Sahara Sky led a holiday parade of mile runners at tracks around the United States Monday and boosted his trainer to a stakes double.
The $750,000, Grade I Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park, better known as the Met Mile, highlighted a day filled with 1-mile and 1 1/16-mile stakes. The results likely preview some of the lineups for the middle-distance races in this fall's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita.
With deep gratitude and appreciation to all those who have served our country, let's take a look at what happened on Memorial Day.
Sahara Sky rallied from last and just nipped pacesetting Cross Traffic in the final jump to win the Met Mile by the slimmest of noses. Cross Traffic, making just his fourth career start, set a blistering pace in the one-turn mile and appeared on his way to the win before Joel Rosario got Sahara Sky into gear on the outside in the final furlong. He finished the one-turn mile in 1:34.17. Flat Out, the favorite, was held up in traffic as the field hit the top of the stretch and lost momentum, finishing third. Saraha Sky, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, started the year in California, winning the Grade II San Carlos and Grade II Palos Verdes. The 5-year-old son of Pleasant Tap finished second in the Grade I Carter at Aqueduct last month. "He's the kind of horse that makes one little, late run," Rosario said. "If you push him a little early, he kind of stays there. But when he's like that, far back, he'll give it to you. I think he ran a very good race today." Hollendorfer said he will take Sahara Sky back to California and think about running him at somewhat longer distances. "The way he ran today, it looks like he could get a little more ground," the trainer said. "I'll watch the films and watch the gallop out and see what I think about that, but it might be a possibility." But, Hollendorfer added, "I don't want to keep flying him across the country."
Midnight Lucky shadowed a quick pace in the $300,000, Grade I Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, quickly shot to the lead in the stretch and kicked clear, winning by 6 1/4 lengths. Close Hatches came from well back to take second with Kauai Katie third. Midnight Lucky, with Rosie Napravnik up, got the one-turn mile on a fast track in 1:35.11. She now has three wins from four starts with the only loss a fifth-place showing in the Longines Kentucky Oaks three weeks ago when she made the early going and couldn't get the final furlong. "They were moving right along, and at no point did it look like she was struggling with the racetrack," said Jim Barnes, assistant to winning trainer Bob Baffert. "She's just a really nice filly and we're so happy to train her. The plan right now is day by day. We'll go back to Churchill and go from there."
Tiz Miz Sue proved she is not just an Oaklawn Park specialist by rallying from off the pace to win the $400,000, Grade I Ogden Phipps for fillies and mares by 1/2 length over Authenticity. The latter chased a hot early pace set by the favorite, Joyful Victory, then took the lead when the field straightened out for the stretch run. But Tiz Miz Sue, under Joe Rocco Jr., was getting wound up along the outside and came on by for the win. Centring put in a little late run to snatch third while Joyful Victory faded to finish next-last of the half dozen starters. The 1 1/16 miles on a fast track went in 1:40.81. Tiz Miz Sue, a 6-year-old Tiznow mare, won for the eighth time in 32 starts. Her last two previous wins came at Oaklawn. "It's wonderful when it works," said winning trainer Steve Hobby. "I was loving the fractions and Joe looked like he had an armful of horse all the way sitting back there. He just waited. He knows her very well. She was within range, that was the big thing. Sometimes she gets too far behind and can't quite make up the distance. But she was within range and they were cooking."
Discreet Marq went right to the lead in the $200,000, Grade II Sands Point Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, turned back a challenge from Kitten's Queen and held on late to win by 3/4 length over Wave Theory. Watsdachances finished third and Kitten's Queen sagged back to finish fourth. Discreet Marq, a New York-bed daughter of Discreet Cat, ran 1 1/16 miles on the firm inner turf in 1:42.50 with Jose Lezcano up. Discreet Marq now has three wins, a second and two thirds from eight starts. "She's a top-class filly," said winning trainer Christophe Clement. "I'm sure of it. We have many races on the turf coming along, so it's going to be fun. Let's enjoy it for today and go from there."
Beat the Blues finished second in the Grade III Winning Colors Stakes in each of the past two years but nobody was going to beat the 6-year-old Great Pyramid mare to the wire in Monday's renewal. With Miguel Mena up, Beat the Blues showed the way, turned back a challenge by Burban and held on at the end to win by 3/4 length over Judy the Beauty. Vuitton was along for third. Beat the Blues ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.59. She now has finished in the top three in seven straight races over five different tracks. "She's been a bridesmaid in so many big races and she was deserving of this," said winning trainer Brett Calhoun. "She's run a lot of good races against some good horses and has just been unfortunate to not get there in a graded stake. Today was her day, thank God."
