly in them. Last week it was Richard's Kid bouncing back to win in California. Saturday it was Royal Delta who kicked in the afterburners in the stretch run to win the $150,000 Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs by 8 lengths. In her last previous start, the 4-year-old Empire Maker filly finished ninth in the World Cup. Saturday it was no contest as jockey Mike Smith didn't need to provide any encouragement from mid-stretch on. Afleeting Lady led briefly and finished best of the rest, 4 1/2 lengths ahead of St. John's River. Royal Delta ran the 9 furlongs in 1:49.49 -- more than a full second faster than Ron the Greek ran the same distance in the next race. "Without a doubt, it was very good to see," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "She had a nice, smooth trip today and gave a good effort. She's a champion. She was a deserving champion last year and it looks like right now, from what we saw tonight, there are more good things to come." Royal Delta last year won the Ladies Classic and the Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old filly.
Love Theway Youare ran by the odds-on favorite, Include Me Out, in the stretch run of Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park and went on to post the 18-1 upset win by 2 1/2 lengths. It was a long way back to Zafeen's Pearl in third. Rock and Glory pulled her way to the lead but stopped badly and was eased at the end. Love Theway Youare, a 4-year-old Arch filly, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.10 under Garrett Gomez. Love Theway Youare had been running in Grade I and Grade II races without a win. Her last victory was in an optional claimer 14 months ago and in her last race, the Marj Everett Memorial a month ago, she bobbled at the start and dropped her rider. Maria Ayala, assistant to winning trainer Myung Kwon Cho, said she told Gomez "to watch the replays of this horse before the race and he said, 'Okay, I've got it now.' She's been training really well." Joe Talamo, who rode Include Me Out, noted his filly tends to pull herself up when she strikes the lead. "In hindsight," he said, "I wish I would have waited a little longer."
Love and Pride got to the front in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Obeah Stakes at Delaware park and held off the odds-on favorite, Tiz Miz Sue for a 1 3/4-length victory. Check Point checked in third. Love and Pride, a 4-year-old A.P. Indy filly, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.91. The Obeah Stakes is the prep for the $750,000 Grade II Delaware Handicap to be run on July 21. "She was awesome," winning rider Jeremy Rose said. "She has one heck of a cruising gear … . I am not sure who is coming for the Del 'Cap, but I think today she showed she is worthy of consideration." Tiz Miz Sue's trainer, Steve Hobby, said he is still looking at that race, too, dismissing Saturday's result as a "lone speed" outcome. "When you're alone on the lead, you're tough. Especially a good horse like that," Hobby said of Love and Pride.
Turbo Compressor led from start to finish in Saturday's $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs, holding off Air Support at the end by 1 1/2 lengths. Rahystrada finished third. Turbo Compressor, a 4-year-old Halo's Image ridgling, covered the 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:55.15 with Joe Bravo riding. The race was run under the lights for the first time. Trainer Todd Pletcher put Turbo Compressor on the grass in a Gulfstream Park allowance race in March and he responded with a win. After finishing eighth in the Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill May 5th, he made it two of three on grass in Saturday's Turf Cup. "We knew if he got to the lead, we had a great chance to win the race," co-owner Nerina Morales said. "He loved the grass course but we were concerned about racing at night. We didn't know how dark it was going to be. But it turned out to be great. He's our baby."
At Belmont Park, Summer Front was trapped on the rail in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds while Howe Great worked his way to the lead. But when jockey Ramon Dominguez got Summer Front out for room, he quickly downshifted, accelerated and made up the difference, winning by a half length. Film Shot was always close and finished third. Summer Front, a War Front colt, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.74. Dominguez admitted he was "concerned about being on the inside. Unfortunately, I had no choice … . A move like that always takes a lot of horse out of you, and I was very impressed with him." Summer Front now has won all four of his career starts on the grass. He was second in the Grade III Lexington over the Keeneland all-weather surface and his only bad effort was on the Belmont main track in the Grade II Peter Pan, where he stumbled and finished eighth. "I've always liked my horse," winning trainer Christophe Clement said. "I messed up by running him in the Lexington and Peter Pan. But I had to try because he really trained well on dirt and it'd be a mistake not to try." He said he will look at the Grade II Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs on July 21.
