A dramatic victory by Will Take Charge over Game On Dude in the Clark Handicap highlighted a full weekend of top racing action.
The landscape was dotted with upsets and there were some early indications pointing to next spring's Triple Crown races.
Pants On Fire lost all chance at the start in Sunday's Japan Cup Dirt.
Dirt or turf, young or old, here's how it unwound:
One 3-year-old prevailed against elders while a couple others came up short as the sophomores continued a season of turmoil.
Will Take Charge did just that -- take charge -- in the final sixteenth of a mile in Friday's $500,000, Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, rallying outside older rival Game On Dude to win by a head. The victory likely locked up an Eclipse Award for the 3-year-old Unbridled's Song colt when coupled with his wins in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga and the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby. If he hadn't been forced wide turning for home in the Breeders' Cup Classic, he might have won that, too, rather than finishing second by a nose to Mucho Macho Man. But then, his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, would have been lobbying hard for Horse of the Year honors. Friday's race saw Game On Dude rate kindly behind the pace down the backstretch. Mike Smith gave him the go-ahead and he quickly went to the lead turning for home, a seeming winner. Will Take Charge had run fourth through the first mile and didn't seem to be gaining much momentum. At the sixteenth pole, that changed as he quickly loomed alongside, then past, his older rival. Easter Gift was 2 lengths farther back in third as Will Take Charge and jockey Luis Saez got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.39. Lukas was asked why he ran Will Take Charge in the Clark if he thought the 3-year-old Eclipse Award already was a lock. "I don't trust you people," he said to the reporters, many of whom vote for the honor. "I like to take the argument out of it." He said the decision whether to keep Will Take Charge in training has yet to be made. If he does run as a 4-year-old, Lukas said the Santa Anita Handicap, Donn Handicap and Oaklawn Handicap all would be early-season targets and the Dubai World Cup would not be out of the question. "A lot of discussion will go into that," he added. Game On Dude's trainer, Bob Baffert, said he thought he had the race won. "I couldn't have done anything different," he said by phone from California. "The horse was training great. It was just a good horse race and we just got beat." He said Game On Dude, a gelding, will keep running "as long as he's healthy and shows that he hasn't lost a step. And if Lukas wasn't openly campaigning for Horse of the Year honors for Will Take Charge, Baffert was. "That horse, he's got to be considered seriously for Horse of the Year because that was pretty impressive," Baffert said.
Elsewhere among the handicap horses:
In a field that boasted two recent Breeders' Cup winners, long shot Flat Out came from well off the pace to win Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, rallying by the leaders in the final sixteenth to score by 1 1/4 lengths over the pacesetter, Private Zone. Verazzano, the Wood Memorial winner, finished third. The other promising 3-year-old, Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents, faded in the lane after bumping with Verazzano and settled for seventh. Groupie Doll, sold for $3.1 million after winning the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint for the second time last month, also was involved in the bumping at the quarter pole and finished fourth, a neck behind Verazzano. Flat Out, a 7-year-old son of Flatter, finished in 1:34.68 over a fast track under Junior Alvarado. The Bill Mott trainee was eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic in his last previous start but has been successful in the past at the flat mile. "He's just been a real tough, durable horse," Mott said, "a horse that I've always felt may be as good at a flat mile as he is at 10 furlongs. Although he has won the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice at 10 furlongs, he's versatile enough to get up and get the job done at a mile." Goldencents' trainer, Doug O'Neill, said, "No real excuse. Just trying to figure it all out." Groupie Doll's trainer, Buff Bradley, said jockey Rajiv Maragh "had some trouble on the backside, going into the turn. You can't (alter course) like that on this track."
Last Gunfighter had too many bullets for the competition in Saturday's $350,000, Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup. The 4-year-old First Samurai colt bided his time behind a slow pace, surged to challenge at mid-stretch and was in front for good at the sixteenth pole. Mister Mardi Gras put in a steady rally down the stretch but came up 1 length short. Street Spice was a long shot third and Alpha finished fourth. Last Gunfighter, a good fifth in the recent Breeders' Cup Classic, got Saturday's 1 1/4 miles in 2:06.11 with Joe Bravo in for the ride. "I had a ton of horse through the whole race," Bravo said. "He could have been a lot closer. I just wanted to keep him comfortable. He's a monster. Look at how he galloped out. He just wanted to keep on going." Chad Brown trains the colt for owner/breeder John Gunther.
