Championships -- for both horses and owners -- remain up in the air with little more than a month left to make an impression. But for those with promising 2-year-olds, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are less than six months in the future.
Internationally, there were some surprises as Hong Kong runners prepped for their Dec. 8 international races. And the Mile Championship in Japan went to a horse not known as a miler.
Read on about a weekend as unsettled as the Illinois weather:
Darley Stable's home-bred filly Arethusa not only upset Saturday's $250,000 Sharp Cat Stakes for 2-year-fillies but did so in style, rallying from a slow start, then kicking clear of her five opponents in the stretch run to score by 8 1/4 lengths over Be Proud. It was another 9 lengths back to Saintly Joan in third. Way up the stretch, even-money favorite Georgia was beating only one rival, who was eased. Arethusa, with Corey Nakatani up, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.41. She is from super sire A.P. Indy's last crop out of the Coronado's Quest mare Miss Coronado. Nakatani said when trainer Eoin Harty offered him the mount, "He told me she's by A.P. Indy and would get the distance. I said, 'Perfect. Let's go get the money, boss.'" Harty said he knew Arethusa "wouldn't get tired. I thought they'd go fast enough and I hoped she could be third." He said he now is looking to the $500,000, Grade I Hollywood Starlet on Dec. 7.
Warren's Veneda bid for the lead turning for home in Sunday's $100,000 Cat's Cradle Handicap for California-bred distaffers and went on to win by 3/4 of a length over Curvy Cat. Sister Kate finished third. Warren's Veneda, a 3-year-old Affirmative filly, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:29.72 with Joe Talamo in the irons.
Emotional Kitten boosted the feelings of the Ken and Sarah Ramsey breeder/owner team by scoring a late-running, half-length win over Effie Trinket in Saturday night's $175,000, Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The Ramseys, who have dominated owner rankings from Kentucky to New York all year, suffered a dismal Breeders' Cup weekend at Santa Anita and needed the boost. Emotional Kitten, by Kitten's Joy, came from next-last of 14 after saving ground, rallied on the outside and just outfinished the runner-up. Dance Again was third at a big price and the favorite, I'm Already Sexy, faded to finish ninth, but beaten only about 6 lengths. Emotional Kitten got home in 1:44.53 on good turf with Victor Espinoza traveling from California for the ride. It was her first graded stakes win, although she was second in the Grade I American Oaks at Hollywood Park and third in the Grade I Del Mar Oaks. Espinoza said he is friends with the Ramseys, noting they are trying to set a record as winning owners. "She ran great with me in California and [trainer] Wesley Ward said, 'You have to come.' It's been a great year for the Ramseys," the jockey said.
River Seven let Frac Daddy take first run to the lead in the stretch in Saturday night's $100,000, Grade III Commonwealth Turf Stakes for 3-year-olds, then reeled in that rival with a steady effort to win by a half length. Kaigun added value to the trifecta. River Seven, a Johannesburg colt ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:44.11. It was his first start outside Canada, where he had posted two wins, five seconds and a third in 11 starts, including a second in the Prince of Wales Stakes. Trainer Nick Gonzalez said he headed south because Woodbine's turf racing is done for the year and he didn't want to run him on the all-weather surface there. "He was going to Florida anyway, either for a layup or a race," the trainer said. "Maybe after today it's probably for another run." Gonzalez said he also is eager to get River Seven back on dirt, where he has worked well.
Looking a week ahead, Will Take Charge breezed 4 furlongs Saturday under the Twin Spires and trainer D. Wayne Lukas said a win against older horses in next Saturday's Grade I Clark Handicap could seal the deal on the 3-year-old Eclipse Award. Will Take Charge finished second in the Breeders' Cup Classic two weeks ago, just a nose in arrears of Much Macho Man. He earlier won the Grade I Travers at Saratoga and the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby. "I almost wish there was more to the season because he is good right now," Lukas said.
