The schedule also included important races in many other racing divisions. An expected showdown among the top 3-year-olds at Saratoga wound up in a big upset.
Overseas, once highly rated Cirrus Des Aigles was defeated again, casting his future into doubt.
And we're off.
Sunday's $1 million, Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar pitted Game On Dude against a diverse field of rivals, including the horse who beat him in the event last year, an English import and a Canadian invader. In the end, none of it mattered as Game On Dude led from the early stages, was never seriously threatened and easily got clear in the stretch to win by 8 1/2 lengths. Kettle Corn ran well late to take second by a nose over longshot You Know I Know, with Richard's Kid fourth. Last year's winner, Dullahan, finished eighth, the Canadian, Endorsement, got home 10th and the English horse, Farraaj, was 11th. It was, in fact, all about Game On Dude, a 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding trained by Bob Baffert. With Martin Garcia subbing for Mike Smith, who was in Saratoga, Game On Dude won his sixth straight race, all of them graded stakes. "He has been working well and you could tell he's a different horse this year here," Baffert said. "He was just doing everything so smoothly." Baffert added he was especially gratified by the win because Game On Dude, "you know, doesn't get the respect he deserves." Noting Game On Dude is a confirmed front-runner, Baffert said: "I ran the race in my mind and there was so much other speed. But at the end of the day, I told Martin, 'You have the fastest horse so don't be afraid to get bold with him.'"
At Saratoga, Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Travers Stakes, the "Midsummer Derby," was supposed to put some order to a 3-year-old season that saw different horses win the Triple Crown races. Instead, Will Take Charge, winless in three Triple Crown races, put his nose in front at the finish line to add further confusion in the division. Will Take Charge, an Unbridled's Song colt trained by D. Wayne Lukas, just nipped 31-1 long shot Moreno with Kentucky Derby winner Orb fading to finish third after leading earlier in the stretch run. The favorite, Verrazano, faded to finish seventh while Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice put in a late run to finish fourth, a nose behind Kentucky Derby winner Orb. Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice finished fourth. With Luis Saez up, Will Take Charge ran the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:02.68. It was his first win since the Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park in mid-March, though he did finish second to Palace Malice in the Grade II Jim Dandy a month ago at the Spa.
Lukas said he was hopeful when he saw the race unfold. "At the three-eighths pole, I thought we'd get a piece of it, but I didn't know if we'd get up," the winning trainer said. "He's a little over 17 hands [tall] and just starting to find himself. This is a horse who's going to get better. He's getting his act together." Shug McGaughey, Orb's trainer, said before the race he was hoping to get his colt back on the right track for a fall campaign. "He ran a good race," McGaughey said afterward. "You can't cry over spilled milk. We got him back on the right track, and now we'll point for something else." John Velazquez, aboard Verrazano, said he was "very happy where I was. By the half-mile pole, he was off the bridle and just went through the motions. He really didn't put in much effort. Jockey Mike Smith said Palace Malice simply got a bad start and he couldn't do enough to overcome that.
Royal Delta, the defending division and Breeders' Cup champion, reaffirmed she is still on top of her game with a commanding, 4 1/2-lengths victory in Sunday's $600,000, Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga. Mike Smith gave up the mount on Game On Dude in Sunday's Pacific Classic to ride Royal Delta, sent her to the lead entering the run down the backstretch and pulled away to win by 4 1/2 lengths, essentially eased in the final yards. Endorsement finished second followed by Centring, On Fire Baby and Open Water. After her second straight disappointment in the Dubai World Cup and a disappointing comeback at Churchill Downs, Royal Delta rebounded last month to win the Grade I Delaware Handicap by 10 3/4 lengths in her last previous race. "When she comes with her 'A' game, that's what you expect," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "She was just good. She was good last time. Mike said she was strong and felt great." Asked what's next, he said, "We'll probably go to the Beldame, same as we did last year." The Grade I event is Sept. 28 at Belmont Park.
Reconnect was up in the final jumps to upset heavy favorite Sisterly Love by a neck in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Belle Mahone Stakes at Woodbine. Moment of Majesty was just a nose farther back in third. Reconnect, a 5-year-old Niigon mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:44.72 with Jesse Campbell up.
