Last year's 2-year-old filly champ returned with an easy victory, pointing toward a showdown this fall between the top two in the Kentucky Oaks.
And some of last year's turf runners appeared to be rounding back into form with hopes for year-end honors.
Stay tuned Monday for Labor Day holiday results. Meanwhile, digest these with your barbecued holiday treats:
Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Woodward Stakes at Saratoga fell apart gradually during the week with the defection of likely favorites Cross Traffic and Fort Larned, then deteriorated quickly on race day thanks to a sloppy track and the late scratch of Mucho Macho Man. That left Alpha, winless in six tries since last year's dead-heat win in the Travers, to splash to a front-running win, holding off Flat Out in the final yards by a head. Strung out down the sloppy stretch behind those were Successful Dan, Ron the Greek and Paynter -- the latter clearly unhappy with the footing after hitting the gate at the start.
Alpha, a 4-year-old Bernardini colt, was in the field because trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said owner Godolphin Racing and breeder Darley Stables -- i.e., Sheik Mohammed bin Rasheed al-Maktoum -- wanted to give him "one more shot" against top company. Alpha ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.28 under John Velazquez.
"I told Johnny," McLaughlin said, "'If he breaks well and he can throw mud on the rest of them, please do.' He agreed with me ... . I wish Saratoga was open a little longer for him because he loves it here." He said he's not sure yet what the future holds for Alpha, who wintered in Dubai after finishing 12th in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
Rafael Bejarano, who rode Paynter for trainer Bob Baffert, commented: "We had a good trip, but I was out of horse by the half-mile. I think he didn't feel comfortable on the surface. He never felt comfortable."
Mucho Macho Man was scratched because of the wet surface. "It's a huge disappointment," owner Patti Reeves said of the decision. "We just don't want to risk running him on an off track." She said Mucho Macho Man might start next in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 28. Trainer Kathy Ritvo, however, indicated he will run in the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita that same day.
In other classic action:
Given the winner, Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park most likely was a prep for some grassy events in the future rather than the Classic. Still, this was 9 furlongs on the Polytrack and it was Wilcox Inn, much more familiar on the grass, who put his nose in front of long shot Gallant Eagle at the wire after a stretch-long duel. It was 2 1/2 lengths back to Hattaash in third. Mister Mardi Gras was empty in the stretch and finished fourth. Wilcox Inn, a 5-year-old son of Harlan's Holiday, finished in 1:49.63 under James Graham after tracking modest early fractions. He had not won since last July while running in top company, mostly in graded turf stakes. He was a solid fifth in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth in his last previous effort. "If there was ever a photo we needed to win, this was the one," trainer Michael Stidham said. "This little horse, he tries hard every time. We've put him in some tough spots all year long. He got the job done and James did a great job."
Beholder was in charge all the way in Sunday's $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar and won by 2 3/4 lengths over Wittgenstein. Charlie Em finished third. Beholder, last year's 2-year-old filly champion, ran the mile on the all-weather track in 1:36.30 with Gary Stevens providing only minimal encouragement. "She ran like we expected her to," winning trainer Richard Mandella said. " I didn't really have any moment of worry. She was very much in control and she does everything so easy. We'll look at [the Zenyatta] at Santa Anita and then the Breeders' Cup Distaff." Beholder won last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, then took the Santa Anita Oaks before finishing second in the Kentucky Oaks behind division leader Princess of Sylmar. The Torrey Pines was her comeback race after that effort and points toward a rematch of the Kentucky Oaks this fall.
Sunday's Del Mar Derby at 9 furlongs on the grass was so popular it was split into two divisions.
In the first, Gabriel Charles rallied from well back, worked his way to the lead with a furlong to run and scored by 1 1/4 lengths over Gervinho. Redwood Kitten led the way but wilted late and finished a head farther back in third. Gabriel Charles, a Street Hero colt, finished in 1:46.94 with Mike Smith up. "It's gratifying to know he'll go two turns, which has always been kind of a question mark with this horse," winning trainer Jeff Mullins said. "I don't know if it was by design the way Mike rode him last time, but he figured out something about him and it sure worked."
In the second division, Ethnic Dance led all the way and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Infinite Magic. Den's Legacy finished third. Ethnic Dance, a Tribal Rule colt, finished in 1:48.24 with Edwin Maldonado riding. "The fractions looked favorable," winning trainer John Sadler said. "It didn't look like there was a lot of speed when I was handicapping the race, so I told Edwin I would be very happy if he was out in front or sitting second on a slow pace. He rode a good race. He really kept him relaxed and this is an improving horse."
