A showdown between English 3-year-olds highlighted this week's racing and presaged a battle for dominance among their American peers.
The coming weekend sees defending Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Fort Larned, back in action in a star-packed renewal of the historic Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on Saturday, among other graded stakes.
But how about those sophomores? On Wednesday at "Glorious Goodwood" in England, Toronado finally turned the tables on his 3-year-old rival, Dawn Approach. A Kentucky-based colt won the second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown on Tuesday. And, at Saratoga, the upcoming "Midsummer Derby" looks like the race to decide an American 3-year-old championship -- or at least show the way to one.
On Saturday, Mountaineer Park hosts the Grade II West Virginia Derby and Canterbury Park in Minnesota has the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby.
And that's not all the action in a fun-filled weekend. Fillies and mares are on display in the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar. Sprinters tackle 6 furlongs on the Saratoga main track in Sunday's Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap and 2-year-olds get a reality check in the Grade II Best Pal on Sunday at Del Mar.
Saddle up and ride, starting with those exciting 3-year-olds.
Glorious Goodwood was going gangbusters for Wednesday's Group 1 Sussex Stakes, billed as the "Duel on the Downs" between 3-year-olds Toronado and Dawn Approach. Toronado, twice defeated by Dawn Approach, got his revenge in the meeting's top fixture, letting Dawn Approach take the first run to the lead, then reeling him in through the final yards. The well-timed win was more emphatic than the 1/2-length margin of victory would indicate. Declaration of War, winner of the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, was best of the older horses but well back in third. "It was a great race and, when I didn't go by him quickly I thought, 'Oh no. Here we go again,'" said winning rider Richard Hughes. "But he was very brave. He's brilliant." Dawn Approach's trainer, Jim Bolger, added, "It was a top performance. We were just beaten by a better horse on the day ... There aren't too many horses who would want to eyeball Dawn Approach." Jockey Kevin Manning later was handed a four-day suspension for excessive use of his whip aboard Dawn Approach. Toronado is projected to stick to the 1-mile distance for the year, but will be in training in 2014 and could be expected to stretch out then, said assistant trainer Richard Hannon Jr., while plans for Dawn Approach remain uncertain. Toronado had finished fourth as Dawn Approach won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May, then just missed to his rival by a short head in the Group 1 St James's Palace after a long stretch battle.
It was all Uncaptured in Tuesday night's second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, the $500,000 (Canadian) Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie. Midnight Aria, the upset winner of the Queen's Plate, wasn't entered. And with the late scratches of Dynamic Sky and Spring In the Air, Uncaptured was the clear favorite among the remaining six starters. He justified the confidence of the punters, rallying from near the back of the pack to outfinish River Seven and win by 1 length. Niigon's Glory was 4 1/2 lengths farther back in third. The 1 3/16 miles on a fast track took 1:55.49 with Miguel Mena aboard the winner. Winning trainer Mark Casse said he was impressed with his colt's performance -- but not enough to consider moving him along to the Aug. 24 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. "That's a toughie," he said while celebrating the Fort Erie win. "I'm going where Verrazano isn't. But I will say for sure than his next start will be on the dirt." Trained at Churchill Downs by Mark Casse, Uncaptured won the Grade III Iroquois and the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club on the dirt there last fall, then took second in the Grade III Spiral at Turfway Park. After a 10th-place finish in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, he returned to Canada to finish second in the Wando Stakes at Woodbine, then wandered back to Kentucky to finish second in the Grade II Matt Winn at Churchill Downs. Turfway, Keeneland and Woodbine all have all-weather main tracks.
Speaking of the race Casse is ducking: Trainer Todd Pletcher says his winners from last weekend, Verrazano and Palace Malice, both look good and likely will meet in the Travers. With Kentucky Derby winner Orb also set for that race and Preakness winner Oxbow a shaky "maybe," the leadership of the division will be on the line. Verrazano cruised to a 9 3/4-lengths win in Sunday's Grade I Haskell at Monmouth and Palace Malice, the Belmont winner, took down Saturday's Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga. "You hate to run horses against each other from the same barn, but in this case I think it's the logical case for both horses and both owners," Pletcher said Monday at the Spa. Oxbow finished fourth in the Haskell and trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he came back with an ankle injury. While not entirely out of contention for the Travers, Lukas said a fall campaign is more likely for Oxbow.