Trainer Bob Baffert has searched far and wide for a "sweet spot" for Fed Biz and appeared to find it in Sunday's $250,000, Grade II Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar. With Martin Garcia up, the 4-year-old Giant's Causeway colt waited near the back of the big field, came four-wide into the turn and closed with a huge rush to overtake pacesetting favorite Goldencents in the final yards and win by 1 length. Gonna Fly Now was up for third as Fed Biz established a new track record of 1:21.12 for 7 furlongs on the all-weather course. Baffert had tried Fed Biz going longer, going on the turf and shipping to Belmont Park -- all without success -- before Sunday's score. The win was his first since the Grade II San Fernando Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the Santa Anita dirt back in January. "That's what happens when you have a horse that loves the surface," Baffert said. "He's a miler, but he loves this surface."
Capo Bastone dawdled near the rear of the pack in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Foxwood King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga, came around the leaders heading into the stretch and closed with a powerful late rush to win by 2 lengths over Mentor Cane. Central Banker completed a trifecta that returned $16,639 for a $2 investment. The favorite, Forty Tales, finished fourth. Capo Bastone, a 3-year-old Street Boss colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.22 under Irad Ortiz Jr. It was his first stakes win and followed a seventh-place showing in the Grade II Woody Stephens at Belmont, though he did finish third in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. "We felt like it was time to take a shot," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "It seemed like everything was gelling at the right time, and he was sitting on a good one, so we felt like, 'Let's try a big one.' It seems like he has found his niche. I think he gets a mile, no problem, but this was a good set-up for him today."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Sweet Lulu remained undefeated in four starts, winning a three-way battle to the wire in Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. The Mr. Greeley filly, making her first start outside California and first start on real dirt, shadowed the early pace, the swapped leads with Wildcat Lily before prevailing by a head. My Happy Face was a neck farther back in third with a late run. The 7 furlongs on a fast track went in 1:23.45 with Julien Leparoux riding the winner. "She's done everything we've asked her to do," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "I didn't know if I should ship her this soon and come back here and try this, but she was doing so well and showing speed, and this is a Grade 1 and a very important race for pedigree, so we decided to try it." He said he will consider the Breeders' Cup.
Dance to Bristol worked her way to the lead in the stretch in Friday's $500,000, Grade I Ballerina Stakes for fillies and mares and battled down the lane to win by a head over late-running California import Book Review. Villanesca finished third. Dance to Bristol, a 4-year-old Speightstown filly, now has won seven straight starts, steadily climbing the class ladder to pick up her first Grade I win. "Her will to win is what makes her special," said winning trainer Ollie Figgins Jr. "Book Review had dead aim on her inside the eighth pole. Once she saw her coming, she just wouldn't let her by." Winning jockey Xavier Perez said Dance to Bristol is "the best horse I ever rode in my whole career. I think it's going to be the one that's going to take me to the Breeders' Cup."
Vagabond Shoes rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Del Mar Handicap by 1/2 length over Lucayan with Huntsville another 1/2 length back in third. Vagabond Shoes, a 6-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Beat Hollow, ran 11 furlongs on firm going in 2:11.94 with Victor Espinoza up. He has lived up to his name, racing earlier in his career in France, Dubai and Germany before settling in trainer John Sadler's barn early this year. He has improved slowly ever since, coming to Saturday's race off a second-place effort in the Grade I Eddie Read Handicap over the same course a month ago. "As the season has gone on, he has acclimated," Sadler said. "We'll definitely look at the Breeders' Cup." The race was a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Summer Front rallied from last to win Sunday's $100,000 Cliff Hanger Stakes at Monmouth Park by 1 1/4 lengths over Tune Me In. Howe Great finished third as Summer Front ran 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.49 with Joe Bravo riding. The winner is a 4-year-old War Front colt.