Five Iron, visiting from Woodbine, seized the early lead in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Saranac Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, then easily held off the favorite, Notacatbutallama, to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Joha finished third. Five Iron, a Sharp Humor colt, ran 9 furlongs on good turf in 1:48.21 with Luis Saez in the irons. He worked so well coming into the race," winning trainer Brian Lynch said. "I knew if he could get the lead and get left alone, he'd be very dangerous."
Silver Max set an honest pace in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Bernard Baruch Stakes at Saratoga, downshifted into the stretch to hold off Paris Vegas with ease and won by 2 lengths over that rival. It was another 6 1/4 lengths back to Tetradrachm, who pressed the early pace. Silver Max, a 4-year-old colt by Badge of Silver, finished 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:42.31 under Robby Albarado. Silver Max was virtually unbeatable on the grass last summer but tailed off at the end of the year, tried the main track earlier this season and now has two straight wins on the lawn. "Last year, I might have overdone it with him," winning trainer Dale Romans said. "I ran him a lot of times in those 3-year-old races. He was a little tired at the end of the year. He's coming into the summer and fall a lot more fresh, and I think by the end of the year he could be one of the best turf horses around."
Holy Lute and Fury Kapcori moved past the tiring early leader in the stretch run of Friday's $100,000 El Cajon Stakes for 3-year-olds and the former outran the latter in the final sixteenth to win by a head. Tiz a Minister came late to take third. Holy Lute, a Midnight Lute colt, got 1 mile on the all-weather course in 1:35.38 with David Flores in the irons. He now has won two straight after a third-place showing in his first career start. "He's still trying to figure things out," winning trainer Jim Cassidy said. "He got hurt as a 2-year-old so I didn't race him last year. He ran against some seasoned horses today but I knew he'd run well." He said he might give Holy Lute a try on the grass with an eye toward the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Strapping Groom, enjoying the sloppy track, led all the way to a 15-1 upset of Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Forego Stakes at Saratoga. Jackson Bend put in a late run but came up a half-length short and the favorite, Justin Phillip, made a brief move at the top of the lane only to settle for third. Strapping Groom, a 6-year-old son of Johannesburg, finished 7 furlongs in 1:22.27 with Junior Alvarado in the irons. He was stepping up in class in his third start of the meeting after finishing fifth in the Grade III James Marvin, then winning a minor added-money event two weeks ago. He ran for a $35,000 tag last spring at Belmont Park. "We were fortunate to have an outside post," winning trainer David Jacobson said. "The horse likes to be on the lead, and Junior [Alvarado's] instructions were to get the lead if he could. After he put away Fast Bullet, I was pretty confident he was going to win."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Youcan'tcatchme was not, in fact, caught in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Seaway Stakes for fillies and mares at Woodbine. On the lead from the start, the 4-year-old filly extended the advantage to 1 1/2 lengths at the wire, with the favorite, Roxy Gap, second and Strike the Moon third. Youcan'tcatchme, a daughter of The Daddy, out of Poppy's Baby Girl, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:22.95. "That's where she's happy -- up front," winning jockey Justin Stein said. She has won both her 2013 starts and five of 11 on her career scorecard.
Some familiar names turned up in the entry box for Saturday's $90,000 Harry F. Brubaker Stakes at 1 mile over the Del Mar all-weather course. At the end, it was Summer Hit battling to the lead, then drawing clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Wilkinson. Liaison, who was scratched from last weekend's Grade I Pacific Classic, finished third, followed by Sky Kingdom, Clubhouse Ride, Batti Man and Hawk's Eyes. Summer Hit, a 4-year-old Bertrando gelding, got home in 1:34.99 with Edwin Maldonado in the irons. He now has eight wins from 13 starts, including the Grade III All American Stakes at Golden Gate Fields going 1 1/16 miles.
Dunkin Bend collared pacesetting Yes I'm Lucky with a wide move down the stretch in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Run For Logistics was third and Foileen completed the order of finish. Dunkin Bend, a Dunkirk colt, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.82 with Ricardo Santana Jr. riding. The Steve Asmussen trainee now has two straight wins after finishing second in his debut at Churchill Downs.
Honor Code won at first asking Saturday at Saratoga, rallying from more than 20 lengths back to win by 4 1/2 lengths, going away. The Shug McGaughey trainee is an A.P. Indy colt out of the Storm Cat mare Serena's Cat. He ran the 7 furlongs on the sloppy main track in 1:23.48, bucking a bias that found all but two of the of the day's 12 winners racing on or near the lead.