Imagining, lacking his early speed, got to the lead with only a furlong left in Saturday's $250,000, Grade III Red Smith Handicap, then held off the closers to win by a half length. Hangover Kid, at 23-1, came from the clouds to just miss, finishing second and just a nose better than the filly, Tannery. The favorite, Hyper was never a threat and finished eighth. Imagining is a Phipps Stable home-bred, 5-year-old son of Giant's Causeway. He ran 11 furlongs on firm turf in 2:18.43, picking up his first graded stakes win with Joel Rosario up for trainer Shug McGaughey. "He broke a little slowly and I had to race behind horses," Rosario explained. "They weren't going all that fast and we were able to move up. I asked him turning for home and he gave it to me." McGaughey, who saddled Boisterous to win the Red Smith in 2011 and 2012, said Imagining could make one more start next month at Hollywood Park or wait until next year in Florida.
So Lonesome had some uncomfortably close company at the end of Saturday's $100,000 Virgo Libra Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds. After lingering near the back of the 10-horse field, the Awesome Again gelding had to contend with Marvin's Miracle in the final strides before winning by head. Blue Pigeon was flying late, too, and finished just another head back in third. So Lonesome, also with Rosario in the irons, got the mile on firm turf in 1:39.08.
Awesome Vision rallied from last of nine to capture Saturday's $100,000 Move It Now Stakes for state-breds, outfinishing Zivo to score by a head. Zetterholm completed the A-to-Z trifecta. The favorite, Bond Vigilante, faded from the lead to get home fifth. Awesome Vision, a 4-year-old Awesome Again colt, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.30 with Irad Ortiz Jr. at the reins.
Bigger is Bettor outfinished Don Dulce to win Sunday's $100,000 Slew O' Gold Stakes by a neck with the favorite, Percussion, just another neck back in third. Bigger is Bettor, a 5-year-old son of Grand Reward, got 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.47 with Angel Arroyo riding.
Chamois dueled for the lead in Sunday's $100,000 Duluth Stakes for 3-year-olds, then took charge in the lane and drew off to score a 3 1/4-length decision over the favorite, Notacatbutallama. Joha finished third. Chamois, a Smart Strike colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on turf rated firm in 1:43.93 with Joel Rosario up.
Asserting Bear stalked the pace in Sunday's $250,000 Coronation Futurity for Canadian-foaled 2-year-olds, put in his bid with a furlong to run and got home first by a length over Majestic Sunset. Man o' Bear finished third and the favorite, Ami's Holiday, finished fifth but then was disqualified to last of seven for interference at the top of the stretch. Asserting Bear, a Bear's Kid colt, got 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1.5096 with James McAleney in the irons for his first stakes victory. He was coming off a third in the Cup and Saucer Stakes and the improvement had McAleney thinking about the 2014 Queen's Plate. "He sure handled it well today," the rider said, "and from [age] 2 to 3, you only have to go another eighth of a mile. So it would be surprising if he couldn't get it." Trainer Reade Baker added, "He's got distance on both sides of his pedigree."
Alpha Bettor was up in the final strides to win Friday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade II Autumn Stakes by a neck over pacesetting Occasional View. Pender Harbour finished third and the favorite, James Street, finished fifth after a wide trip. Alpha Bettor, a 5-year-old son of Alphabet Soup, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.79. "He likes to have a bit of competition," winning rider Justin Stein said. "The two races he won earlier this year, there was a late run to be made and he had a target. That's what he likes to do." It was the third graded stakes win of the meeting for Alpha Bettor and puts him squarely in the spotlight for a divisional Sovereign Award.
Coachella Valley split rivals in the stretch run in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Jammed Lovely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and outfinished the favorite, Checkered Past, to win by a half length. Silent Treat inherited the lead at the top of the lane but faded to finish third. Coachella Valley, an Ontario-bred daughter of Even the Score, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.96 with Emma-Jayne Wilson in the irons.
Eighttofasttocatch again lived up to his name in Saturday's $100,000 Jennings Handicap for Maryland-breds, leading from the early jumps and winning by 6 lengths in a hand ride. Wild Louis beat the rest of them with Concealed Identity third. Eighttofasttocatch, a 7-year-old Not For Love gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:36.76 with Forest Boyce up.
Bacopa Breeze got the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Smart Halo Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and held off the favorite, Co Cola, to win by 3/4 of a length. Who's In Town finished third, 2 lengths further back. Bacopa Breeze, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Visionaire, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.34 with Erick Rodriguez in the irons.