Filly & Mare Turf
Centre Court hit the front entering the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, bumped with Colonial Flag and then went on to win by a length over that rival. Treasured Up rallied from well back to finish third, a half length farther back. Centre Court, a Smart Strike filly, finished the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.25 with Javier Castellano in the irons. "We will probably go to the American Oaks, but there are a lot of options," winning trainer Rusty Arnold said. "There are some good races in New York and the Virginia Oaks also is a nice race. We'll see how she comes back from this one."
A three-way battle to the wire capped Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Edward P. Evans All Along Stakes at Colonial Downs with Snow Top Mountain coming out a neck the best. Clair Skies Ahead was second, just a head better than Shimmering Moment. The favorite, La Pernelle, finished fifth. Snow Top Mountain, a 5-year-old Najran mare, got the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.48 with Paco Lopez aboard.
Wednesday's $200,000 Oliver Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 mile on the Indiana Downs turf drew a field of six horses whose last starts were at six different tracks -- from Belmont Park to Turf Paradise. Dale Romans invaded with the coupled entry of Silver Max and Cozzetti, which went off as the heavy odds-on favorite and ran 1-2. Silver Max led every step of the way and won by 6 3/4 lengths with his entrymate from well back to take second by a neck over Travel Advisory. Silver Max, a Badge of Silver colt, got home in 1:33.88 with Victor Lebron aboard. It was the fifth straight win for Silver Max since he ran fifth in the Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park way back in January. The streak also includes the Grade III Transylvania at Keeneland, the Grade II American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs and the Arlington Classic.
Action Andy went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Da Hoss Stakes at Colonial Downs, turned back a bid by Sleepless Knight and went on to win by a half length over that rival. Followmyfootsteps followed in third. Action Andy, a 5-year-old Gators N Bears gelding, finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.01 with Horacio Karamanos up.
Ben's Cat bounced back from a couple subpar efforts to win Sunday's $150,000 Parx Dash at Parx Racing by 2 lengths over odds-on favorite Bridgetown. Perfect Officer finished third. Ben's Cat, a 6-year-old Parker's Storm Cat gelding, finished the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 54.96 with Julian Pimentel in the irons. Ben's Cat was a candidate for last year's Breeders' Cup but trainer King Leatherbury wasn't able to raise the money to get him nominated.
Ray's Away dueled to the lead in Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Victoria Stakes at Woodbine, then opened up in the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Honorable Guest. Allaboutcaroline and Dan the Tin Man completed the order of finish. Ray's Away, a Kentucky-bred Limehouse colt out of the Capote mare Sorus, ran the 5 furlongs on the all-weather track in 58.28 seconds under Christopher Griffith.
Amarish dueled his way to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Willard L. Proctor Memorial at Hollywood Park, then drew off smartly to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Moreno's Mine finished second, a length ahead of Undrafted. Amarish, a Scat Daddy colt out of the Awesome Again mare Issues, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:04.55 with Edwin Maldonado up. "He's very competitive and good minded," winning trainer Jeff Bonde said. "He walks like a horse who has done it a hundred times. We'll have a team meeting to figure out what's next."
First-time starter Anytime Magic stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Lost in the Fog Stakes at Golden Gate Fields, then took over and won by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Native Treasure. Saint Prado finished third. Anytime Magic, a Fusaichi Pegasus gelding out of the Cat Thief mare Sambuca Classica, ran the 5 furlongs on the all-weather track in 59.59 seconds with David Lopez up for trainer Robert Hess Sr.
World Venturer circled around the leaders in Saturday's $100,000 TTA Sales Futurity for state-bred colts and geldings at Lone Star Park and cleared the field, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. Changing Karma finished second and Validated Blarney was third. World Venturer, a Wimbledon gelding, ran the 5 furlongs in 58.55 with Jamie Theriot aboard.
Miss Empire survived a bit of a rough start in Saturday's $100,000 Cinderella Stakes at Hollywood Park, sat off the early pace and then took complete charge in the lane, winning by 4 3/4 lengths over Awesome Annie. Tilde finished third and the favorite, Unusual Way, finished seventh. Miss Empire, an Empire Maker filly out of the Rajab mare Miss Excitement, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:05.00 with Kevin Krigger aboard.
At Lone Star Park, Falling Star rallied three-wide to the lead turning for home in Saturday's $100,000 TTA Sales Futurity for Texas-bred 2-year-old fillies and controlled things the rest of the way, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Pardonmecomingthru finished second, 2 lengths ahead of Miss Goodthing. Falling Star, a daughter of Too Much Bling, ran the 5 furlongs on a fast track in 58.31 seconds under Brian McNeil.