Nick Zito saddled another impressive juvenile winner on Saturday's card at the spa. Grand arrival stalked the pace, then took over impressively in the lane, winning off by 6 1/4 lengths. The Harlan's Holiday colt is out of the Grindstone mare Grandstone. He finished in 1:24.48 after a third-place effort in an earlier try at the Spa.
She's a Tiger was ferocious enough to hold off Fascinating in deep stretch and win Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Del Mar Debutante by a half-length. Concave was third and the favorite, Awesome Baby, faded badly late in the 7-furlong struggle and finished next-last of eight. She's a Tiger, a Tale of the Cat filly, finished in 1:22.71 with Gary Stevens providing the motivation. She now has won three of four starts, finishing second to Concave in the Grade II Sorrento Stakes earlier in the Del Mar meeting. Jeff Bonde trains the Kentucky-bred. "You're going to think I'm crazy," Stevens said, "but I think she'll be better going two turns, where I could drop her head and let her just get into a high gallop like Winning Colors. She's got a stride on her a mile long and I think she'd love to go on." Stevens won the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby with the filly Winning Colors.
Sweet Reason got a wide trip in Sunday's $300,000, Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga but it made no difference as the Street Sense filly found the lead turning for home and won off by a commanding 5 3/4 lengths without much encouragement from jockey Alex Solis. The favorite, Stopchargingmaria, stayed close to the lead but settled for second and Dancing House tossed in a mild rally to finish third. Sweet Reason got 7 furlongs on the sloppy main track in 1:23.42. She remains undefeated in two tries, both at the Spa. "She is very special," Solis said. Trainer Leah Gyarmati, who notched her first Grade I win, noted Sweet Reason's earlier victory "was an off-the-turf race and the competition wasn't anywhere near what she faced today."
Miss Behavior worked her way to the lead in Sunday's $100,000 Sorority Stakes at Monmouth Park, then easily distanced seven rivals, winning by 8 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Miss Liz. Mallory Street finished third. Miss Behavior, a Pennsylvania-bred Jump Start filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.54 for jockey Gary Cruise. She was coming off a win at first asking at Parx Racing.
Needmore Flattery, racing against fellow Ohio-bred misses, drew off in Sunday's $50,000 Ta Dah Stakes at Beulah Park to win by 6 1/2 lengths as the prohibitive favorite -- and remain undefeated in five career starts. Blacksilkstockings beat the other six. Needmore Flattery, a daughter of Flatter, got 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:13.48 with Irwin Rosendo up. She won her first start against open company at Thistledown. The other four wins, all stakes, came against other Buckeyes.
In other action:
Samitar stalked the pace set by Baffle Me in Sunday's $100,000 Speed Boat Stakes for fillies and mares, put her head in front in the stretch run and won by a neck. Deanaallen'skitten put in a late bid to take show money. Samitar, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Rock of Gibraltar, got 1 1/16 miles on the good inner turf course in 1:44.41 with Javier Castellano in the irons.
Midnight Watch led from the early yards of Friday's $100,000 Riskaverse Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and held well at the end, winning by a length over persistent presser Teen Pauline. Unbelievable Dream finished third with a late effort. Midnight Watch, a Darley homebred Stormy Atlantic filly, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:35.29 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. Winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Ortiz "did a great job riding her. She is difficult and wants to go fast." Midnight watch has three wins from five starts.
Free Mugatu got to the leader, Ogermeister, late in the stretch run to win Friday's $100,000 Law Enforcement Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds by a neck over that one. Sol the Freud, who led earlier, held on for third. Free Mugatu, a Utopia colt out of the Appealing Skier mare Thunder Babe, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.23 with Luis Saez up.
Angelica Zapata stayed close to the early leaders in Saturday's $100,000 Wasted Tears Stakes for fillies and mares, got to the fore in the stretch and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Ann of the Dance ran well late to take second by 1 3/4 lengths over Team. Angelica Zapata, a 5-year-old Sharp Humor mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.57 with Juan Leyva up. She has won six of her last eight since trainer Ron Pellegrini gave up on running her in graded stakes company.
Charm the Maker caught pacesetting Hard to Resist late in Sunday's $90,000 Adoration Stakes for fillies and mares and won by a half-length over that rival. Via Villagio finished third. Charm the Maker, a 4-year-old Empire Maker filly, finished the mile on the all-weather course in 1:35.47 with Joe Talamo up.
