British Champions Day crowned a champion in Farhh and may send a couple other winners in search of international glory.
The climax of the British flat racing season Saturday at Ascot also produced an upset winner who couldn't attract a bid when put up for auction as a yearling and the first Ascot win as a trainer for Johnny Murtagh.
About the only thing lacking was a win for Her Majesty the Queen, whose best hope finished up the track.
In Australia, Fawkner nabbed the Caulfield Cup narrowly over Dandino. But was it the barrier draw that done Dandino dirt?
Meanwhile, in North America, it was a big weekend for state-bred festivals as the high-powered runners started final preparations for the Breeders' Cup World Championship races in two weeks' time.
But first, Champions Day:
Farhh went out a champion, winning a thrilling renewal of the Group 1 Champion Stakes narrowly over Cirrus Des Aigles, with Kingsbarn showing promise with a good third. Farhh, a 5-year-old Sheik Mohammed homebred by Pivotal, suffered a series of second-place finishes behind the world's top horses during his 10-race career. He also battled injuries and setbacks. Yet when jockey Silvestre de Sousa sent him to the lead with 2 furlongs to run in Saturday's feature, he kicked in with determination and enthusiasm. Cirrus Des Aigles, who won the Champion two years ago and finished second to Frankel last year, was right behind him down the straight but could never get to even terms and finished a neck in arrears. Derby winner Ruler of the World also had every chance but could do no more than keep pace right behind the top two, finishing third, another 1/2 length back.
"I didn't ask him for his effort until about 2 furlongs out," de Sousa said. "He was traveling so well and, for me, most of his best form has been over a mile so I wanted him to see the race out."
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor called Farhh "a great fighter ... He has been a miler in the past but a mile and a quarter was great for him today on that ground."
Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said Farhh "has done all that we have asked of him and has been a great horse for Godolphin ... We knew Farhh's day would come."
Crisford said Farhh will retire to stand at Dalham Stud. Corine Barande-Barbe, trainer for Cirrus Des Aigles, said her 7-year-old gelding "ran a great race. Any horse that can run in this race three years in a row is very special."
She said Cirrus Des Aigles "might go to Hong Kong" for the Dec. 8 Longines International Races, "But I have to speak to the owner."
Olympic Glory, adding blinkers and relishing the soft going at Ascot, kicked away at the end to win the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths. Top Notch Tonto seized the lead a couple of furlongs out but Olympic Glory found room between horses and would not be denied. Top Notch Tonto, at a massive price, finished second and Kingsbarns was third. Dawn Approach, winner of the 2,000 Guineas and the St. James's Palace, finished fourth in his final career start. The final time of 1:44.18 for a straight mile reflected the soft going. Olympic Glory, a 3-year-old 3-year-old Choisir colt, was coming off a well-beaten, second-place finish last time out in the Group Group 1 Prix de Moulin de Longchamp but has "always shown his best on soft ground," said Richard Hannon Jr., son of the winning trainer.
"So we thought today's conditions would suit perfectly ... It was a bit of a shout putting blinkers on a good horse like him. But he certainly didn't do his best in Paris. He lost his concentration, which was a bit disappointing." Olympic Glory, owned by Sheik Joaan bin Hamad al Thani, could be off to California for an exciting renewal of the Breeders' Cup Mile.
"There is every chance we will take him to California," Hannon said Sunday on his web site. "The turns have not been the problem. It has been more a case of him not coming down the hills, and with all the racetracks in America being flat, he would be okay with that."
He said a decision will be taken by midweek.
Slade Power found an extra gear late to land the Group 2 British Champions Sprint Stakes by a neck over Jack Dexter, despite being previously untested on soft ground. Slade Power, leading much of the way in the center of three groups of runners, drifted slightly to the left in the final few hundred yards, giving Jack Dexter a chance. But the latter could never quite get there. Viztoria finished third. The 6 furlongs took 1:13.79. The winner, a 4-year-old Dutch Art colt, is owned by Sabena Powers, whose son, Paddy Powers, is among the noted British bookmakers.