Marketing Mix worked hard to get the lead midway down the stretch in the $250,000, Grade I Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares and held on to beat Tiz Flirtatious by a head. It was 4 1/4 lengths farther back to Lady of Shamrock in third. Marketing Mix, a 5-year-old Megadlia d'Oro mare, finished 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:47.24 with Gary Stevens in the irons. It was her first start of the year after a second-place effort behind Zagora in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. "You never know how fit they are until they run," said winning trainer Tom Proctor. "If they aren't, they get beat. If they are, they don't. She's always run well off a layoff."
Comma to the Top blasted right to the lead in the $100,000, Grade III Los Angeles Handicap and had enough left at the end to hold off Centralintelligence for a 1 1/4-lengths win. Camp Victory finished third. Comma to the Top, a 5-year-old Bwana Charlie gelding, finished 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.11 with Edwin Maldonado up. The makeup of the race changed with the late scratch of likely pace contender Fast Bullet. "I believe we'll keep him sprinting the rest of the year and hopefully end up in the Breeders' Cup Sprint," said winning trainer Peter Miller.
Lone Star Park
Only four horses faced the starter for the $300,000, Grade III Lone Star Park Handicap. Two were saddled by Steve Asmussen and they finished 1-2 -- with 14 1/2 lengths back to the trailing pair. Master Rick and Prayer for Relief both sat off the early pace but when they hit the stretch, it was Master Rick rallying four-wide to take the lead and win by 1 length over his stablemate. Formaggio ran last until the early leader, Isn't He Clever, folded up in the lane and assumed the caboose position at the end. Master Rick, a 4-year-old Master Command colt, finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.09 under Ricardo Santana Jr. He now has three straight wins.
Golden Gate Fields
Summer Hit hit the front right out of the gate in the $100,000, Grade III All American Stakes and held on at the end to win by 3/4 length over Hudson Landing. Administer came from well back to finish third. Summer Hit, a 4-year-old Bertrando gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.09 under Russell Baze, giving trainer Jerry Hollendorfer a bicoastal graded stakes double for the holiday program along with Sahara Sky's win in the Met Mile. Summer Hit has never been worse than third in 11 starts, all on California all-weather surfaces. "Those were reasonable fractions for this horse," Baze said of the controlling pace. "He carries his speed all the way to the wire. It's hard to beat a horse when he can carry his speed that well. He's a great horse to ride. All you have to do is stay out of his way."
Silverette set a pressured pace in the $60,000 Red Cross Stakes for fillies and mares and edged clear late to win by 1 length. Angel's Glory was along to take second by 1/2 length over the odds-on favorite, Holiday Soiree. Silverette, a 4-year-old Street Sense filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.72 with Paco Lopez up.
Rusty Slipper rallied to the lead at the top of the stretch in the $60,000 Little Silver Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and went on to win by 3/4 length. Street Gem finished second but was disqualified to fifth for interference, promoting Three Hearts and Skyfall to second and third, respectively. Rusty Slipper, a daughter of Lemon Drop Kid, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.29, with Lopez doubling up on his stakes fun.
Uncle T Seven shipped in from Belmont to win the $50,000 George W. Barker Handicap for state-breds, rallying to beat Sundae On Sunday by 1/2 length. Dan's Gold was another 1/2 length back in third. Uncle T Seven, a 7-year-old Freud gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in five aces -- 1:11.11 -- under jockey J.M. Rohena.
Bet Seattle rallied from far back to upset the $50,000 Honor the Hero Stakes, winning by 1 length over El Seventyseven. The favorite, Canuletmedowneasy, checked in third. Bet Seattle, a 4-year-old Seattle Fitz gelding, ran 5 furlongs on soft turf in 58.08 seconds with Giovanni Franco up. And kudos to Canterbury for naming the Memorial Day race most appropriately.
News and Notes
Here's one to ponder: The Racing Post international rankings find half of the top 10 trained in the United States. And that's really five of the top nine, since No. 1-ranking Black Caviar has been retired. That leaves Game On Dude, the Santa Anita Handicap winner, No 2 but atop the active list with a 128 rating. Epsom Derby favorite Dawn Approach is rated 127, followed by Animal Kingdom (still listed as a U.S. trainee) at 125 in a tie with Japan's Orfevre. Five others are tied with ratings of 125 -- Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap victor Point of Entry, Sunshine Millions Classic champ Ron the Greek, Irish-trained St Nicholas Abbey and reigning U.S. Horse of the Year Wise Dan.