Summer Hill led from the start in Friday's $100,000, Grade III Berkeley Handicap at Golden Gate Fields and shook clear late to win by 6 lengths over Majestic City. Fire With Fire fired enough to get show money. Summer Hill, a 4-year-old Bertrando gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.65 with Russell Baze riding for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Based at Hollywood Park, he has never finished worse than second in eight starts at the San Francisco Bay track.
On the grass at Hollywood Park, British import Seek Again cleared quarantine on Saturday and Sunday rallied from well off the pace to win the $250,000, Grade I Hollywood Derby by 1 1/2 lengths. Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey continued a month-long series of bad beats as their Admiral Kitten and Amen Kitten finished second and third. Seek Again, a Juddmonte Farms homebred son of Speightstown, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:00.60 with Corey Nakatani up. Les Reynolds, assistant to winning trainer John Gosden, said Nakatani gave Seek Again "a great ride. We were worried there wasn't going to be any pace but there was enough pace, wasn't there?" The colt is set to ship to Bill Mott and Reynolds said he could be "a big horse" for the American trainer. "He's been a horse that's been slow to himself," Reynolds added. "He just took a while to get going."
Silentio found running room between rivals in the stretch in Friday's $250,000, Grade II Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park and outfinished Summer Front to win by a nose. Winning Prize finished third. Silentio, a 4-year-old Silent Name colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:40.66 with Rafael Bejarano steering. Silentio was coming off a third-place finish in the tough Breeders' Cup Mile and now has four win from 10 career starts. He has missed the top three only once in his career. "I'm really proud of him," said winning trainer Gary Mandella, "because he outran his odds [31-1] in the Breeders' Cup Mile and proved everybody wrong. And today he proved me wrong because I didn't think he could win on this soft turf." Bejarano, in fact, said Silentio was not handling the course well, forcing him to find room between horses rather than coming out for running room.
Fillies and mares
Royal Lahaina stalked the pace in Friday's $300,000, Grade II Go For Wand Handicap at Aqueduct, came three-wide around the dueling leaders entering the stretch and went on to post the 13-1 upset. The favorite, Centring, put in a belated bid but finished second, 2 1/2 lengths back. My Pal Chrisy was third and Executiveprivilege was scratched. Royal Lahaina, a 5-year-old Chapel Royal mare, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.56 with Jose Ortiz in the irons. It was her first graded stakes win. "She broke very well and I was able to get perfect position on the outside," Ortiz said. "At the three-eighths pole, I knew I had a lot of horse, so I just waited a little bit. When I asked her to go, she did."
Wedding Toast, the odds-on favorite, led from the start in Saturday's $400,000, Grade III Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct and held off long shot Toasting to win by a head. The Wedding Toast-Toasting exacta paid a "here's to ya" $59. Teen Pauline completed the trifecta. Wedding Toast is a Street Sense filly, bred by Darley and owned by Godolphin Racing. With Javier Castellano up, she ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.92. Wedding Toast won for the fourth straight time after opening her career with a second-place finish. "She was very game," said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "It looked like the other filly was going to go right by her but she dug in and showed a lot of gameness ... . We'll discuss plans for her."
On the grass at Hollywood Park, Egg Drop led much of the way in Sunday's $250,000, Grade I Matriarch Stakes, was headed by Discreet Marq and then came again to win by a nose over that one. Better Lucky was third. The favorite, Tiz Flirtatious, finished fifth, beaten just over 2 lengths. Egg Drop, a 4-year-old Alphabet Soup filly, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:34.03 with Martin Garcia up. "She got headed and came on again, just did it on guts," winning trainer Mike Mitchell said. "Putting her on the lawn was the key. She kind of scooted over it really nice." He said plans for 2014 "are up in the air."
Bear No Joke ran down pacesetting Essence Hit Man to win Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade II Kennedy Road Stakes by a half length. The favorite, Phil's Dream, finished third, a head farther in arrears. Bear No Joke, a 5-year-old gelding by It's No Joke, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.63, just 0.50 second off the track record. Emma-Jayne Wilson had the mount. Bear No Joke came into the race off a close seventh-place finish in the Grade I Nearctic Stakes in his last outing. "In that last race," winning trainer Reade Baker said, "he came out of the race much better than the other horses. They were a little tired. They'd run hard. He didn't get a trip last time and there was no place for him to go, a long way down the lane.