"The Powers are very good to me," said winning trainer Eddie Lynam. "We like getting on planes and if we get the invite to Hong Kong, we could go."
Sabena Power, who also bred Slade Power, said her winner "stays in training next year. The breeders are chasing us a bit but we can hold on and enjoy him for a bit longer."
Seal of Approval, who didn't attract a single bid at auction as a yearling, stepped up in class to win the Group 1 British Champions Fillies' & Mares' Stakes. After tracking the pace, Seal of Approval burst through between rivals in the final furlong and quickly drew away, scoring by 4 lenths from Belle De Crecy. Oaks winner Talent finished third. Seal of Approval, a 4-year-old daughter of Authorized, ran 1 1/2 miles in 2:39.09. She had fallen in her last start, tossing rider Hayley Turner, who missed Saturday's big win with the resulting broken ankle.
George Baker picked up the mount.
"We offered this filly at Tattersalls as a yearing and didn't receive a single bid for her," said owner and breeder Tim Vestey. "We've had the last laugh now."
Royal Diamond, trained and ridden by Johnny Murtagh, won the Group 3 British Champions Long Distance Cup by a nose over Harris Tweed after running 2 miles on the soft going. The favorite, Estimate, running in the colors of Her Majesty the Queen, slogged home seventh.
Murtagh was the leading rider at this year's Royal Ascot meeting but it was his first Ascot winner as a trainer.
"I think this is the best day of my life," he said.
Fawkner seized the lead inside the final 100 yards in Saturday's Group 1 Caulfield Cup and held on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Dandino. Dear Demi, who ran second late in the stretch, finished just a nose farther back in third. Hawkspur got going late and finished seventh. Fawkner, a 6-year-old Reset gelding, and British invader Dandino both could move on to the Melbourne Cup.
Dandino came to Saturday's race off a victory in the American St. Leger at Arlington Park in August and his connections said position cost him the Caulfield Cup win.
"If you had swapped barrier draws, you would have swapped the result. No doubt," said jockey Craig Williams, who was forced to trail the winner after starting Dandino from a No. 16 draw.
Epiphaneia romped home in the final 500 meters of Sunday's Group 1 Kikuka Sho, or Japanese St Leger, winning by 5 lengths. Satono Noblesse was a long shot second and Bande faded in the final strides to settle for third. The 3,000-meters Kikuka Sho was the third leg of the Japanese Triple Crown. Epiphaneia finished second in the first two legs -- to Logotype and to Kizuna, neither of whom contested Sunday's race. Kizuna finished fourth in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last month in Paris. Epiphaneia, by Symboli Kris S, now has five wins and two seconds from eight career starts.
Meanwhile, back in North America:
Preferential split the leaders with a furlong to go in Sunday's $125,000 Rood & Riddle Dowager Stakes for fillies and mares, took the lead and held off Left a Message to win by 1/2 length. Angel Terrace was third and Beijoca finished fourth. Preferential, a 4-year-old, British-bred daughter of Dansili, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:33.11 with Leandro Goncalves in the irons.
All four of the top finishers came out of last month's Kentucky Downs Ladies Marathon, which was won by Mystical Star.
"It was hard," said Goncalves. "I had to stalk the whole way. Couldn't get through. I just had to wait and hope for the best and try to get lucky. I did today."
Madame Cactus outfinished Eden Prairie in a battle of double-digit long shots to win Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Lexus Raven Run Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a neck. It was another neck back to My Option in third while the favorite, Silsita, never fired and finished ninth. Madame Cactus, a daughter of Cactus Ridge out of the Mecke mare An Annika Moment, got 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.71 for jockey Joe Rocco Jr.
She drew in from the also-eligible list after shipping from California for the race.
"It's been a fun week," said trainer Peter Eurton, "coming in on Tuesday, knowing about 9 o'clock in the morning when I'm getting on a plane that we're possibly not gonna get in the race and she's already there."