Part the Seas rallied five-wide rather than trying to part her rivals as the field entered the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Avowal Stakes for fillies and mares, got there in time and won by 3/4 of a length over early leader Dene Court. Sca Doodle was third and the favorite, Why Katherine inexplicably finished next-last of eight. Part the Seas, a 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic filly, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:22.41 with Justin Stein aboard.
Indian Spell was the long shot in a field of four for Saturday's $60,000 Miss Woodford Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. But, after dueling favorite Ju Ju Eyeballs into submission, Indian Spell went on to win by a head over closer Fully Living. Ju Ju Eyeballs faded to finish third and Frivolity was the caboose. Indian Spell, an Indian Charlie filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.01 with Gabriel Saez up.
On the turf course, Bow Bells charged to the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Twin Lights Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and kicked clear, winning by 4 3/4 lengths over Sense to Compete. Parting Kiss finished third. Bow Bells, a daughter of Giant's Causeway, ran 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:47.70 with Christopher DeCarlo handling the reins.
Caviar N Champagne opened a big early lead despite a snug hold in Sunday's $50,000 Rose DeBartolo Memorial Stakes for Ohio-bred fillies and mares, then got a reminder late to hold on and win by 2 3/4 lengths over Pay the Man. Startin Something was third. Caviar N Champagne, a 4-year-old Formal Dinner filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.20 under Scott Speith.
Ruby's Edge had things all her own way in Friday's $50,000 Rick's Memorial Stakes for fillies and mares, making all the going and winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Satin Gold. Bluegrass Sapphire completed a precious trifecta. Ruby's Edge. A 4-year-old Added Edge filly, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:35.12 with Alex Birzer up.
Clone benefited from the green performance of favorite Show Some Magic to win Saturday's $50,000 Ruidoso Thoroughbred Derby by a half-length over that rival. Tri Chocolate finished third and it was a long way back to Black Canyon finishing fourth and last. Show Some Magic appeared on his way to victory when he ducked in at the gap, allowing Clone to get by. Clone, a Fusaichi Pegasus gelding out of the Sky Classic mare Skyladysky, then held on to win by a half-length, getting 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.38 with Dusty Shepherd up.
State-breds were the order of the day Sunday at the Minnesota oval, where the main track was fast for the stakes races.
Heliskier, who we all hope someday will travel outside Minnesota to see how good he really is, took charge in the stretch run of the $55,000 Crocrock Minnesota Sprint Championship for colts and geldings and won by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:09.63 under Justin Shepherd. The 4-year-old Appealing Skier gelding has won nine of 11 starts, a string marred only when he stumbled at the start of a race in June, finished last and was vanned off, then was nailed at the wire in his next start. Since then, he has posted two convincing wins to go with the seven in a row that opened his career.
Somerset Swinger swung four-wide around the leaders in the $55,000 Bella Notte Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship and went on to win by a head over Polar Plunge. The 4-year-old Gazebo filly got 6 furlongs in 1:11.68 with Alex Canchari riding.
She Can Ski stalked the pace in the $75,000 Northern Lights Debutante for 2-year-old fillies and went on to win by 3 lengths over Blumin Sweetheart, covering 6 furlongs in 1:15.84 with Dean Butler up. Appeal to the King also stalked the pace in the $75,000 Northern Lights Futurity for 2-year-old colts and geldings, then just outfinished You Be Gator Bait to win by a nose for Butler. Both 2-year-old winners are by Appealing Skier.
Congrats and Roses led from the start in the $55,000 Glitter Star Minnesota Distaff Classic and won by 7 3/4 lengths over Blues Edge. The 5-year-old Congrats filly got 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.92 with Canchari up. And in the Wally's Choice Minnesota Classic, Coconino Slim led all the way to a 5-length win over Ghost Dance, getting home in 1:46.27 with Butler in the irons.
News and notes:
Ken and Sarah Ramsey hit their goal of 20 Saratoga winners in Friday's third race -- but with a sad footnote. Bernie the Maestro led all the way for the 2 1/2-length victory over Caixa Eletronica but the favorite, Sagniaw, took a bad step midway through the race and later was euthanized. Saginaw was claimed for $30,000 by David Jacobson on behalf of himself and Drawing Away Stable in March 2012, and went on to win 14 of his next 17 races. The 7-year-old Peruvian gelding, came to the race off five straight wins and captured 21 of his 41 career starts.