Filly & Mare Turf
At Saratoga, Laughing led all the way around in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Ketel One Ballston Spa Stakes for fillies and mares, but with constant pressure from Pianist. That duo entered the stretch together, quickened together and finished with Laughing just a head in front. It was 2 3/4 lengths back to Hard Not to Like in third. The favorite, Hungry Island, finished fourth in the well-matched field. Centre Court was the major disappointment, racing under restraint early before getting home last of eight. Laughing, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Dansili, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.37 with Jose Lezcano in the irons. The win backed up her earlier victory in the Grade I Diana over the same course at 9 furlongs. "She's real healthy now and I think she'll be a force in the filly and mare division," said winning trainer Alan Goldberg. "The other filly hung in there pretty good."
Obviously picked up his third straight win as the heavy favorite in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Del Mar Mile. But he had to work unexpectedly hard to achieve the victory. With Joe Talamo at the controls, the 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding made all the going after a slightly tardy start and opened a 2-lengths lead at the top of the stretch. He Be Fire N Ice mounted a determined challenge, drawing to within 1/2 length at mid-stretch but could get no farther and settled for second by that margin. Silentio, El Commodore and Tigah completed the order of finish. Obviously ran the 1 mile on firm going in 1:32.64.
He finished third in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile behind Wise Dan and Animal Kingdom and more recently won the Grade II American Handicap and Grade I Shoemaker Mile, both at Hollywood Park. His owners said after Sunday's race they might forgo an outing before the Breeders' Cup.
Dimension set a pressured pace in Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian) Play the King Stakes at Woodbine, worked clear late and won by 2 1/4 lengths over Excaper. Riding the River was third and the favorite, Go Blue or Go Home, got home fourth. Dimension, a 5-year-old, British-bred gelding by Medicean, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in a quick 1:19.89 under David Moran.
Conquest Titan went quickly to the front in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Swynford Stakes at Woodbine, then kicked away to win by a convincing 5 1/4 lengths. Dig Alittle Deeper was best of the rest with Tuscan Getaway a nose farther back in third. Conquest Titan, a Kentucky-bred son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.64 under Eurico Da Silva. It was his second career start. In his first, the Mark Casse trainee finished fourth at Churchill Downs.
My Brown Eyed Guy scored his third straight win in Saturday's $125,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder, leading most of the way to a 2 1/4-lengths victory over Best Plan Yet. Purchango finished third. My Brown Eyed Guy, a With Distinction gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.87 with Antonio Gallardo handling the reins. He also won the first leg of the FSS.
Brothersofthetime rallied to the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Seacliff Stakes at Calder Race Course, then held off East Hall to win by a nose. D N A Approved was in the mix but faded late and settled for third. Brothersofthetime, a Florida-bred colt by Bob and John, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:42.01 under Fernando Jara after following a plodding early pace. He now has three wins and a second to show for four career starts.
Scandalous Act drew off with authority in Saturday's $125,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes, winning by 8 3/4 lengths. Quinnkat beat the other five and Holiday Magic finished third. Scandalous Act, a daughter of Act of Duty, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.06 with Antonio Gallardo aboard. She now has won three of four starts, including the first two filly events in the FSS.
Flat Out Charming stuck her nose in front of Light Bringer at the wire in Saturday's $75,000 Lindsay Frolic Stakes at Calder. Look of a Star finished third, lacking a late kick. Flat Out Charming, a Florida-bred daughter of Flatter, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:42.89 with Antonio Gallardo up. That was two in a row for her after a maiden-breaker at Gulfstream Park.
Chu and You led all the way in Sunday's $50,000 Barbara Shinpoch Stakes at Emerald Downs and held on at the end to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Strawberry Dawn. Charismata finished third. Chu and You, a Washington-bred daughter of You and I, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17 with Juan Gutierrez up. She now has three wins from three starts.
Bon Accord ran by pacesetter Bluegrass Derby in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Calder Turf Dash and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Breitling Flyer finished third. Bon Accord, a Kentucky-bred colt by Showing Up, got 5 furlongs on firm going in 58.12 seconds with Jesus Rios up. He now is 2-for-3.
Juvenile Filly Turf
Secret Kitten lost no time getting to the front in Saturday's $75,000 Catcharisingstar Stakes at Calder and held the lead to the wire, winning by 4 1/2 lengths. Ya Esta was second and the favorite, Solitary, finished third. Secret Kitten, a Discreet Cat filly, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.87 seconds with Antonio Gallardo in the irons. She now is 2-for-2.