Overheard came from far back to win Friday's $150,000, Grade III Pin Oak Valley View for grass-running 3-year-old fillies by 1 length over Nellie Cashman. Summer of Fun finished third.
Overheard, a Macho Uno filly, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.35 with Eurico Da Silva up for trainer Malcolm Pierce.
"I had a very clear trip," Da Silva said. "She was ready today."
Ultimate Destiny outfinished Pender Harbour to win Sunday's $125,000 Bunty Lawless Stakes by a neck. It was another 6 1/4 lengths back to San Nicola Thunder in the third. The race was moved from 1 mile on the turf to 1 1/16 miles on the main track, with Ultimate Destiny completing that trip in 1:43.03 with Eurico Da Silva back from Keeneland in time for the ride. Ultimate Destiny is a 4-year-old Dance to Destiny gelding.
Matador dueled with Cool Faith throughout most of Sunday's $250,000 Cup & Saucer Stakes, a restricted affair for 2-year-olds, before prevailing by a nose. Asserting Bear inserted himself into the triactor, 3/4 length farther back. Matador, a Malibu Moon colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:47.89 with Luis Contreras in the irons.
Tens were wild for River Seven in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Labeeb Stakes at 1 mile on the turf. The 3-year-old Johannesburg gelding won by 10 lengths at odds of 10-1. Grand Arch was second and Hotep third. The favorite, Hunters Bay, finished fifth. River Seven, with Jesse Campbell up, ran 1 mile of yielding turf in 1:38.81.
Sky High Lady came from last of six to take Saturday's $100,000 River Memories Stakes for fillies and mares, which came off the turf. Queen of the Waves seized the lead in the lane but could not deny the winner, who won by 1 length. Part the Seas completed the triactor. Sky High Lady, a 4-year-old daughter of Sky Mesa, got 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:44.36 with Patrick Husbands up.
A Toast to You got by the favorite, Ain't No Other, in the final jumps to win Saturday's $100,000 California Flag Handicap for state-breds by 1/2 length. Tiz a Minister finished third. A Toast to You, a 4-year-old Tribal Rule gelding, got about 6 1/2 furlongs down the firm hillside turf course in 1:11.88 with Mario Gutierrez up.
Golden Gate Fields
Stormy Lucy took the lead in the stretch run in Saturday's $50,000 Miss America Stakes for fillies and mares and won off by 4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Halo Dolly. Lady Aspen finished third. Stormy Lucy, a 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.78 with Isaias Enriquez aboard.
Several who could have gone to the Breeders' Cup instead chose Saturday's Empire Showcase races -- including a pair of juveniles who had mixed success. The track was fast and the turf firm for the state-bred races.
Miss Narcissist led from the start in the $150,000 Joseph A. Gimma Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and got home first by 5 1/4 lengths over odds-on favorite Court Dancer. Canal Six finished third. Miss Narcissist, a Freud filly, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.82 with Junior Alvarado up.
Winning trainer Linda Rice said it's been a struggle getting Miss Narcissist to race with discipline.
"She's been a project," Rice said. "She has raw talent but she's hard to direct."
Wired Bryan wired the field in the $150,000 Bertram F. Bongard Stakes for 2-year-olds, coasting home first by 3 lengths over Empire Dreams. So Lonesome finished third. Wired Bryan, a Stormy Atlantic colt, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.83 with John Velazquez in the irons.
After four wins this year, including the Grade II Sanford at Saratoga, the 2014 Triple Crown could be in the picture.
"I wasn't worried about the 7 furlongs on a fast track," said winning trainer Michael Dilger. "We'll winter in Florida and, who knows, maybe try to stretch him out."
Cluster of Stars led the way in the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes for fillies and mares and had no trouble hanging on for a 3 1/4-lengths victory as the prohibitive favorite, remaining undefeated in seven career starts.
Willet was second and Miss Valentine was third. Cluster of Stars, a 4-year-old daughter of Greeley's Galaxy, ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.87 for jockey Javier Castellano.