Part the Seas parted the seas early in the stretch drive of Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade II Bessarabian Stakes for fillies and mares at Woodbine, finding a way through a wall of rivals and going on to a 1 3/4-length win. Mekong Delta was a 40-1 second and Strike the Moon finished third. The favorite, Youcan'tcatchme, led briefly but was caught and then faded to finish ninth. Part the Seas, a 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic filly, ran 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.31. "She broke a little tardy," winning rider James McAleney said. "I didn't expect to be that far back so I opted to take an inside trip and everything unfolded perfectly." It was the first graded stakes victory for the filly.
The two favorites, Honor Code and Cairo Prince, hooked up in the stretch run in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct with Honor Code prevailing by a nose. Wicked Strong ran greenly in the lane but still made up ground to finish third, a half length farther back. Honor Code, a son of A.P. Indy from the Storm Cat mare Serena's Cat, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:52.92 -- the slowest time of three graded stakes at the distance on Saturday's card. The early pace was slow. The Shug McGaughey trainee won at first asking at Saratoga, then was a close second in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont. McGaughey said he bypassed the Breeders' Cup to preserve him for a 3-year-old campaign. "We just said we were going to let him run his race," McGaughey said. "He showed a lot of guts. I'm proud of him." Asked about the 1 1/4 miles of the Kentucky Derby, the trainer said, "He's going to run that far. We just have to figure out how he wants to do it."
Tapiture cruised by pacesetting Laddie Boy in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs and drew off impressively, winning by 4 1/4 lengths. Awesome Sky flattened out late to finish third. The post-time favorite, Dobra Historia, was never in the mix and finished seventh and the morning-line favorite, Almost Famous, was scratched with a bruised foot. Tapiture, a Tapit colt out of the Olympio mare Free Spin, spun 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.51 for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. The Ron Winchell home-bred came into the race a maiden, with a second and two thirds to show from three tries, including a third-place finish in a maiden event earlier in the meeting. "It didn't go as planned," winning trainer Steve Asmussen said of the earlier race. "But he came out of it good, trained really well and just stayed the course."
On the Hollywood Park turf, Global View stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Generous Stakes, got to the lead at mid stretch and edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Aotearoa came from the back of the pack to finish second and Royal Banker was third. The even-money favorite, Pablo Del Monte, had nothing left in the stretch run and finished next-last of seven. Global View is a Galileo colt out of the Storm Cat mare Egyptian Queen and, as noted here earlier in the week, bears watching. He ran the mile on good turf in 1:36.25 with Joe Talamo in the irons. "He's a really nice horse and has always acted like a nice horse," winning trainer Tom Proctor said. "It's nice to get a stakes win in him and we'll go from there."
Amherst Street led from the start in Saturday's $50,000 West Virginia Futurity for state-breds at Charles Town and won by 3/4 of a length as the odds-on favorite. Comeonletsplay was second and Captain Klink completed the trifecta. Amherst Street, a Luftikus gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.80 with Antonio Lopez in the irons.
Storming Inti dueled to the lead in Saturday's $100,000, off-the-turf Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park, then went on to win by 1 length over Notyouraveragejoe. Yes I'm Lucky finished third. Storming Inti, a Stormy Atlantic colt, ran the mile on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:39.05 with Alan Garcia riding.
Stopchargingmaria just about maxed out her chances in the stretch run of Saturday's $400,000, Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct, barely holding on in a long duel to beat Got Lucky by a neck. Penwith, the early leader, was just another head back in third under the wire. Stopchargingmaria was the odds-on favorite after a romping win in the Grade III Tempted a month ago. She ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:52.62 under Javier Castellano -- more than 2 1/2 seconds slower than Wedding Toast in the following race at the same conditions. She now has three wins from five starts. Todd Pletcher, who trains the top two, said Stopchargingmaria "has a good mind. She's very ratable. She's kind. She's not the kind you have to worry about getting too headstrong. But it's a mile and an eighth and that's a long way for 2-year-olds."