Service for Ten came out for running room in the stretch of Saturday's $100,000 Dave's Friend Stakes and won off by 1 1/2 lengths. Fersmiley finished second but was set down to sixth for an infraction leaving the gate. That promoted Escrow Kid and Rainbow Heir to second- and third-place money, respectively. Service for Ten, a 4-year-old Service Stripe gelding, ran 6 furlongs over a fast track in 1:10.32 with Sheldon Russell up. The favorite, Guam Typhoon, finished last of seven and Ben's Cat was a late scratch.
Jessethemarine, at odds of almost 36-1, got the best of a three-horse finish in Saturday's $100,000 James F. Lewis III Stakes for 2-year-olds, winning by a neck over Pure Sensation and another neck over It's a Bang. Jessethemarine, a Florida-bred With Distinction colt, came from well back in a big field under Daniel Centeno and got 6 furlongs on the fast track in 1:10.66.
Detouring to the international front:
Tosen Ra was starting far short of his normal trip in Sunday's Group 1 Mile Championship but returning to the Kyoto surface he has enjoyed in the past. The experiment paid off as the 5-year-old son of Deep Impact roared down the stretch outside the leaders and powered to a 1-length win over Daiwa Maggiore. Danon Shark was third. Tosen Ra, with Yutaka Take directing the perfectly timed ride, finished in 1:32.4. The victory was his eighth at Kyoto and he has never finished worse than fourth, with three wins. "The horse was really strong and ran a great race," Take said. "He responded impressively when urged at the top of the stretch. He was in good form and everything seemed to fit in well for this victory." Japan's top miler, Lord Kanaloa, was on the sidelines awaiting the Longines Hong Kong Mile on Dec. 8.
The home team for next month's Grade I Longine's Hong Kong Cup got even stronger in Sunday's Jockey Club Cup as Endowing continued his climb up the class ladder with a victory over Akeed Mofeed, Military Attack and California Memory. With Tye Angland up, Endowing got a pretty run from the No. 1 gate and was in perfect position behind the leaders turning for home when a seam opened -- and Angland dropped his whip. "I went from looking pretty to kicking him and slapping him and doing my best to get him across the line," the Australian rider said. He got he job done, holding off last season's BMW Hong Kong Derby winner, Akeed Mofeed by a short head. Reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year Military Attack was 1 1/2 lengths furrther back in third with last year's winner, California Memory, settling for fourth. Endowing was taking on much higher-rated horses but trainer John Size said the outcome -- backing up a victory two weeks ago in the Sa Sa Ladies' Purse, is a good sign. "He can't do any more than win and we have to remain optimistic about the future," he said. Akeed Mofeed's effort also was encouraging after two sub-par runs to start his season. Hong Kong's top horses, however, have a history of producing on the big stage to it would be unwise to count out either Military Attack or California Memory in the Dec. 8 showdown.
Charles The Great may not have been great in Sunday's BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint -- at least according to jockey Douglas Whyte. But he was good enough to post the upset and raise hopes for the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint on Dec. 8. The barrier draw helped as White was able to position the 4-year-old son of Holy Roman Emperor a few lengths back of the leaders. When the field spread out into the stretch, he found room, went through and won by a half length over stablemate Sterling City. Eagle Regiment, a straight-track specialist, did okay with the bend and finished third and bears watching. "I don't think the [Hong Kong] sprinters at this stage are the best," Whyte said. "That's our weak link in Hong Kong and I hope something's going to come through and perform because if there is something, they'll dominate." Meanwhile, when they line up on Dec. 8, they'll have to cope with the likes of Japanese superstar Lord Kanaloa and locally based Lucky Nine, who returns from a disappointing trip to Australia but remains formidable.
In the day's third stakes event, Gold-Fun got home a short head to the good of Helene Spirit in the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile. Xtension, a two-time winner of the Group 1 Champions Mile, finished third with a flash of the ability that had been missing of late. Olivier Doleuze was up on Gold-Fun, who remains unbeaten on the season with earlier wins in the National Day Cup and the Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy. The race was a prep for the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile and trainer Richard Gibson commented, "We hope we've got a bit left in the can. We're going to need it against those top fillies if they line up," referring to prospective starters Moonlight Cloud and Sky Lantern.