K B's Princess chased the pace early in Saturday's $75,000 C.O. "Ken" Kendrick Memorial for New Mexico-bred fillies at SunRay Park, went to the lead when asked and won by 2 lengths over Lakehouse Fun. La Luz finished third. K B's Princess, making her first start, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 52.39 seconds with Alfredo Juarez Jr. riding.
Valyra rallied by the tiring leaders in the late going to upset Sunday's Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines, or French Oaks. With Johnny Murtagh up for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget, Valyra prevailed by 3/4 of a length over Beauty Parlor. Rjwa did her best running late to be up for third. Valyra, a daughter of Azamour, ran the 10 1/2 furlongs on good to soft going in 2:10.11. "When she got to the front she just pricked her ears a little. I think she's a filly on the improve and she could get even better," Murtagh said.
Dealbata rated off the early speed in Saturday's $90,000 Monhegan Sky Stakes for fillies and mares, got through between horses and led a furlong out, then won by a length over late-running Bubbly Jane. Federation led briefly and held third. Dealbata, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred Dubawi filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the firm inner turf course in 1:42.70 with Dominguez landing another one. It was the first U.S. start for the filly, who posted three wins and a second from five starts in France.
Johannesburg Smile led from the early stages of Sunday's $90,000 Lemon Drop Kid Stakes, put some separation on the field in the lane and stayed well enough to win by a half length over Schoolyard Dreams. The favorite, Alma d'Oro, settled for third. Johannesburg Smile, a 5-year-old son of Johannesburg, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.48 with Cornelio Velasquez up.
Making her first start since last New Year's Eve, Turbulent Descent got to the lead late in the stretch run in Sunday's $70,000 Desert Stormer Handicap and edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Izzy Rules. Mildly Offensive finished third. Turbulent Descent, a 4-year-old Congrats filly, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.25 for jockey David Flores. "You want to see her come back to form because she's a brilliant filly," said winning trainer Mike Puype.
Calder Race Course
Becausei'mworthit lived up to her name in Saturday's $55,000 Cool Air Stakes for fillies and mares, leading by a big margin before coasting home a 2-length winner. Nakano finished second and Leopard Rock rallied from last to finish third. Becausei'mworthit, a 4-year-old Indian Express filly, completed 5 furlongs on a fast main track in 58.52 seconds with Jose Lopez in the irons. The race was moved from the grass course. "If they were going to let me go easy, the plan was to go to the front and just take it from there," Lopez said. "And that's what she did."
Lenape Rim put a head in front of Little Often Anni at the wire in Friday's $75,000 Lyphard Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred fillies and mares. Sky Willow came from the clouds to finish third while the favorite, Ask Me Anything, showed little, finishing fifth. Lenape Rim, a 4-year-old Rimrod filly, finished the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.71 for jockey William Otero.
Saturday was Prairie State Festival day at the suburban Chicago oval with a half dozen races, each worth $125,000, carded for Illinois-registered steeds.
In the White Oak Handicap for 3-year-olds and up, Capt. Bullet Bob seized the lead at the sixteenth pole and held off a late charge by Four Left Feet to win by a neck. Roarin Missile led the way and held stubbornly along the rail to finish third. Capt. Bullet Bob, a 6-year-old son of Mutakddim, finished the 6 furlongs on the all-weather surface in 1:10.66 with Tim Thornton riding. The odds-on favorite, River Bear, broke last and beat only one rival, putting paid to a three-race win streak. "I waited before I got into him and hoped nobody else was coming," Thornton said.
Sandia Crest rallied outside Sweet Luca and was just up to win the Springfield Stakes for 3-year-olds by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Real Power also ran well late to take third. Sandia Crest, an Indy Snow gelding, ran the one-turn mile over the all-weather surface in 1:38.28 with James Graham riding. The win was his first since his maiden-breaker at Hawthorne four races back in early April. "At the half-mile pole, he started taking me," Graham said. "I let him take me as far as he wanted."
Third Chance only needed one chance in the Isaac Murphy Handicap for fillies and mares. With Francisco Torres up, the 4-year-old Kafwain filly overhauled early leader Kip Berries on the turn and then drew off with a burst of speed, winning by 6 1/2 lengths. Algonquin Posse was up for second with Our Lady in Red finishing third. Third Chance ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.92. She now has won her last six starts against state-bred rivals with two sixth-place finishes at Gulfstream Park sandwiched between. Third Chance is owned in part by local newscaster Ron Magers.