Departing and Overanalyze headline Saturday's $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park. It's the first start since the Preakness for the Departing, a War Front colt who won the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. He was a "wise guy" pick in the Preakness but finished sixth. He has been working steadily at Saratoga for trainer Al Stall Jr. Sharing the spotlight is Overanalyze, the winner of the Grade I Arkansas Derby. He finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby and seventh in the Belmont so trainer Todd Pletcher could be hoping the 11-7 combo produces a winner. Among seven rivals are Ruler of Love, who was third in the Grade III Derby Trial at Churchill Downs; Betweenhereandcool, who was second in the recent Grade III Iowa Derby; and Say Ow, who comes from California with two straight wins for trainer Julio Canani, who hands off the Langfuhr gelding to Charles Kieser. Say Ow is the "name of the week."
Dorsett, fifth in the Grade III American Derby at Arlington Park, is the morning-line favorite for Saturday's $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury. Earlier, the Michael Stidham trainee finished fourth in the Grade III Arlington Classic. Coastal Breeze and Evan's Calling also are in from Chicago and there are invaders from Kentucky and Prairie Meadows in Iowa. The race highlights a rich day of stakes at the resurgent suburban Twin Cities oval.
At Louisiana Downs, Carve and Sunbean head a cast of seven for Saturday's $100,000 Super Derby Prelude. Carve finished third in the Arkansas Derby, then was detoured around the Triple Crown trail. Sunbean looked like a Derby contender earlier in the year but tailed off and now comes out of a win in a state-bred stakes event at Evangeline Downs. Hardrock Eleven also has shown promise. A tougher field is likely for the Sept. 7 running of the Grade II Super Derby itself.
This already in from Goodwood:
Brown Panther seemed to love the 2 miles of Thursday's Group 2 Goodwood Cup. After chasing the leaders, the 5-year-old son of Shirocco got to the front with a furlong to run and cruised home first by 3 1/2 lengths over the Godolphin runner, Ahzeemah. German hopeful Altano finished third. Brown Panther, with Richard Kingscote up, finished in 3:22.79 over good going. Trainer Tom Dascombe said the horse now is ticketed for the Irish St Leger and then a trip to Australia for the Melbourne Cup. "We perhaps haven't done as well as we should with him since he won at Royal Ascot at 3," said Dascombe. "So we've decided to be careful and pick just a few targets in a season, and make absolutely sure we get him right for each one, like the National Hunt boys do, and it seems to be working ... And the horse has been helping us because he's maturing all the time."
The early favorite, Aljamaaheer, was scratched from Tuesday's Group 2 Lennox Stakes when rains came, leaving Garswood as the favorite. The latter justified the faith, winning a battle to the wire with Caspar Netscher by a neck. Garswood won the European Free Handicap at Newmarket in April but then was nowhere in the 2,000 Guineas and fourth in the Jersey Stakes in his two intervening starts. Winning trainer Richard Fahey said he hopes for Group 1 efforts to come. "He's not at all the finished article yet," the trainer said of the Dutch Art 3-year-old. Caspar Netscher, last year's German 2,000 Guineas winner, was resuming a racing career after proving unsatisfactory at stud.
A look ahead at the weekend
Fort Larned heads a list of eight for Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Whitney Invitational at Saratoga. The 5-year-old Ian Wilkes trainee won this race last year en route to his Breeders' Cup Classic triumph. He had a rough start to his year but got back on track in a big way in his last race, winning the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in a romp. The Whitney field includes a few of the vanquished from the Foster -- Ron the Greek, who finished third, and Successful Dan, who was fourth. Mucho Macho Man was second to Fort Larned in the Breeders' Cup but hasn't shown the same spark yet this year. Cross Traffic, making just his fifth start for Todd Pletcher, has finished second in his last two starts -- the Grade III Westchester and the Grade I Met Mile. Alpha makes his second start after returning from Dubai. Csaba has run well in top company. And Fast Falcon has been close in some big ones but is still eligible for a "non-winners of one other than" race -- which would be something to see. Only Discovery, Kelso and Commentator have won the Whitney more than once in its 85 prior runnings. "He's coming into the race great," trainer Wilkes said of Fort Larned. "To win back-to-back Whitneys would be quite an accomplishment." Pletcher said he expects Cross Traffic and Fort Larned to be "significant pace factors in the race." Kiaran McLaughlin said Alpha, who was a dead-heat winner of the Travers at Saratoga last year, "couldn't be doing any better. It's just a tough race." That's as it should be since the race also is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
A gaggle of ladies who have been running amongst themselves are joined by a new face in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar, which also is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" race. Sisterhood, another from the extensive holdings of Ken and Sarah Ramsey, comes off a second-place finish in the Grade III Arlington Matron. She will face a lineup of locals that includes Byrama, Include Me Out, Lady of Fifty, Quiet Oasis, More Chocolate and Great Hot.