"Very professional, as usual," said Toby Sheets, assistant to winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "She likes to bring it."
He said there are "a couple of things" for the filly in the near future.
Added Jimmy Iselin, trainer of Willet, "It was like a Grade I or a Grade II race."
Cluster of Stars already has wins in the Grade II Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct and the Grade II Gallant Bloom at Belmont.
Effie Trinket battled down the lane with Sally's Dream in the $200,000 Ticonderoga for fillies and mares on the grass, waiting for room and finally prevailing by a nose. Wholelottashakin was 1/2 length farther back in third.
Effie Trinket, a 3-year-old Freud filly running against older rivals, got 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf course in 1:42.45 with Luis Saez up.
"How game is she? She can do anything," said winning trainer Rick Violette. "She has won on the lead, she has won stalking. She has made one big run to get it."
Palace came from off the pace in the $150,000 Hudson Handicap at 6 furlongs on the dirt, was forced out while challenging down the lane but still got there first. Moonlight Song gave way grudgingly while drifting late and held second, 1 1/4 lengths back. B Shanny was third. Palace, a City Zip colt, was clocked in 1:08.97 with Cornelio Velasquez in the irons.
Trainer Linda Rice, who claimed Palace last year for $20,000, said he was heavier than she would like after a month and a half without a race.
"But I knew there was something special under the hood and he shows it each time," she said.
King Kreesa tracked the early pace in the $200,000 Mohawk Stakes, took over when asked by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Lubash.
Notacatbutallama rallied from last of 11 to finish third. King Kreesa, a 4-year-old King Cougat gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the turf in 1:39.26.
"We had in mind that, if we had to, we would sit second or third," Ortiz said.
Saratoga Snacks, coming off a 10-week layoff, sat just off the pace in the $250,000 Empire Classic, challenged three-wide to get to the lead and held off late-running Bigger is Bettor to win by 3/4 length.
Moneyinyour Pocket finished third. Saratoga Snacks, a 4-year-old Tale of the Cat ridgling, ran 9 furlongs on the main track in 1:48.79 under Joel Rosario.
"He's a little bit of a funny horse," Rosario said. "You have to really keep him motivated, keep him busy. You have to keep him focused."
Maryland Million day found the track fast and the turf good for state-bred competition.
It's a Bang pressed the pace in the $100,000 Nursery for 2-year-olds, then went on to 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Joint Custody. Fran's Buckaroo was far back in third.
It's a Bang, a Great Notion gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.48 with Richard Monterrey up.
"He broke very sharp out of the gate and my job was to get him to relax and be as comfortable as possible," Monterrey said. "At the top of the stretch, it was time to go."
Jonesin for Jerry, the odds-on favorite, ran to her notices in the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies, winning by 5 1/2 lengths over Steady N Love. Pocket Gift finished third.
Jonesin for Jerry, by Great Notion, got home in 1:11.04 with Abel Castellano Jr. riding.
"She really made my job easy," said Castellano. "When I got out in the stretch, I didn't have to ask her. I let her do what she needed to do and she did it."
Trainer Jerry Robb said she will be pointed to the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship Dec. 28.
Ribo Bobo picked up his ninth straight win of 2013, leading all the way to a 5 3/4-lengths win in the $100,000 Sprint. Action Andy beat the other two starters -- Fersmiley and Mass Destruction.
Ribo Bobo, a 5-year-old Louis Quatorze gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.64 with Julian Pimentel up.
"He is remarkable, winning so many in a row," Pimentel said.
Monster Sleeping rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win the $127,500 Ladies at 9 furlongs on the turf, beating Daydreamin Gracie by 2 lengths. The favorite, Pagan Priestess, finished third. Monster Sleeping, a 4-year-old Oratory filly, was clocked in 1:53.54 under Jose Garcia.