La Tia, fresh off a 9-length maiden win over the same track at the same distance, proved too much to handle in the Purple Violet for 3-year-old fillies. With Constantino Roman in the irons, the City Place filly set a good clip and wasn't challenged, winning by 8 1/4 lengths. Dolly Peach was second and Wonder Country rallied along the rail to finish third. La Tia ran the mile on the all-weather track in 1:38.24. "I was pretty confident," winning trainer Brian Williamson said.
Cumulonimble ran by pacesetting Katie the Lady in the stretch run of the Lincoln Heritage Handicap for fillies and mares and went on to win by 3 lengths. Katie the Lady and late-running Pathway dead-heated for second and third. Peyote Patty finished fourth. Cumulonimble, a 6-year-old Stormy Atlantic mare, got the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.66 with James Graham in the irons.
Mr. Mischief got to the lead in the Black Tie Affair Handicap and never gave it up, winning off by 1 1/2 lengths. Suntracer was the best of the rest with Forbidden Forest third and Peso completing the superfecta. Mr. Mischief, a 7-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding, ran 9 furlongs on the firm Arlington turf in 1:42.82 for jockey E.T. Baird. Mr. Mischief has been off the board only once in his last 10 starts.
Moment of Majesty rallied from far back to win Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Zadracarta Stakes for Ontario-bred distaffers by 1 1/2 lengths over early leader Barracks Road. Strike Red finished third. Moment of Majesty, a 5-year-old Saint Liam mare, ran the 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:20.57 with Gerry Olquin up.
Pender Harbour stayed close to the pace in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Steady Growth Stakes for Ontario-sired horses, then went by pacesetter Good Better Best to win by 2 lengths over that rival. Guipago finished third. Pender Harbour, a 4-year-old Philanthropist gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.62 for jockey Luis Contreras.
Lone Star Park
Circustown Rose seized an early lead in Saturday's $50,000 Lane's End Stallion Scholarship Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, opened a comfortable edge and got home first by 3 1/2 lengths. Patty's Pride and I'm a Bear completed the trifecta. Circustown Rose, a 4-year-old Wimbledon filly, ran 7 1/2 furlongs over yielding turf in 1:30.74 with Cliff Berry in the irons.
Srumdiddlyumptious led from the early strides in Saturday's $60,000 Just Smashing Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and kept going at the end to win by 1 length over Salad Girl. Defy Gravity was third under the wire. Srumdiddlyuptious, a Roman Ruler filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.51 with Charles Lopez riding.
Inspired led all the way to a 3/4-length win over Classy Zip in Sunday's $60,000 Fort Monmouth Stakes for fillies and mares. Witchesofwestfield finished third. Inspired, a 5-year-old Unbridled's Song mare, got the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.23 under Roberto Alvarado Jr.
Dougs Buddy surged to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Western Canada Handicap for 3-year-olds, turned back a challenge by Unquiet and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over that rival. Congrats Man finished third. Dougs Buddy, a Badge of Silver colt, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10 3/5 with Stephan Heiler in the irons.
Pay the Man took the lead in Saturday's $50,000 J. William Petro Memorial Handicap for Ohio-bred distaffers, repulsed a bid by the favorite, Muir Woods, and won by a length over that rival. The War Department fought through traffic to finish third. Pay the Man, an 8-year-old Bernstein mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.28 with Ricardo Feliciano up. She now has won the race five years in a row.
Winning Machine won a prolonged stretch battle with Rainier Ice to take Sunday's $50,000 Budweiser Handicap by a half length. Slim Pickins finished third. Winning Machine, a 6-year-old Toccet gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:34.44 with Javier Matias riding.
Terlani took charge in the lane in Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) Vancouver Sun Handicap for fillies and mares, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over pacesetting Overvalued. Orchid's Silver finished third. Terlani, a 5-year-old El Corredor mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on a wet-fast track in 1:44.67 under Jeffrey Burningham.
News and notes:
MyFantasyStable.com now has a live website, replete with preliminary rules and expert rankings by Gary Mandella and Jude Feld. The rankings will be updated weekly leading up to the planned official launch of the site in early August.