International News and Notes
Trainer Criquette Head-Maarek says Arc winner and European Horse of the Year Treve could visit Royal Ascot next spring en route to a repeat try at Longchamp in the fall. After Tuesday's Cartier awards ceremony in London, Head-Maarek said, "She will have a prep race in France -- maybe the Ganay -- and then I'd like to go to Ascot during the Royal meeting. The Prince of Wales' Stakes [at 1 1/4 miles] would be a good race for her. Then we'll run in the Vermille and then the Arc." The trainer held out hope there might be more for the filly in her 4-year-old year, adding, "Afterwards, we will decide where we will go [depending] if she is still unbeaten."
Meanwhile, back in the States:
Musicinthehouse was along late to win Tuesday's $85,000 Sophomore Sprint Championship by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Black Hornet. Go Duke Go led briefly before fading to finish third. Musicinthehouse, an Indiana-bred Limehouse gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.64 with Albin Jimenez up.
Calder Race Course
Flutterby flew to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Cut the Charm Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and wouldn't let anyone by, holding on at the end to win by a diminishing 1 length over the favorite, Side Street. Bella Traviata was third. Flutterby, a Congrats filly dismissed at 18-1 odds, got 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.65 with Luca Panici in the irons.
Elusive Blueboy stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Excellent Luck Stakes for 2--year-olds, took charge as an odds-on favorite should in the lane and won by 2 3/4 lengths. First-time starter Tapicero was along for second while the early leader, Mystical Myles, held on for show money. Elusive Blueboy, a Bluegrass Cat colt, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the fast main strip in 1:05.50 with Jose Alvarez up.
Homerun Berti pressed the pace in Wednesday's $55,000 Lea County Sprint, took over in the stretch run and won by 4 lengths over City Sage. Safe Trip got home safely in third. Homerun Berti, a 7-year-old Forestry gelding, ran 5 1/1 furlongs on a fast track in 1:01.73 under Ry Eikleberry.
Jac's Fact rallied from well back to upset Saturday's $50,000 Joshua Radosevich Memorial Stakes for Ohio-bred 2-year-olds, winning by a half length over Kelly's Pride. Wild Pacific finished third. The favorite, Long Blonde Angel, put in a late bid but flattened out in the lane and wound up sixth of 10. Jac's Fact, a Kentucky Dane colt, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.44 for jockey Edgar Paucar.
Hawthorne Race Course
Missjeanlouise pressed the pace early in Saturday's $100,000 Powerless Handicap for Illinois-bred fillies and mares, took over when allowed and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Fire Tricks. Beauty of Scarlet finished third. Missjeanlouise, a 5-year-old Victory Gallop mare, ran 6 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:10.42 with Francisco Torres up.
Work All Week was quickly out front in Saturday's $100,000 Lightning Jet Handicap for state-breds and wasn't caught, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Four Left Feet. Sweet Luca was third. Work All Week, a 4-year-old City Zip gelding, got home in 1:09.56 with Torres at the controls.
Lucy's Bob Boy, the even-money favorite, led all the way to an 8 3/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $50,000 A Huevo Stakes for West Virginia-breds. Fred High finished third. Lucy's Bob Boy, a 4-year-old Flatter gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:52.17 with Arnaldo Bocachica up.
Golden Gate Fields
Gallant Son stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Oakland Stakes, got through on the inside and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Administer. Moonshine Bay finished third. Gallant Son, a 7-year-old son of Malabar Gold, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.03 with Isaias Enriquez up.
Special U F O flew out to a big lead in Saturday's $50,000 Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame Stakes for state-breds and held on to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Fly the Red Eye. Safe Range finished third. Special U F O, a 3-year-old Special Rate gelding, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.95 with Junior Chacaltana in the irons.
Smiles Golden Song stayed close to the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Fiesta Mile Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, came three-wide to challenge and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Shezararebird. Ataka's Special finished third. Smiles Golden Song, a 4-year-old daughter of My Golden Song, was clocked in 1:34.62 under David Cabrera.