Maddy's Dance scored a 13-1 upset in the $100,000 Distaff, rallying from last of seven to win by a neck over Ann's Smart Dancer. The odds-on favorite, Ju Ju Eyeballs, got the lead in the stretch run but could do better than third at the wire. Maddy's Dance, a 3-year-old Dance With Ravens filly, got 7 furlongs in 1:23.65 with Daniel Centeno riding.
Roadhog outfinished the favorite -- and Maryland legend -- Ben's Cat to win the $126,225 Turf by a neck. At mid-stretch it appeared Ben's Cat was home free but Roadhog kept coming and was up in the final strides. Target Sighted won a three-horse photo for show. Roadhog, a 5-year-old Bowman's Band gelding, ran 1 mile on the grass in 1:39.29 with Kendrick Carmouche up.
King Leatherbury, owner/trainer of Ben's Cat, was second-guessing himself after running in the Turf rather than the Sprint.
"He raced well but this distance is really not his best. That's all," Leatherbury said.
Last year, Ben's Cat won the Maryland Million Turf Sprint -- a race that was not renewed this year.
Eighttofasttocatch was all of that in the $150,000 Classic, leading all the way as the heavy favorite and prevailing by 3 3/4 lengths. Romancing the Gold was best of the rest and Wild Louis finished third.
Eighttofasttocatch, a 7-year-old Not for Love gelding, got 9 furlongs in 1:50.42 with Forest Boyce in the irons.
"It worked out great. We got away well," Boyce said. "I thought someone might try us early, soften us up. But it didn't happen."
Fear the Facelift dominated three rivals in Saturday's $200,000 West Virginia Jefferson Security Bank Cavada Breeders' Classic Stakes for fillies and mares -- the marquee event of a seven-race program for state-breds. The 4-year-old Fear the Cape filly led from the early stages and kicked clear in the lane to win by 12 3/4 lengths with little urging from jockey J. Acosta. Red Penny Princess, Donnameade and Penguin Heart completed the order of finish. Fear the Facelift got 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.01.
Fear the Facelift was among six of seven favorites winning on the card. All but one of the favorites was odds-on.
Red Hot Diva also showed her heels to rivals in the stretch in the $65,000 Distaff, winning by 6 1/2 lengths over Queen'o'deball. In the Fairway also got clear in the lane in the $65,000 WVTBA Onion Juice, scoring by 2 1/2 lengths over Mr. Ripken. Blisstikus held on late to win the $65,000 West Virginia Division of Tourism for 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length over Dimples. Hidden Canyon led all the way to a 7 1/4-lengths win over Perfect Cross in the $65,000 West Virginia Lottery for 3-year-olds. Amherst Street had things all his own way in the $65,000 Vincent Moscarelli for 2-year-olds, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Comeonletsplay. And Greenway Court scored by 2 3/4 lengths over Paco Smart in the $65,000 West Virginia Dash for Cash at 4 1/2 furlongs.
Northern Candyride bested Flashy Kid by a neck after a long stretch battle in Saturday's $150,000 Too Much Coffee Stakes for state-breds. Northern Candyride, a 6-year-old Candy Ride gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles in the slop in 1:42.66 with Alberto Pusac in the irons.
Yeardley pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Frances Slocum Stakes for state-bred distaffers, went by the early leader and held off Higher Logic to win by 1 length. The 4-year-old Don't Get Mad filly ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:43.68 for jockey Willie Martinez.
Bisque battled the favorite, Mr. Pollard, through most of Saturday's $85,000 Indiana Futurity for state-bred, 2-year-old colts and geldings, put that one away and held off Salute the Music to win by a head. Mr. Pollard held third. Bisque, a Drinkwiththedevil gelding, ran 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:38.83 under Marlon St. Julien.
Elegant Model pressed the pace in Saturday's $85,000 Miss Indiana Stakes for state-bred juvenile fillies, took command in the lane and won by 2 1/4 lengths over Express Model. Lady Caroline finished third. Elegant Model, a daughter of Suave, got 1 mile in the slop in 1:39.08 with Jon Court up.