Vexed rallied to the lead three-wide late in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs and won by a length over the favorite, Bird Maker. Stonetastic was third in a formful finish. Vexed, a daughter of Arch out of the Mighty mare Cross, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.83 with Shaun Bridgmohan up. It was the second win from four starts for the filly, bred and owned by Calumet Farm and Adele Dilschneider. "To me, it looked like she took a pretty big step forward," winning trainer Al Stall Jr. said. "I think we saw what we needed to see so it's a question of just managing her and trying to get back here in May."
On the grass at Hollywood Park, Full Ransom rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Miesque stakes by a head over Savings Account. Sushi Empire finished third and the odds-on favorite, Clenor, struggled home fifth. Full Ransom, a Full Mandate filly out of the Red Ransom mare Retroesque, got the mile on good going in 1:37.51 under Victor Espinoza. "The greatest thing about 2-year-olds is they're honest as the day is long," winning trainer Jim Cassidy said. "They haven't figured out anything bad yet."
Candy Kitty came wide to the lead in Saturday's $100,000, off-the-turf Wait a While Stakes at Gulfstream Park, then quickly put the suspense to rest, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Spring Again. The favorite, Hillhouse High, finished third. Candy Kitty, a daughter of Lemon Drop Kid, ran the mile on a sloppy track in 1:37.66 with Edgar Prado up.
Look Quickly stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Golden Gate Debutante, then took over in the stretch run, winning off by 1 3/4 lengths over Miss Success. Sergeant O'Rourke and Rever de Vous completed the order of finish. Look Quickly, a daughter of Run Away and Hide, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.09 with Russell Baze riding.
In other action:
Belshazzar surged to the lead late in Sunday's Group 1 Japan Cup Dirt at Hanshin, got past Hokko Tarumae and held off Wonder Acute to win by a neck. American hopeful Pants On Fire reared at the start, hit his head on the gate and wasn't persevered with by jockey Gary Stevens. He finished last of 10. Belshazzar, a 5-year-old son of King Kamehameha, ran 1,800 meters in 1:50.4 with Christophe Lemaire aboard. He was converted from turf to dirt after a long, injury-related absence from racing and has steadily advanced to the top rank among Japanese dirt runners. Trainer Kunihide Matsuda said he instructed Lemaire to stay close to the lead and save as much ground as possible. Instead, he was caught wide. "Nevertheless, the pair did a hell of a good job," he said of Lemaire and Belshazzar. If the horse remains in good shape, he added, he will target the February Stakes to open next season. "But any plans after that are still open," he added. Stevens said Pants On Fire handled the travel, the unfamiliar warmup and parade routines and the crowd. Then, he said, "He reared in the gate to start and ended up nosebleeding, so I couldn't push him any further. There's nothing to say but that we were unlucky."
Richard Hughes, representing England, won the two-day World Super Jockeys Series, accumulating 40 points to lead a European sweep of the event at Hanshin. Ireland's Patrick Smullen checked in second with Germany's Andrasch Starke third. The home team's best showing was Yuichi Fukunaga, who finished fourth.
Marchman led from the start in Saturday's $75,000 Woodchopper Stakes for 3-year-olds, then edged clear late, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Marine Patrol. Brown Almighty put in a late run to finish third. Marchman, a Sharp Humor colt, ran the mile on yielding turf in 1:39.53 with Jamie Theriot aboard. It was his third win from eight starts for trainer Bret Calhoun. The favorite, General Election, didn't run a lick and finished last of nine.
Eden Prairie shot right to the lead in Friday's $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and extended the margin to win by 5 1/2 furlongs over Always Kitten. Promise Me More finished third. Eden Prairie, a Mizzen Mast filly with Rosie Napravnik up, ran about 1 mile on soft turf in 1:40.56.
Alpha and Omega quickly took the lead at the alpha of Friday's $50,000 Oklahoma Stallion Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds and was well in front at the omega. Here Comes Valdez finished second, 3 lengths in arrears, and Black Alleycat was third. Alpha and Omega, an Omega Code gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.49 with Luis Quinonez riding.
In the $50,000 filly division, Heykittykittykitty purred her way to a 7-length victory over Mama's Mad Money with Aunt Sissy third. Heykittykitty, a Tactical Cat filly, got home in 1:11.98 for jockey Jose Medina.