Only five are entered for Sunday's $400,000, Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga but they're tough to sort out. Delaunay had won six straight, including the Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day, but then couldn't handle Gentlemen's Bet in the stretch run of the Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows, finishing second. Gentlemen's Bet, the winner of five of his six races, is looking for a good effort to confirm the form he showed in Iowa. And it's noteworthy that in his lone defeat, the Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn, the winner was Justin Phillip, who is in this field but hasn't won in two intervening starts. Adding spice is Caixa Eletronica, bouncing back a week after winning a 9-furlong allowance over the course.
Tiz a Minister, winner of the Grade III Affirmed Handicap in June going 1 1/16 miles, cuts back to 7 furlongs for Friday's $200,000 Real Good Deal Stakes for 3-year-olds at Del Mar. Tiz a Minister, a Ministers Wild Cat colt, finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby and, more recently, second in the Grade II Swaps Stakes, also at a route. Also prominent in the eight-horse field are Omega Star and Raised a Secret.
As usual for this time of year, there are juvenile races all over the map. Among those is Sunday's $150,000, Grade II Best Pal at Del Mar. Seven are entered with Alpine Luck shouldering the 123-pound highweight impost, which will include Gary Stevens. Alpine Luck, a California-bred son of Lucky J.H., has won two straight, including the Hollywood Juvenile in his last start, for trainer Mike Harrington. Skydreamin, a Sky Mesa colt trained by Jeff Bonde, has won both his starts -- the Lost in the Fog Stakes at Golden Gate and the Everett Nevin Stakes at Pleasanton. Also in the field are Ontology, who was second by 1/2 length in the Hollywood Juvenile, and four coming off maiden wins.
Also worthy of note is Sunday's $60,000 Tyro at 5 furlongs on the turf at Monmouth Park, where Yes I'm Lucky, undefeated in two starts, and Silvertonguedtommy, winner of two out of three, bookend a field of seven. Only three of the other five are winners.
Earlier in the week
Here's an up-and-coming candidate in the Filly & Mare Sprint division. Dance to Bristol was just up in the final strides to win Monday's $200,000, Grade II Honorable Miss Stakes by a neck over pacesetting Classic Point. Munnings Sister finished third. Dance to Bristol, a 4-year-old Speightstown filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.73 with Xavier Perez up. She now has won six straight -- with two in a row graded -- and has finished out of the exacta only once in 17 starts -- that when she bobbled at the break and finished fourth. Trainer Ollie Figgins III said he would love to move Dance to Bristol up the final notch to a Grade I in the Ballerina on Aug. 23 after she overcame some traffic issues to win Monday. "This is the toughest field she's run against," he said. "I was having my doubts, because these guys don't give you nothing. They don't give you a break here."
Hyper ran best late to land Wednesday's $100,000 John's Call Stakes, beating fellow closer Side Road by 1 1/2 lengths. Quick Casablanca survived some early traffic issues to get show money. Hyper, a 6-year-old son of Victory Gallop, ran 1 5/8 miles on firm turf in 2:39.60 with Javier Castellano in the irons, racking up another win for Ken and Sarah Ramsey.
California Chrome took charge in the stretch run of Wednesday's $100,000 Graduation Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds and opened up to a 2 3/4-lengths victory over Moving Desert. Gangnam Guy was third and the favorite, Solid Wager, never figured in the running, finishing fifth. California Chrome, a Lucky Pulpit colt, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:03.48 with Alberto Delgado riding.
Long On Value, with two wins in two previous starts, was short on value as the favorite in Monday's $50,000 Strike Your Colors Stakes for 2-year-olds. But, take what you can get. The Virginia-bred Value Plus colt was quickly on the lead and raced clear in the stretch, winning by 6 lengths. Mr. Rover and Sandbar filled the trifecta. Long On Value, with Daniel Centeno up, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.29.
In the second half of the split event, Barracuda Wayne added plenty of value, rallying to win by 1 1/2 lengths at odds of 23-1. No Fruit Degroot was second and the favorite, Rope, finished third. Barracuda Wayne, a Pennsylvania-bred Weigelia gelding, got home in 1:04.40 with Jose Caraballo up.