Around the ovals:
Cirrus Des Aigles, who entered the year as the world's top-rated horse in training, continued his slide as he faded to finish a disappointing fifth in Sunday's Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville on the French seaside. With Christophe Soumillon up, the 7-year-old gelding ranged up to challenge for the lead with two furlongs to run, but was unable to finish the task and faded in the final strides, beaten by about 2 1/2 lengths by the winner. Trainer Corine Barande-Barbe confessed to being "a little disappointed" by the showing. He has not won in five attempts this year after exiting 2012 with a win in the Group 2 Prix Dollar at Longchamp. Tres Bleu's trainer, Alex Pantal, said his 3-year-old, Irish-bred son of Anabaa Bleu is eligible for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and he expects to make that his next start.
One-time Triple Crown contender Sr. Quisqueyano went quickly to the front in Saturday's $100,000 Eight Miles East Stakes, opened a daylight lead early in the stretch run and held on to win by a neck over Where's Sterling. It was another 7 1/4 lengths back to Isutalkintome in third. Sr. Quisqueyano, a 3-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Exclusive Quality, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.28 with Carlos Olivero in the irons. He finished second in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day but then was eighth in the Grade III Holy Bull and seventh in the Grade II Fountain of Youth.
Imagining led from the start in Sunday's $100,000 Idle Rich Stakes and won off by 5 1/2 lengths over Atigun. Eagle Poise finished third with a late rush. Imagining, a 5-year-old son of Giant's Causeway, ran 1 3/16 miles on firm turf in 1:51.9 with Javier Castellano in the irons.
Speaking of former Triple Crown contenders, Daddy Nose Best rallied three-wide down the stretch to win Saturday's $75,000 Edward J. DeBartolo Memorial Handicap by 1 length over Dakota Gypsy. Ole Winedrinker Who was third, a head farther in arrears. Daddy Nose Best, a Scat Daddy colt, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.45 with Ramon Vasquez up. The Steve Asmussen trainee won last year's Grade III Sunland Park Derby and Grade III El Camino Real Derby before finishing 10th in the Run for the Roses and ninth in the Preakness.
Summer Applause stalked the early pace in Sunday's $75,000 Lady's Secret Stakes for fillies and mares, got to the fore when asked and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Royal Lahaina. Sharp Sally and Canadian Mistress completed the order of finish. Summer Applause, a 4-year-old Harlan's Holiday filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.93 for jockey Joe Bravo.
Jax and Jill dominated Saturday's $50,000 Sylvia Bishop Memorial for West Virginia-bred 3-year-old fillies, leading all the way and winning by 6 lengths over Margaret High. Last Train was third. Jax and Jill, a Yes It's True filly, got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.98 with Gerald Almodovar riding.
Miss Rubycubes led from the start in Saturday's $75,000 New York Oaks for state-bred fillies and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Message of Love. City Gone Wild finished third. Miss Rubycubes, a daughter of Ruby's Rocket, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:48.52 with Pedro Rodriguez up.
Valiant Girl outfinished Parranda in Saturday's $60,000 Omnibus Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by a head after 1 3/8 miles on the firm turf. The even-money favorite, Tabreed, settled for third. Valiant Girl, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Lemon Drop Kid, got home in 2:21.95 with Forest Boyce in the irons.
Dreamed a Dream stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 First Episode Stakes for Massachusetts-bred fillies and mares, got to the fore midway around the stretch turn and finally worked clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Tallys Sundance. Southoftheborder finished third. Dreamed a Dream, a 4-year-old daughter of Agnes Gold, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:48.12 with Jill Jellison riding.
Cougarville came from last of seven to win Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Bird of Pay Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 2 lengths over Honey Candy. Bet On Soup finished third. Cougarville, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Congrats, got 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21 2/5 with Rico Walcott riding.
Wild Legend was along in the final yards to win Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Birdcatcher Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings by 1/2 length over Lintlaw. Wild Legend, an Alberta-bred Gold Legend gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:21 1/5 for jockey Shannon Beauregard.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]